Reflections on a second chance

More news about: Montclair State
Chris D'Andrea
The second senior season was worth it for Montclair State running back Chris D'Andrea.
Montclair State athletics photo

Chris D'Andrea feared the worst. The sharp pains in his foot just weren't normal.

So as the senior Montclair State running back sat in a foot specialist's office with his parents by his side, awaiting the results of a second round of X-rays, he wondered if his football career was over.

When the doctor finally entered, D'Andrea's fears were confirmed -- the Union, N.J., native had suffered a fifth metatarsal fracture in his left foot. His season -- and presumably his career -- was over after just four games in his senior season.

"The doctor came in and told me that my season was over and I literally curled up into my father's arms and I started crying," D'Andrea said. "I said to myself, 'I'm never going to play football again. This is it.'"

When the initial shock and disappointment wore off, D'Andrea began to consider his father's proposition -- a medical redshirt. At first, D'Andrea was hesitant. He wanted to graduate with the rest of the senior class, the guys he battled with, bled with and grew with over the previous four seasons. But he also didn't want his career to end in a back room at a foot specialist's office. He wanted it to end on the field, where's he played the game he loves since Pop Warner days.

So D'Andrea put in for the redshirt, which was approved Dec. 15, 2010, just over two months after he suffered the injury in Montclair State's game against NJAC rival Kean. D'Andrea began his rehabilitation with ankle weights to strengthen his ankle and calf. From there, he began endurance running on treadmills and ellipticals. When the foot has healed enough, D'Andrea began running three days a week while wearing a 60-pound weighted vest. As the summer wore on, D'Andrea increased his training to the point that, when training camp started, he was in the best shape of his career.

"I trained harder, I lifted harder, I ran harder than I ever did in my life," D'Andrea said. "I put my body to the limit. ... It paid off."

D'Andrea, who said he came into the season expecting 15-16 carries per game, instead found himself getting 25-30 each week. At 5-foot-9, D'Andrea doesn't scream "workhorse back." But D'Andrea's solidly-built, 190-frame was able to take the pounding.

D'Andrea responded with one of the finest seasons in Montclair State football history. The numbers speak for themselves:

- 1,583 rushing yards -- a new single-season school record and, as of the end of the regular season, the most in the country.

- 158.3 yards per game -- a new single-season school record that broke the previous mark by 21 yards.

- 16 total touchdowns and 96 points scored -- both second-most in school history.

- 6.36 yards per carry -- new single-season school record that broke the previous mark set in 1973.

D'Andrea also finished his career in the top 10 in career rushing yards, yards per carry and all-purpose yards.

"Once he breaks the line of scrimmage, he can run away from people," Montclair State coach Rick Giancola said. "He has given us ... probably more long breakaway runs and more breakaway touchdowns than we've had in a long, long time."

Giancola, who just finished his 29th season at Montclair State, has coached hundreds of backs throughout his career. With a program-wide culture that favors upperclassmen, most players have to wait at least a season or two to see significant time. Giancola even told Terry Underwood, who famously led Wagner to a national title, in his recruitment that he would have to pay his dues at Montclair State. Underwood opted for a quicker path. D'Andrea paid his dues.

D'Andrea played sparingly his first three seasons, sitting behind 1,000-yard backs Ryan McCoach and Jeff Bliss. D'Andrea started the Red Hawks' first four games last season and was on pace for more than 1,100 yards before his injury.

"We've had our share of pretty good tailbacks too, but he's got to rank right up there with being the best," Giancola said. "... Certainly he's going to leave a void, there's no question. You don't expect every tailback to come in and rush for 1,500 yards every year."

Teammates voted D'Andrea a captain for his senior year, and Giancola promised him he would retain that title in his fifth year. D'Andrea readily admits he's been a vocal leader for as long as he's played football. Now, he has a tale of perseverance and recovery that speaks for itself.

In a sign of his selflessness, D'Andrea gives the credit for his success to Montclair State's offensive line -- left tackle Jeff Angstadt, left guard Doug Pannon, center Dan Aguilar, right guard Dan Litz and right tackle Mike Sperduti -- and fullback Sergio Garcia, his roommate.

