Excitement high as Western New England looks to challenge for NEFC Boyd Division title

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JJ Jachym ran for 871 yards and scored nine touchdowns in 2010.
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Phil Tsopanides
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Bryce Brown
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. - Coming off its most successful season ever, Western New England looks to challenge for the extremely competitive New England Football Conference (NEFC) Boyd Division championship in 2011.

It all begins on Saturday, August 13 when head coach Keith Emery welcomes over 100 players back to school for the start of pre-season camp. There are 14 returning starters, including seven All-Division players, among the group.

Excitement is high after the Golden Bears posted a 9-2 record last year that shattered the former school record of six wins set the previous season. WNE also set another team mark with seven consecutive victories.

Western New England tied for first with Endicott in the Boyd Division with a 6-1 mark a year ago, captured the President's Trophy with a 17-10 win over Westfield State, and ended the season by playing in the program's first-ever post-season game with the result a convincing 66-41 victory over Maine Maritime in the ECAC North Central Championship Bowl.

The Golden Bears have both their two-deep offensive backfield and defensive linemen back, and several promising newcomers anxious and ready to push for playing time. Emery will look to these strengths as he tries to shore up the areas where improvement is needed.

"We won several close battles last year and wins against Curry, Plymouth State, and Salve Regina, and the narrow loss at Endicott have motivated our guys over the off-season," Emery stated. "They know they will have to prepare and play their best football every week to keep pace with the rest of the division. We're excited to get started.

"The biggest question marks this year are at the wide receiver and inside linebacker positions," noted Emery. "We lost our top three receivers and both starting inside linebackers from last year. The departure of all-time leading tackler Dylan Chandler and fellow four-year starter Justin Bailey leaves a bunch of talented, but inexperienced players vying for the starting nods at inside linebacker. The coaching staff hopes the new starters quickly emerge during pre-season drills.

"The NEFC is so much better now than it was seven years ago. I'm glad we have been part of the overall improvement of the league. It's going to take a lot to get to the top this season. We're looking forward to the challenge," said Emery.

Here's a look at the various positions.

Defensive Line
All eight players return up front with junior end James Georges (Stamford, CT) (33 tackles, 3 sacks) leading the way. He made several key plays that helped preserve wins last year and gained All-Boyd First Team recognition. Sophomore tackle Kevin Soule (Medfield, MA) (45 tackles, 2 sacks) achieved Second Team Division honors following a successful freshman campaign. Joining Georges and Soule are seniors Chris Chew (Vernon, CT), Matt Danko (Southington, CT), Rob Kampson (West Islip, NY), Nate Kuzmeski (Tolland, CT), Scott Wojciechowski (Adams, MA), and sophomore Scott Maille (Bristol,RI). This massive, fast and talented front line will be counted on to lead the defensive attack.

Inside Linebackers
After four years and nearly 80 starts, Dylan Chandler (Durham, ME) (school-record 329 tackles) and Justin Bailey (Northborough, MA) (263) graduated after combining for 592 stops. Several players will battle throughout camp for starting assignments. Senior Mark Devlin (Guilford, CT) moves over from outside linebacker and has the most game experience. Senior Mike Valentine (Newington, CT) is back after missing the 2010 season due to an injury. Juniors Nolan Rickard (Southington, CT), Dave Micu (Bedford, MA), Sean McKeown (Enfield, CT) and Colin Garry (Woodstock, CT) will challenge for starting positions after seeing mostly special teams' duties the past two years. Rickard appeared in 20 games during his first two seasons.

Outside Linebackers
The inexperience of the inside group of linebackers is nicely countered by the experience of the outside backers. Todd Krolikowski (Bristol, CT) (45 tackles in 2010) returns for his senior season looking to return to the form that earned him All-Boyd honors as sophomore. Sophomore Brandon Ormsby (Windsor, CT) won a starting position as a freshman and finished fourth on the team in tackles (54). Senior Joe Cicarella (Guilford, CT) (who returns from injury) and junior James Kravic (Red Hook, NY) (who moves from safety) both provide strong depth.

Defensive Backs
The Golden Bears return all three members of the starting defensive backfield. Junior free safety Phil Tsopanides (Fairfield, CT) led the team in tackles (74) and was named to the All-New England Division II/III Football Writers All-Star and All-Boyd Division Teams. He had two interceptions, including a school-record 98 return for a touchdown in a 17-10 win over Westfield State in the President's Trophy contest, and a pick in the end zone on the final play of the game in a 14-6 victory at Plymouth State. Junior corner backs Corey Brown (Worcester, MA) (two interceptions) and Alex Miller (Seekonk, MA) combined for 62 tackles a year ago.

