Hartford, Conn. - The 2012 Trinity College football team, under the direction of Head Coach Jeff Devanney (7th Season), will take its usual place as a frontrunner for the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) in a league where the champion has needed to post an undefeated record to finish atop the standings the last four seasons. The Bantams, who won the 2008 NESCAC crown with a perfect 8-0 mark and tied for second the last two autumns at 7-1, return two All-NESCAC running backs and three All-NESCAC offensive linemen from last year's league-leading ground attack, along with five starters and two all-conference returnees from last fall's defense that led the nation in three statistical categories. Trinity starts the 2012 season at home against Bates College on Jessee/Miller Field, where Trinity holds a 43-game winning streak dating back to 2001, on Saturday, Sept. 22.
Sophomore running backs Evan Bunker (Topsfield, Mass.) and Ben Crick (Middlebury, Conn.) formed as lethal a 1-2 rushing combination as any in NCAA Division III football last fall, combining for 1,356 of Trinity's 1,747 yards on the ground. Bunker has run for 1,791 yards in two seasons, after taking hold of the starting tailback spot midway through his rookie campaign, while Crick led the Bantams with six touchdowns on the ground to go with 503 rushing yards, after missing most of 2010 with an injury. Bunker has proven to be a durable and punishing force who can grind the game out, while Crick is an quick and explosive weapon who is also one of the league's most dangerous kick returners. Sophomore Michael Budness (Belchertown, Mass.) has the skills to be a starter at tailback, and will fill countless roles for the Bantams, including FB, H-back, TE, and RB, this fall.
Trinity's annual elite play on the offensive line should continue this fall, as four starters return to a group that paved the way for Bantam ball carriers to average 218.4 yards per game and 4.6 yards per carry on the ground while yielding just eight sacks. Senior tri-captain and two-time, All-NESCAC selection Mike Valenti (Bethel, Conn.) and classmate Gino Arnold (Ridgewood, N.J.) return for their third season as Trinity's starting-guard tandem in 2012, while senior tri-captain Andrew Weiss (New York, N.Y.) flourished as the starting center a year ago. Senior Tim O'Brien (White Plains, N.Y.) was an All-NESCAC Second Team honoree at one tackle spot last season, and sophomore Joe Magardino (Chappaqua, N.Y.) is among the top candidates to fill the remaining position on the line. Valenti was named to the 2012 Beyond Sports Network (BSN) Division III All-American Third Team this summer.
Trinity also returns its starting quarterback and both starting wide receivers in 2012, as senior Ryan Burgess (Dracut, Mass.) opens pre-season with the first team after fighting to win the starting position during his sophomore and junior campaigns. Burgess possesses impressive poise under pressure and leadership skills, and should produce quality numbers this season with dependable three-year starter Drew Grombala (Cincinnati, Ohio) and speedy junior A.J. Jones (Freetown, Sierra Leone) back as his favorite targets. Burgess, who will be pushed by talented sophomore signal caller J.P. Morales (Uncasville, Conn.) at practice, has completed 83 passes in 161 attempts for 1,017 yards with eight touchdowns and seven interceptions the last two autumns. Grombala is a smart and skilled pass catcher with 41 catches for 459 yards and five touchdowns in three seasons, while Jones had team-highs of 20 receptions for 418 yards and a team-high six receiving touchdowns and emerged as a legitimate deep threat on the outside in 2011. Sophomores Will Herbet (Winchester, Mass.) and Chris Ragone (Sarasota, Fla.) showed promise as rookie receivers a year ago. Several young players will compete for playing time at tight end, although the talent and versatility of Bunker, Crick, and Budness give Trinity the luxury of playing all three at the same time.
Trinity, which topped all of NCAA Division III football in scoring defense (13.2 ppg), total defense (253.8 yards per game), and rushing defense (4.5 yards per game) last season, must replace no less than five defensive linemen, including all its starters and three All-NESCAC players, but a solid mix of veterans and underclassmen should be up to the challenge. Senior NT Donald McDonald (Avon, Conn.) and junior and converted linebacker Andrew Paul (Pompton Plains, N.J.) are among the top veterans competing, while sophomores Lyle Baker (Andover, Mass.), Mike Cyr (Scarborough, Maine), and Nathan Cyr (Kingston, N.H.) showed potential in their respective rookie campaigns.
The Bantams must also fill the huge shoes in the middle of the defense left due to the graduation of two-time NESCAC Defensive Player of the Year Walter Fallas at inside linebacker. Junior LB Steve Goniprow Barrington, R.I.) moves inside after earning All-NESCAC Second Team honors on the outside last fall, and classmate Brett Cde Baca (Millbrae, Calif.) is the returning starter at the other inside spot, having made 27 tackles last fall. Sophomore ILB Rob Gau (Westport, Conn.) was one of Trinity's most productive defenders with 33 tackles, an interception, and a team-high eight pass breakups as a rookie. On the outside, junior Mike Weatherby (Atlantic City, N.J.) and sophomore Tom Szymanski (Dracut, Mass.) make the position one the team's strengths. Seniors junior John Duffy (Millis, Mass.), a valuable special teams contributor, and Tyler Dziama (Wellesley, Mass.) provide experienced depth at linebacker.
Trinity returns three fourths of its starting secondary from 2011 that helped the Bantams finish fourth nationally in pass efficiency defense (84.68 rating) and 18th nationally in pass defense (141.8 ypg). Senior tri-captain SS Rae Haynes (Hartford, Conn.), an All-NESCAC First Team and BSN All-American Honorable Mention a year ago, leads the unit after totaling 53 tackles, four picks, and six PBU while exhibiting exemplary leadership skills in two years as a starter. Haynes was named to the USA Football News Division III All-American Second Team, and joined Valenti as Trinity representatives on the 2012 BSN All-American Third Team. Classmate Julian Brown (Philadelphia, Pa.) and junior Mike Mancini (Rocky Hill, Conn.) are also both solid safeties, while senior CB Nick Campbell (New Albany, Ohio) enjoyed a fine first season as a defensive starter after moving from wide receiver. Junior CB Akeem Labitue (Dorchester, Mass.) looks to come back from an injury-plagued sophomore campaign, and senior Matt Noble (Hartford, Conn.) is also experienced on the outside. Several other veterans and young players will battle for playing time the Bantam defensive backfield. On special teams, Campbell, Crick, and junior Brendan Bader (Brookfield, Conn.) give Trinity several attractive options on kick returns. Senior K/P Tim Costello (Solana Beach, Calif.), is back on the squad after missing almost all of last season with an injury. Costello made 17 of his 22 field goal attempts in 2009 and 2010, including a College-record 10-for-11 in 2009. Senior QB Ryan McGuirl (Basking Ridge, N.J.) is an experienced holder.