By Anthony Caruso
The College’s football team is entering its second year under head coach Wayne Dickens. The Lions had to rush to learn his system last year just six weeks prior to the season.
“Football is a team sport, and everyone has to do his job to be successful,” senior offensive captain Ryan Baranowsky said. “Having (another) year within the system has definitely benefited our offense. We are miles further than we were at this point last season.”
The Lions are looking to improve on their 5-5 record from last season. At one point during last season, the team was on a four-game win streak, which last occurred during the 2010 season.
Earlier this month, they were picked to finish sixth within the conference. Only William Paterson and Southern Virginia were picked to finish behind the College. Last season, the Lions were 4-3 in conference play.
“NJAC is a tough conference, but it motivates us to work hard every single day,” Baranowsky said.
The Lions last won the New Jersey Athletic Conference in 2007. They shared the championship with SUNY Cortland that year following a 9-3 season, before ultimately losing to Mount Union in the second round of the NCAA Division III playoffs.
The College last won the conference outright in 1998. That season, the Lions went 8-3 and advanced to the NCAA Tournament, where they lost 26-2 to Rowan University.
“This year, our main goal is to win the NJAC,” senior defensive captain Joseph Urciuoli said. “If we are able to reach this goal, then we would also like to make some noise in the playoffs.”
Last season, the Lions averaged 14.6 points per game while the opponents averaged 16.6.
The offense is going to be led at quarterback by Sam Paladino and Chris Spellman.
Spellman started four games and went 47-of-112 for 680 yards and five touchdowns to 11 interceptions. Paladino started six games, while completing 39 of 81 passes for 329 passes. He threw three touchdowns to five interceptions.
“We are lucky enough to have four or five quarterbacks who are capable of getting the job done,” Baranowsky said. “Competition is healthy on a football team, and I believe Coach Dickens will make the right decision for the team.”
Both leading rushers are back for their junior campaigns. Victor Scalici had 151 rushes for 647 yards and five touchdowns. Brad Young added 138 rushes for 528 yards and two touchdowns.
The Lions lost two key receivers to graduation in Frederick Sprengel and Kyle Janeczek, who is now a student assistant coach for the team. Baranowsky and Jeff Mattonelli are returning after having double-figure receptions last season.
Baranowsky had 17 receptions for 235 yards and a touchdown. Mattonelli contributed 13 receptions for 235 yards and a touchdown.
There are also many other receivers who are expected to see increased time this season.
“We have depth at every skill position,” Baranowsky said. “I don’t feel any more pressure for that reason. I’m confident everyone will execute his job.”
On the defensive side, the Lions lost their top three tacklers in Nick Bricker, Ryan Lowe and Sean Clark. Bricker had 117 tackles, while Lowe added 81 and Clark contributed 43.
Urciuoli is the lone defender returning who started every game last season. Defensive lineman Thomas Masi started nine games, while Sean Kley started eight games. Shaun O’Donnell also started two games.
Martin Flatley, Zack Vasilenko, Jeff Skomsky and Adelraham Ragab are expected to get increased time. Flatley, Vasilenko and Skomsky each saw time in nine games last season, while Ragab played in two games.
Flately had 12 tackles, while Vasilenko chipped in six tackles and a tackle for a loss.
Skomsky had three tackles and a fumble recovery, while Ragab had three tackles.
“Although we did sustain some losses to graduation on our defense, we have a lot of guys returning who either started or had extensive experience in seven of the positions on our defense,” Urciuoli said. “We expect all of our returners to improve and play a bigger role than (we) did last year, and also are looking forward to having some new faces step in for us.”
The Lions will kick off their season at home against Ursinus College on Sept. 5, at 7 p.m. This will be one of six home games that will be at Lions Stadium over the next several months.
The biggest game of the season will come against national powerhouse University of Wisconsin-Whitewater on Sept. 20, at 2 p.m. Wisconsin-Whitewater has won five National Championships in the Stagg Bowl in Salem, Virginia since 2007.
They defeated Mount Union 52-14 to win the championship last year.
“To be the best, you have to play the best,” Urciuoli said. “Wisconsin-Whitewater has been dominant in D3 football in the past and are seeded at No. 1 in the country in preseason polls. Our team looks forward to the opportunity to put TCNJ’s name on the map, and put our training to the test against a team of its caliber.”
The Lions will host William Paterson University on Homecoming Oct. 25, at 1 p.m.
Since 2010, the College has split wins and losses on this special day, having won twice in the past three years.
The regular season finale will be on Nov. 15 against Rowan University at 12 p.m.
This will also be Senior Day, with a pre-game ceremony to recognize those playing in their final game at Lions Stadium.