College: 10 takeaways from Holy Cross camp

NEFJ made its way out to Worcester on Friday for another Camp Visit, this time with the three-time defending Patriot League champs Holy Cross.

With a bunch of returning starters and recognition flowing in nationally, this could arguably be the biggest season in program history. We’ve got 10 takeaways from the two hour session to kick off the weekend…

1. The staff is second to none: Holy Cross wouldn’t have given head coach Bob Chesney a contract extension last year if he wasn’t doing a good job. Good job is also an understatement. Chesney has won everywhere he’s been and has a chance to lead the team to a record setting fourth straight league title and a run at a national championship. The entire staff was impressive to watch on Friday. Every single coach sprints to a drill and the energy was even higher than you’d expect for a practice in August, especially for a team that plans on playing deep into December.

2. Attention to detail: Look, every staff puts its team through various situations they may face during the season, but Holy Cross takes it too another level. At one point Friday, Chesney and the staff yelled “TV TIMEOUT!” for one period to simulate routines that’ll be used during a regular season game. I guarantee you don’t find that with losing or mediocre programs.

3. The buy in: I didn’t see a single player walk to a drill or team period once in two hours. With every bit of competition whether it was 1-on-1’s or 11-on-11, guys were fully invested, sometimes roaring so loud when a teammate made a play it sounded like an actual game crowd. The biggest cheer/celebration of the day came when former Xaverian Hawk Noah Eldridge (OL) made a diving catch to kick off practice when put up against fellow freshman Christian Ross (DL) for one route. Guys were also sprinting to drills and were pissed when they weren’t there for the first rep.

4. Great QB situation: Junior Matt Sluka is back and looked bigger and stronger and appeared to throw the ball with a bit more accuracy than last year too. Behind him is sophomore Joe Pesansky, and we all know Chesney isn’t afraid to go with two guys in a game. Freshmen Mark Forucci and Max Mosey round out the depth chart and made some good throws at times on Friday.

5. Wide receiver group is very, very good: It’s not hyperbole to say that Holy Cross might have the best receiver group in New England, or it’s at least is in the conversation with BC. Ayir Asante, Jalen Coker and Spencer Gilliam lead this talented unit and are capable of catching anything in their vicinity. Junior Byron Shipman, sophomore Justin Shorter, seniors Dominik Thomas and Jack Coulson along, junior Bryce Barron and freshman Matt Brunelle (Paxton/Loomis Chaffee) all possess great size, speed, or both. This is a dangerous team offensively.

6. Tight ends are solid: Like the receivers, Holy Cross has some good size at the TE position. Senior Sean Morris, junior Hunter Lane, sophomore Jacob Petersen and freshman Nathan Schillinger all dominated the sled when working on blocking and could all serve as a red zone threat one way or another.

6. Depth at RB: With Peter Oliver and Tyler Purdy back, there’s plenty of experience in the backfield. Jordan Fuller is going to factor in too and he’s basically a clone of those other two guys combined. Just in terms of size it’s a good group, but there’s speed and great vision there with all of them.

7. O-line athleticism: You could technically just watch the video of Eldridge referenced earlier and it would speak to this unit’s athleticism, but there’s some big boys up front that can move. It’s an experienced group too, with seniors Nick Olsofka, Jack McCauley, Ben Blessing and CJ Hanson all back. Junior Bryan Pacific (Winchester/Duxter Southfield) should be in the rotation too along with a few others.

8. D-Line athleticism: Same thing on the other side of the ball. The best defense in the FCS has guys up front that are tough to move. Seniors Dan Kuznetsov, Jake Reichwein, Tom Kiessling, junior Jared Dryer (Merrimack, NH), sophomore Josh Williams, and Damon Donalds all stood out at various times on Friday.

9. Elite linebackers and defensive backs: Speaking of the best defense in FCS, the best linebacker in all of FCS Jacob Dobbs – who is getting national attention now – is back. Liam Anderson is also back and those two alone should put the fear of god in opposing running backs or receivers going over the middle. Senior DB’s John Smith, classmate Devin Haskins, junior Matt Duchemin (Haverhill/St. John’s Prep) and senior strong safety Terrell Prince will patrol the back end for the Crusaders.

10. Special teams in good shape: Speedy return guys and most importantly, kicker Derek Ng is back. Ng is as close to automatic as you’ll find in college football and will be a key contributor to this team again.

There’s no reason why (aside from health) Holy Cross shouldn’t earn another Patriot League title again this season. Some places are ranking the Crusaders as high as 15th in preseason FCS polls, and while there will be very little acknowledgment of the outside attention, there’s a palpable sense within the program that this could be one very special year.

You can also check out interviews with Chesney here (Part Two), Sluka, Dobbs and Eldridge.