"I was never the tallest running back, but I was always the toughest," D'Andrea said. "The same goes for my offensive line and my fullback, Sergio. ... They weren't the biggest, but they were the toughest [in the NJAC]. I can say that for sure."

D'Andrea, a physical education major who hopes to become a physical education teacher and also open a gym strictly for high school and college athletes, said he was disappointed the Red Hawks missed out of the NCAA playoffs, but was thankful for a second chance to finish his football career the right way.

"God gave me a second chance, coach G gave me a second game, and most importantly my team gave me a second chance," D'Andrea said. "Even though we came up short in the [NJAC] championship game, I thank God every day for giving me the chance to come back and play with my team."

Playoff reaction: St. John Fisher is in
Five East Region were among the 32 teams in the NCAA playoff bracket released Sunday night. Of those five teams, it's St. John Fisher that has caused the most debate.

St. John Fisher, a two-loss team out of the Empire 8, was chosen over other a host of other two-loss teams, including St. Olaf, Bethel, Wheaton and NJAC teams Montclair State and Cortland State, as well as two one-loss teams.

There weren't any other surprises as far as East Region teams were concerned -- Salisbury wrapped up the Empire 8 and their automatic bid by beating St. John Fisher two weeks ago.

Delaware Valley rolled Widener to complete a perfect 10-0 regular season, secure the MAC title and clinch the automatic playoff berth. Kean defeated Montclair State to clinch the NJAC and earn an automatic playoff spot. Hobart did the same in the Liberty League, knocking off Rochester to secure a spot in the field.

What's interesting to examine is how the East teams were "seeded." While the NCAA doesn't release official seeds, NCAA committee chair Joy Solomen confirmed that UW-Whitewater, Mount Union, Mary Hardin-Baylor and Delaware Valley were the four No. 1 seeds on the In the HuddLLe program Sunday night. In Delaware Valley's bracket, St. John Fisher is placed in the spot traditionally occupied by the No. 5 seed.

So St. John Fisher earns a higher seed than Hobart, even though Hobart won the head-to-head matchup and won its conference. Salisbury is slotted where the No. 2 seed would fit in UW-Whitewater's bracket. Kean is "seeded" third in that same bracket, setting up a potential Salisbury-Kean clash in the second round.

Of these five East playoff teams, Hobart was dealt the toughest hand. In fact, you could argue Hobart has the toughest path of any team in the tournament. The Statesmen drew Wesley in their first-round matchup. If Hobart is able to get past Wesley, a matchup with Linfield likely awaits. Delaware Valley hosts Norwich in the first round and would play the St. John Fisher-Johns Hopkins winner in the second round.

Rather than repeat information here, I'll take this space to direct you to the comprehensive team preview capsules our group of writers has compiled.

Team capsules:

Bracket challenge (it's free!):

ECAC slate: Cortland State to play Albright
Though its often small solace to teams that missed out on the NCAA playoffs, only a handful of teams earn ECAC bowl appearances each year. This season, five of the 12 teams playing in the six bowl games come from the East Region.

Cortland State will host Albright in the Southeast Bowl, a game that will mark the first-ever meeting between the two schools. Bridgewater State will host Alfred in the Northeast Bowl, a rematch of the 1989 North Bowl.

Widener will host Waynesburg in the South Atlantic Bowl, while Lebanon Valley will host St. Vincent in the Southwest Bowl. All six bowl games will be played Saturday afternoon.

Cortland is coming off a convincing win in the annual Cortaca Jug game against Ithaca. Quarterback Dan Pitcher passed for 280 yards and three touchdowns and added another 94 yards rushing. Pitcher has been one of the top quarterbacks in the country this season, and will cap one of the finest careers in Cortland history Saturday.

Albright opened the season on a promising four-game winning streak, but lost three in a row to derail any NCAA hopes. T.J. Luddy completed 17 of his 19 passes for 253 yards and three scores against Stevenson in the regular season finale. Whether or not Luddy can match Pitcher's output will likely determine the outcome of this game.

Widener was in the MAC title race all season long, coming up short against Delaware Valley in the regular season finale. The Aggies forced Pride quarterback Chris Haupt into two interceptions, and held the team to just 52 rushing yards. Haupt, like Pitcher, has put up strong numbers all season long.

