By MICHAEL LETENDRE
With a University of Connecticut-bound quarterback at the helm and a hungry bunch of receivers looking to strut their stuff, the St. Paul football squad is primed for a breakout season in 2013.
Off a 3-7 campaign last year, the team is loaded once again on the offensive front but will hope for a little more defense punch along to way to make it a successful season.
The Falcons are looking for a bounce back year and here’s what to expect from the locals:
Head Coach: Jude Kelly (32-42 in eight seasons at St. Paul)
Last Year: 3-7 overall (2-7 in the NVL, 2-4 Cooper Division)
Strength: Experience at several skill positions.
Weakness: Youth, small numbers.
Key Losses: Jordan Rowley (RB/S); Geun Park (PK/LB); Solomon McIver (LB); Mike Skorupski (G); Eli Roberge (DL).
Players to Watch: Logan Marchi (sr., QB); Brendan Carroll (jr., WR/DB); Kyle MacLean (jr., C); Daija Fitzpatrick (jr., WR), Reid Morin (sr., WR/DB); Eli Parks (jr., RB/DB); Doug Nessing (jr., OL/DL); Jose Silva (jr., LB/DB); Austin Morin (so., WR/DB), Joe George (sr., DE).
Analysis: St. Paul head coach Jude Kelly has been hanging around a football field once or twice during his times in the high school game and understands there’s one important variable that is vital in every growing program.
And that ingredient is called improvement and it’s something the Falcons are striving for every day.
“I think improvement is the key,” said Kelly. “I was very pleased with that and to me, it’s what you look for in a team to get better and in a program to get better. I always look for colorations. If you do this, you should get this result and I feel very strong about that. So we preached that in the offseason as far as getting into the weight room, getting ourselves into conditioning, practicing well, being together as a team, doing the right things off the field, keeping the grades up…all those things make a difference in how you perform as a team.”
St. Paul wasn’t shy on the offense side of things last season and with UConn bound quarterback, Logan Marchi, back in the fold, expect more of the same.
In fact, expect a lot more of the same.
Marchi – a 6-foot, 180 pound senior – is about to break some NVL passing records and needs only 784 total throwing yards to become the all-time leader in passing yards in a career.
He was named All-State Honorable Mention by the New Haven Register and earned All-Cooper Offense at quarterback last season.
“I think he’s earned a lot of respect from the players,” said Kelly of Marchi. “He had respect as an athlete. I think he’s earned the respect from them as a person as well and that adds so much to the dimensions of what he can bring to the table besides his skills. The leadership skills are there, the respect that he’s earned with things (is there) and I think the kids have bought into fitting in with him.”
“The quarterbacks and receivers are working as one.”
Marchi also helped establish a new NVL record for 381 total passing attempts and in the process, St. Paul’s 297.7 passing yards-per-game also established a new standard in 2012.
To date, he’s passed for 6,482 yards and the NVL standard is held by Rohan Ifill of Sacred Heart who chucked for 7,266 yards over his four seasons at QB.
Marchi is only four touchdown passes away from capturing the NVL record for career touchdown passes of 78 and he could seize that mark in St. Paul’s first game of the season at Derby.
The St. Paul quarterback also just needs to complete six additional passes to capture the NVL’s all-time mark in passing completions for a career.
Marchi enters the season with 437 completions and along those same lines, his 867 passing attempts is only 11 off the career mark established by the talented Ifill.
So the records will certainly fall once Marchi gets into full swing this season.
His 2012 season saw Marchi compile 2,935 yards off 200 completions and tallied 38 touchdowns.
“The whole chemistry of the offense is coming together but it really starts with Logan because of the skills that he has, the ability he has to throw the football – and we do like to throw the football – and the ability of our offensive line to come along,” said Kelly. “We want to protect for our quarterback and have a solid running game. But Logan is really the nucleus of the catalyst.”
The Falcons have one of the most talented receiving corps in the league – a group that’s grown up taking its lumps on the field in terms of win/loss record but knows exactly what to expect from Marchi and will cash in off his long throws.
