Mustang Head Coach Mike Landers gives his expectations for the 2016 season.
NEWTON, Mass. – A 22-member Class of 2020 will join the Mount Ida College football family this year, signifying the first step in bringing the program back to its history of success, which has included an Eastern Collegiate Football Conference (ECFC) championship in 2012 and a 31-17 conference record since the ECFC's 2009 formation.
"This team does a really good job day to day learning lessons, and they're progressing. They're progressing at a faster pace than most teams have in the past," said Mike Landers, who will become the longest tenured head coach in program history as he enters his ninth season on the bench.
The 2016 team will have another motivation in their hearts as they take the field this season, honoring the memory and the family of offensive lineman Mike Mazza, who passed away unexpectedly during last spring. Mazza would have been a senior this year and was known around campus for his friendliness, his wide smile, and his penchant for wearing jean shorts.
"Our real goal is just to honor each other. Our friends that are here and our friends that aren't here. We're playing this season to remember Mike, and to honor his family," said Landers.
Those who played with Mike who will try to impart what he meant to the group to the large class of newcomers include senior wide receiver Matt Greenman (Portsmouth, R.I.), linebacker Sean Chinova (Watertown, Conn.), and his fellow offensive lineman James Wolff (Yorktown, N.Y.), who will anchor an experienced offensive line that Landers called "maybe one of the best we have had here."
"We believe our strength of our football team is in our offensive line this year. It allows us to execute whatever we want to do better. We're going to take advantage of what defenses give us. Coach (Matt) Chapman has done an outstanding job with that group," said Landers.
Greenman is a three-time All Conference selection, last year at both receiver and return specialist, and he also long snaps for punts and holds for PATs. Chinova, a 2015 Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference (ECAC) North All Star, was second in the conference with 111 tackles and led the league with 20.5 tackles for a loss while racking up two interceptions, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
Joining Chinova on the linebacker unit, the oldest group in the defensive corps, is Josh David (Sandown, N.H.) converted from fullback, Chris Medeiros (Pelham, N.H.), Jordan Cloutier (Troy, N.Y.) and Sam Ejiasi (Forney, Texas).
Special teams also boasts a pair of seniors in 2x All Conference punter Devin Broadley (Barnstable, Mass.) and placekicker Tyler Rogers (Bridgewater, Mass.), who will compete with freshman Cole Tilton (Mansfield, N.J.).
With a year under his belt, sophomore quarterback Jack Sheehan (St. Petersburg, Fla.) looks poised to shine at the college level after throwing eight touchdowns and averaging 123 yards per game in his freshman campaign.
"Practice reps are great, but there is nothing like live action, and now he has a whole season under his belt of live action," said Landers of Sheehan's experience.
Mount Ida has a history of a great running game, and this year Nate Gudino (Los Angeles, Calif.) and Travis O'Brien (Portsmouth, R.I.) will be looked upon to continue that trend. O'Brien turned in three all-purpose touchdowns last season and will lead a competitive backfield that includes freshmen Gary Deanley (Hammonton, N.J.) and Brandon Peterson (Brooklyn, N.Y.) and sophomore Diego Diaz (Trujillo Alto, P.R.).
Senior Blade Clonts (Powder Springs, Ga.) and sophomore Andrew Light (Absecon, N.J.) will also work at the fullback position.
Youth will be the name of the game in the defensive backfield and on the defensive line, where senior James Comer (Mansfield, Mass.), who started every single game last year at defensive tackle, is the only returning starter. Sophomore Buddy Wade (Monroe, Conn.) and newcomer Joseph Spinola (Mashpee, Mass.) will be thrown into the mix, along with a handful of other converted linemen.
In the backfield, wide receivers Shakir White (Salem, Mass.) and Michael Whitsett (Chicopee, Mass.) have also been converted to defensive back, and they will join senior Gian Wilson (Cumberland, R.I.) and standout freshman Jarques Jones (Baton Rouge, La.) in coverage.
"I think this team has the chance to win a championship. Despite it being young and despite that we have a thin roster right now, just the way that camp's gone thus far, I think this is a special group. Now I think that on paper you might say that they're the middle of the pack, but the way that they've learned the lessons, the way that they've been competing, this is a unique group. I think it's tight, and I don't think they're a football team. I think they're a family," said Landers.
The Mustangs, as they have done for several seasons now, will open their campaign with a primetime game against UMass Dartmouth. Alumni Field will be the site for a 6:00 pm kickoff on September 2nd against the Corsairs. Other non-conference opponents will again include Plymouth State and Springfield College before the conference opener against Norwich on October 1st.
Conference home games this year will see Castleton come to town on October 8th, Becker visit on October 22nd, and the final two games of the year against Maritime (Nov. 5th) and Husson (Nov. 12th), when the Mustangs will celebrate Senior Day.