August 28, 2012

10 games to watch for 2012

McCallum Foote could lead Middlebury to new heights in his second season as starting quarterback.
Middlebury athletics photo

There is one plaque hanging on my wall that is a little more special than any of the others. That is because it is specific to football. It is the Contributor to Amateur Football Award I received from the Vermont Chapter of the National Football Foundation.

Football is exciting and intriguing to me which puts me in a group of about 95 percent of the people across the Fruited Plain. But it is also very, very personal to me.

It was the source of comfort when I awoke from my colonoscopy exam back in 1997 and was told I had cancer: a malignant tumor the size of a golf ball. And that I would need a colostomy, radiation and chemotherapy.

After a terrifying few seconds, I thought of a St. Lawrence University lineman by the name of Kevin DeBonis. I called SLU sports information director Wally Johnson to inquire about DeBonis's performance for a column I was writing. I was told he was ill and was not playing at the time. No big deal, I thought. Probably mono.

Then I found out this large lineman had lost an alarming amount of weight. Then I discovered he had ulcerative colitis and would need a colostomy.

He had his surgery, went into the weight room and resculpted his body into one that would eventually earn him the Lineman of the Year honor for the Saints.

Heck, he could play football with a protective pad and star in the trenches. I surely could write about it.

Soon after returning home I received a letter from Kevin DeBonis encouraging me in my own comeback, one that paled in comparison to his.

DeBonis's story was an inspiration to me when I needed it the most. But Division III football has equally inspirational stories running all through its 239 teams. There are wonderful stories like his in every conference, every team and, if we look hard enough, every player.

I will read all seven columns every week. That is because there is nothing quite like football and football at the D3 level is the very best football of all. Bring it on.

Here are 10 games to watch, but it would be an easier task if we were choosing 20 or 30. There are so many contests that jump out at you, but you can't go wrong with:

1. Sept.1, Endicott at Framingham State. These are two teams that have as realistic hopes as anyone for playing in the postseason. A very close game could be in the offing and if that is the case wouldn't you love to have the weapon Endicott has. Dylan Rushe nailed 17 field goals last year, including a 55-yarder.

2. Sept. 1, Western New England at Norwich. Speaking of the postseason, these are two teams that made their first NCAA playoff appearance last year. This will be the fourth consecutive meeting between the Golden Bears and Norwich, but that will be halted in 2013 when Norwich's three nonconference games are all against Liberty League opponents.

3. Sept, 22, Bowdoin at Middlebury. The New England Small College Athletic Conference teams finally begin playing and this one intrigues me. You always wonder if someone can step up and challenge the perennial heavyweights like Amherst, Williams and Trinity. Middlebury is a logical choice with its strong-armed quarterback McCallum Foote and with all-first team D3football preseason pick Billy Chapman as one of his receivers. But I also think Bowdoin is a sleeper.

4. Sept. 29, Trinity at Williams. The heavyweights slug it out.

5. Sept. 29, Curry at Endicott. Curry hasn't been Curry for the last two years. They have only been a good football team. Are they ready to come back? I would not be surprised and this is a game that can provide the answer.

6. Oct. 6, Castleton State at Norwich. This might be for more than the Maple Sap Bucket, as if that isn't enough. Norwich has the lavish preseason billing that says they will repeat as the Eastern Collegiate Football Conference champions. Castleton has Shane Brozowski, a rifle-armed quarterback  -- sorry Ron Jaworski already claims the Polish Rifle -- who tests the best defenses.

7. Oct. 27, Western New England at Endicott. It is safe to say there will be plenty riding on this game for one of the teams. It is nearly as safe a bet to say the stakes will be high for both.

8. Nov. 3, SUNY-Maritime at Norwich. The Cadets and Maritime are picked to finish 1-2 in the ECFC and they have been the teams at the top the last couple of years. This very well could be the one that settles the issue again.

9. Nov. 3. Amherst at Trinity. The Bantams don't lose in Hartford, but if anyone is going to pin a home loss on them it could well be Amherst. And history tells us this has a good chance of having NESCAC championship implications.

10. Nov. 10, Williams at Amherst. The Biggest Little Game in America. That says it all. If you're from New England you know all about its trappings. Live on NESN. Ten thousand fans in attendance. Rituals and traditions to warm the November chill. If you're from the midwest, think St. John's vs. St. Thomas, or Wabash vs. DePauw.

Ten games to watch and no Chowder Bowl or Cranberry Bowl? It's a feast with way too much to eat. Enjoy! 

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Tom Haley

A seven time Vermont sportswriter of the year, Tom Haley has been with the Rutland Herald since 1987. He was inducted into the Castleton State College Hall of Fame in 2004 and received the Contributor to Football Award from the National Football Foundation's Vermont Chapter.

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