Take your pick when it comes to juniors Daija Fitzpatrick and Brendan Carroll along with senior Reid Morin in terms of talented receivers.
Morin had one heck of a 2012 campaign and his 14 touchdown receptions – out of 39 total by the team – was the seventh highest single season total in NVL history.
For the year, Morin was second on the club in receptions (47) but first in total yardage (951) for an average of 20.2 yards-per-catch.
Carroll’s 11 touchdown receptions was the 16th most in league history while Fitzpatrick’s total of 10 was equally as impressive.
With 46 receptions for 646 yards (14.0 yards), Carroll was one of the toughest sophomores on the gridiron while Fitzpatrick was tops on the squad in catches (59) and second in reception yards (892) for and average of over 15.1 yards a game.
It’s a fearsome threesome that can rival any offensive trio in the NVL this year.
The Falcons lost of bit of its running game with Jordan Rowley graduating from the mix but he wasn’t the whole running show.
Rowley led the Falcons with 78 carries for 586 yards (7.5 yards) and scored five times.
But in terms of ground game schemes, expect junior Eli Parks – who rushed for 414 yards and ran in five touchdowns last season – to be the back of choice.
He will be counted on to mix things up for St. Paul and any added yardage Parks can manage will take some pressure off Marchi and the receiving crew.
“Those skilled kids are good,” said Kelly of his three receivers and running back. “They’re quality kids as far as people as well. They work hard in the offseason together. They’re multisport athletes so they know how to compete and for some of them, some played as freshmen and started as sophomores and now they’re juniors.”
“It’s not like they’re underclassmen…I consider them upperclassmen right now.”
Parks will also make a catch or two and in 2012, he snatched in 11 receptions for 143 yards and a couple TDs.
But in terms of veterans and leadership, St. Paul doesn’t have a deep roster full of seniors
This season will also contain one of the smallest senior classes in school history as only three seniors don the roster.
And yes, St. Paul will suffer from all same problems a small school deals with every year but that’s nothing new for the Falcons.
Fifteen freshmen are on the roster but Morin, Fitzpatrick, Carroll, and Marchi were all in that position in their first season and look at where they’re at now.
Again, Kelly doesn’t consider those underclassmen as such since they’ve been playing on the varsity level from the get-go.
Most of those returning veterans will have to play on both sides of the ball this year and that certainly means the Falcons must be wary of injuries.
In that case, one injury basically kills not just one position but two.
Expect juniors Kyle MacLean, Doug Nessing, and Jose Silva to be the guiding force up front and will have to buy Marchi as much time as he can to chuck the ball all over the field and plug holes defensively.
The offensive line might not be big but Kelly says the kids are tough, dedicated players who are “working their tails off and are really learning the system, are doing well and taking pride in what they’re doing.”
Part of the team’s improvement hopes to be at the defensive end as the Falcons – over the past couple of seasons – have given up a touchdown or two too many.
Anytime St. Paul can put a goose egg up on the opponent’s side of the board in terms of scoring, it’s a huge deal.
“Defensively, we made some slight adjustments with some things,” said Kelly. “I think we realize that for us to improve as a football team, our defense has to dramatically improve. We know that is one of the areas, as a coaching staff and our emphasis in practices, that has picked up tremendously.”
“Nothing will fall into place, no matter what you do, if you can’t play defense.”
Along with its usual array of Copper Division competition, St. Paul will be going out of conference twice year as the Falcons added a game to its 2013 schedule.
On Saturday, Oct. 19, the Falcons will tangle with Notre Dame-Fairfield from St. Paul High School in what should be an exciting affair.
But however it’s sliced, St. Paul is looking for big year on the gridiron.
“I think the kids are tired of not playing to their potential,” said Kelly. “I feel that they feel that if they listen, they seem to be much more coachable. They’re more receptive to the teachings of the coaches as far as on and off the field, things that they should be doing in order to be part of a good football team.”
“We’ve been doing those things so the results should fall into place.”