Despite two new starters at inside linebacker, the defense is confident they can improve on their 2010 performance when the unit ranked fourth in the 16-team NEFC in scoring defense (16.6 points).

Offensive Line
Boosting the confidence for the WNE coaching staff is the return of four of five starters on the offensive line. Junior Joe Grieci (Massapequa, NY) is slated to start in the place of departed senior Tom Tousignant (Naugatuck, CT) at center. Veteran tackles Chris Mullins (Oakville, CT) and Joe Van Huysen (Killingworth, CT) return for their senior campaign. Van Huysen was an All-Boyd First Team selection at left tackle a year ago while Mullins missed the second half of 2010 due to injury. Also returning is senior Richard Poquette (Burlington, VT) who was an All-Boyd Second-Team selection at right guard. Junior left guard Jimmy Whitlow (Millis, MA) rounds out the starting five.

Tight Ends
Despite the loss of All-Boyd Second Team performer Dan Crane (Waterbury, CT) (18 receptions, 190 yards, one touchdown) and Brad Medeiros (Little Compton, RI), the Golden Bears have a pair of promising athletes in senior Alex Wolf (Farmington, CT) and sophomore Dan LaNoir (Queensbury, NY). Wolf can also play offensive tackle while LaNoir impressed the coaching staff both with both his blocking ability and athleticism during spring practice.

Wide Receivers
This area is the biggest offensive question mark for the Golden Bears in 2011. Junior Michael Graham (Norwalk, CT) moves from running back to a slot position to take advantage of his fine skills. Graham rushed for 406 yards and four TDs while catching eight passes last year. WNE looks for continued production from junior Brendon Thompson (Enfield, CT) who had seven receptions for 80 yards and a touchdown while rushing for 114 yards on 11 carries (10.4 avg.) Seniors Bob Lapple (Newtown, CT) and Matt Potenza (Hopkinton, MA) hope to make their presence felt along with impressive group of freshmen.

Running Backs
Senior JJ Jachym (Milford, CT) is another player in a long line of tough, hard-nosed Western New England running backs dating back to WNE Downes Hall of Famer Marvin Langley '01 (Waterville, ME) Jachym rushed for 871 yards and nine touchdowns in 2010, which earned him First-Team All-Boyd accolades. He has 1187 career yards rushing and 11 touchdowns. Sophomore Dylan Danko (Southington, CT) moves from the slot to a back position this fall.

Senior Bryce Brown (Guilford, CT) returns for his second year after completing one of the most spectacular seasons in program history. He was selected the NEFC Boyd Division Offensive Player-of-the-Year and gained First-Team recognition after compiling 2,029 yards in total offense. Brown was voted the Most Outstanding Player of the ECAC North Central Championship Bowl after completing 13-of-15 passes for 160 yards and two TDs, and rushing for a school-record 307 yards and two other scores against Maine Maritime. Senior DJ Goyette (Oxford, MA) and sophomore John Krafick (New Milford, CT) will continue their competition for the back-up role.

Kicking/Special Teams
All-Boyd Division standout Jake Field (Long Valley, NJ) graduated after compiling 91 points the last two seasons. John Krafick (New Milford, CT) has the inside position to take over the kicking duties on a full-time basis after doing a nice job when Field was injured last season. A trio of freshmen candidates will challenge for the positions. The kick return game remains strong with juniors Michael Graham (Norwalk, CT) and Brendon Thompson (Enfield, CT)  leading the way. Graham averaged 33.6 yards for nine returns, which included an 89-yard touchdown return against UMass Dartmouth. Thompson, who had a pair of kickoff returns for touchdowns against MIT as a freshman, compiled a 20.7 average for 14 returns. Junior Bob Lapple (Newtown, CT) is the top punt return specialist.

Five seniors will serve as team captains this fall, quarterback Bryce Brown (Guilford, CT), defensive ends Matt Danko (Southington, CT) and Scott Wojciechowski (Adams, MA), running back JJ Jachym (Milford, CT), and outside linebacker Todd Krolikowski (Bristol, CT).

They will lead the Golden Bears through another challenging schedule that begins with the home opener on September 3, against non-league rival Norwich. The Cadets posted an 8-3 record last year, placed second in the Eastern Collegiate Football Conference (ECFC), and participated in the ECAC Northeast Bowl. Western New England visits Massachusetts Maritime and then Westfield State in the President's Trophy game before returning home for its Boyd Division opener against Nichols.

The Golden Bears also host division opponents Curry, Plymouth State, and Endicott while traveling to play Salve Regina, MIT, and UMass Dartmouth. Five Boyd Division teams finished with winning seasons last year as the NEFC continues to field strong, competitive programs. Western New England also will play a junior varsity schedule for the third year, which gives all of its players an opportunity to participate in the program.
Maintenance in progress.
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