Lebanon Valley, as it has all season, will lean heavily on running back Ben Guiles. Guiles rushed for 140 yards and three touchdowns in a win over King's this past weekend. Expect another heavy dose of Guiles in his final game in a Lebanon Valley uniform.

Top 25 roundup: Kean jumps two spots
Kean moved up from No. 14 to No. 12 in this week's Top 25 poll following its NJAC-clinching victory over Montclair State this past Saturday.

Salisbury and Delaware Valley held steady at No. 10 and No. 11, respectively. Montclair State fell from No. 15 to No. 24 following the loss to Kean.

Cortland State, Widener, Hobart and St. John Fisher also received votes.

Quick hits
Justin Gallo caught seven passes for 96 yards to become Union's all-time leading receiver in the Dutchmen's season-ending 44-36 win over future Liberty League foe Springfield. Gallo finishes his career with 3,288 receiving yards, the most in Union history. Tight end Eric Zavadsky caught three touchdowns for Union, which clinched its 30th non-losing season in the last 31 years. Springfield's Josh Carter concluded a prolific career by rushing for a Springfield record 299 yards in the loss. Carter's career 5,944 yards of total offense breaks the school record of 5,723, held by Chris Sharpe. ... Parker Showers rushed for 125 yards and Craig Needhammer added 114 yards and a touchdown as Lycoming piled up a school-record 616 yards of total offense in a 54-7 win over FDU-Florham. Zach Klinger threw for 198 yards and one score and ran for three touchdowns. ... Nick Bricker, Greg Burns and Michael Lambert each finished with 12 tackles and helped hold Rowan to just 183 total yards of offense in TCNJ's 7-0 win. A blocked punt and a holding call in the end zone resulted in a pair of safeties for the Lions, who also added a field goal to compile their seven points. ... Alex Coviello threw for 164 yards and three touchdowns and added another 135 yards on the ground to lead Merchant Marine to a 31-24 win over RPI, its first win in Troy, N.Y. since 1960. ... Zach Tivald rushed for 184 yards and two touchdowns, while Alex George added 98 yards and two more scores on the ground in Wilkes' 43-34 win over Stevenson. George also passed for 174 yards and two touchdowns. Stevenson quarterback C.J. Hopson was solid as well, passing for 256 yards and three touchdowns and rushing for 118 yards and one score. ... Dawys German rushed for a career-best 233 yards as William Paterson knocked off Western Connecticut 45-19. In the process, German became the Pioneers' first 1,000-yard rusher since 1996. ... Marcus Washington ran for 187 yards and two touchdowns to help St. Lawrence snap a four-game losing streak and beat WPI 21-14. ... Tyrone Nichols rushed for a career-high 193 yards and two touchdowns as Brockport State defeated Morrisville State 35-20. Dylan Umbra added 114 yards and two touchdowns on the ground for Brockport State. Lemar Johnson paced Morrisville's offensive attack with 125 rushing yards and two scores.

Looking ahead
Usually I pick three or four of the most crucial matchups across the East Region to highlight. Let's be fair -- it's playoff time now, all the games are crucial. Here are the five first-round games involving East teams (with assumed bracket seeds for each team):

UW-Whitewater bracket
- No. 6 Christopher Newport (8-2) at No. 3 Kean (9-1), noon, Saturday
- No. 7 Western New England (10-1) at No. 2 Salisbury (9-1), noon, Saturday

Delaware Valley bracket
- No. 8 Norwich (7-3) at No. 1 Delaware Valley (10-0), noon, Saturday
- No. 5 St. John Fisher (8-2) at No. 4 Johns Hopkins (10-0), noon, Saturday

Mary Hardin-Baylor bracket
- No. 7 Hobart (7-1) at No. 2 Wesley (9-1), noon, Saturday

Thank you/contact me
Handling the Around the East column duties this season has been both an honor and a privilege. If you've read the column at any point this season, thank you. If you've emailed me with positive feedback, a critique, or just simply to chat about D-III football, thank you. As I said at the beginning of the season, I believe the Around the Region columns are services to the fans. Enjoy the playoffs and keep in touch. Drop me a line at or send me a tweet (@Andrew_Lovell).