SLU BY POSITION
Senior Mike Lefflbine, last year’s starter, is again projected to be the starter. Lefflbine played in eight games last year and completed 56.1 percent of his passes for 1,198 yards, averaging 149.75 a game. He threw 11 touchdowns and was intercepted only four times. Lefflbine was also a threat on the ground, averaging 3.8 yards a carry. Graduate student Zane Fish, a former Indian River standout, is the backup. Fish played in six games last year and completed 46.9 percent of his passes for 487 yards with seven touchdowns and one interception. Third-string quarterback Danny Metzgar, another senior, completed one of two pass attempts last year. All three SLU quarterbacks have been the program’s starter at some point of their careers.
This squad is led by junior tailback Maurice Irby, who was a second-team Liberty League all-star last season. Irby gained 787 yards, averaging 4.6 a carry and 78.7 per game. He scored seven touchdowns. Second-team tailback Jake Gneiser, another junior, gained 208 yards last year and averaged 3.5 yards a carry. Sophomore Paul Wonka, who gained 22 yards on 10 carries, is third on the depth chart. The starting fullback will be junior Brad Parrott, who carried the ball six times for 21 yards last year. Freshman William Garrity is second on the depth chart followed by sophomore Tommy Hessney.
This is one area where the Saints lost a lot of experience. The top four leading receivers from last year’s squad are gone and the leading returner in receptions is tailback Maurice Irby, who caught 18 passes last year. The top receivers this year are projected to be juniors Christopher Shannon and Zachary Wells, neither of whom caught a pass last season. Also in the mix at wide receiver are sophomores Sean Richardson, Jared Shatkin and David Adams along with freshman Austen Lauriecella.
Former Malone standout Mitch Gallagher, a sophomore, has moved from fullback to become the starting tight end for the Saints. Gallagher caught 13 passes for 109 yards, including four touchdowns, last season. He will be backed up by senior Scott Davies and sophomores Sam Anderson and Matt Gardiner.
The Saints offensive line features experience, with three seniors as projected starters, and size, with the starting unit averaging 259 pounds. The starting tacklers are senior Ryan Schmidt (6-foot-6, 300 pounds) and sophomore Michael Fisher (6-4, 260). The starting guards are sophomore Kevin Deal (6-1, 240) and senior Luke Lendway (6-2, 250) and senior Tom Vangel (6-2, 245) will start at center. The backup tackles are sophomore Colin Scott (6-3, 257) and sophomore Matthew McDonough (6-2, 215). Backing up at guard are freshman Kyle Brewer (6-1, 250) and sophomore Tim Brennan (5-11, 240). Junior Anthony Stimpfel (6-3, 255) will be the backup center.
There will be some inexperience with this unit as several of last year’s key players graduated. The four projected starters are graduate student Klayton Johnson (6-3, 230), sophomore Chy Brown-Wallace (6-0, 280), who made 26 tackles last season, sophomore Ugo Njeze (6-4, 200) and sophomore Michael LaRusso (5-10, 230), who made 13 tackles last year. Backups include senior Liam Ryan, sophomore Dillon Estridge, sophomore Nick Barcklay, senior Dillon Knight, a Lowville native, freshman Owen Grey, freshman Ryan Byrne, sophomore Wilquan Burke and sophomore Edward Doton.
This unit is led by sophomore Alex Dietsch, who was the Liberty League Rookie of the Year last season and made the league’s second-team squad. Dietsch led SLU with 81 tackles and picked off three passes. The other starters are sophomores Grant Brightman (7 tackles) and Jayson Leigh (31 tackles, three interceptions). Backups include freshman Jake Benedict, a Sandy Creek native, senior Brendan Heeb, freshman Skyler Williamson and sophomore Anthony Rice.
The secondary should be one of SLU’s strongest positions this season. The starting cornerbacks are junior Rajiv Heron (10 tackles) and junior Leondre Simmon (24 tackles, one interception). The safeties are sophomore James Holley-Grisham (67 tackles, four interceptions), who was a second-team Liberty League all-star, and junior Evan Lapice, who made 20 tackles despite playing in just three games due to injury. The backups at cornerback are senior John Lesofsky, freshmen Charlie Maistrellis and Carlos Merlos and junior Spender DiCinque. The backups at safety include senior Michael Phelan, a Saranac Lake native, freshman Scott Arens, junior Matthew Craig and freshman David Vandenabeele.
Senior Colden Golann will be the placekicker for the Saints this year. His backup will be sophomore Andrew Carvalho. Junior Brodie Corless, who averaged 35.8 yards a kick, will handle the punting duties for the Saints, backed up by junior Spencer DiCinque. The long snapper is sophomore David Adams and the short snapper is freshman Kyle Brewer. Freshmen Charlie Maistrellis and Austin Lauricella and junior Evan Lapice are SLU’s kickoff returners. Punt returning duties will be handled by Lapice and Austin Lauricella.
The Saints played in many close games last season, going 3-2 in games decided by a touchdown or less, including three dramatic wins at Leckonby Stadium. SLU was 5-0 at home a year ago and went 2-3 on the road. Despite some losses on the defensive line, and inexperience at wide receiver, SLU could be even better this year than it was a year ago. The Saints were picked to finish in fourth place in the Liberty League preseason coaches poll, but they were the only team besides Hobart to get a first-place vote. Hobart routed the Saints 37-7 last year, so even though this year’s game is in Canton that is one that favors the Statesmen. But SLU is capable of defeating every other team in the conference. Its only other conference loss a year ago was 21-20 at Springfield and that game is a home contest this season.
Prediction: 8-2 (6-1 Liberty League).