The Capital University football team begins the 2013 campaign under new head coach Craig Candeto this Saturday against Thomas More (Ky.) College at 1:30 p.m. at Bernlohr Stadium.
After nearly four weeks of preseason camp and practice, the Crusaders hope to start the season off right and represent the Ohio Athletic Conference against the Saints, who have been to the NCAA Division III Playoffs in four of the last five seasons.
Capital also vows to improve on its 2-8 overall record a season ago. The Crusaders were downed 44-17 against eventual NCAA qualifier Wittenberg in their season opener and lone non-conference contest a year ago.
Candeto, who was hired in December after serving as an assistant coach at The Citadel (S.C.), has overseen the offense's transition to the triple option, which will make its debut Saturday.
"I'm hoping it'll be very successful," Candeto said. "I don't know that our conference has ever seen this offense. To me, it's an offense that is very fast, and it's very hard to stay on your assignments defensively. I think after seeing a lot of spread, it'll be a challenge for the defenses in our conference to get ready in one week."
Senior Alex Nydza (Cleveland, Ohio), who rushed for 134 yards and threw for 263 in a primarily reserve role in 2012, has earned the start at quarterback for Capital. He'll be joined in the backfield by returning starters Alex Coleman (Columbus, Ohio) and Bo Hardy (Galloway, Ohio). Coleman, a senior who has moved from wide receiver to slot back, posted a team-best 528 receiving yards and three touchdowns a season ago. Hardy, a sophomore who'll play the "B-back" position, earned All-OAC honorable mention accolades in 2012 after rushing for a team-high 608 yards.
Other skill position starters include junior slot back Nolan Gill (Hilliard, Ohio), senior wide receiver Jacob Batcho (Massillon, Ohio) and sophomore wide receiver Zak Wirick (West Liberty, Ohio). Gill tied Nydza for second on the team with 134 rushing yards last season.
Seniors Anthony Colucci (Ashtabula, Ohio) and David Howson (Hudson, Ohio) have retained their starting positions on the offensive line. They'll be joined by senior Kris Hrovatich (Sylvania, Ohio), junior Bradley Beck (Fremont, Ohio) and freshman Will Weir (Zanesville, Ohio), who will anchor the line at center. Senior Austin Clarridge (Marysville, Ohio) is No. 1 on the depth chart at tight end.
Defensively, the Crusaders will be led by a secondary where all four starters are returners with significant game experience. Seniors Andre Cousin (Fostoria, Ohio) and Domenic Hebebrand (Hinckley, Ohio) look to lead the unit. Hebebrand, the team's leading tackler in 2012, was a 2011 All-OAC honorable mention recipient. Juniors Adam Gammell (Silver Lake, Ohio) and Anthony Cicione (Akron, Ohio) round out the starting defensive backfield.
"We have some returners in the secondary that should help solidify our defense, especially from a leadership standpoint," Candeto said. "We put a lot on our safeties to get the defense lined up, so those guys have experience to do that."
The linebacking corps also returns vast experience. Sophomore Matt Tash (Painesville, Ohio) is the team's second-leading returning tackler from a season ago, while juniors Wes Meadows (Athens, Ohio) and TJ Langermeier (West Jefferson, Ohio) each earned ample playing time last season.
The defensive line returns just one member of the rotation from a season ago and is perhaps the team's biggest question mark. Senior Jason Hutchins (Springboro, Ohio) made nine tackles in eight games last year and will start at defensive end. Junior Gene Rucker (Marion, Ohio), who played linebacker in 2012, will start on the other side. Sophomores Vince Austin (Highland Heights, Ohio) and Isaac Livengood (Norwalk, Ohio) are slotted into the defensive tackle positions.
On special teams, juniors Travis Bosanac (Strongsville, Ohio) and Joey Riley (Twinsburg, Ohio) return to lead the kicking game. Bosanac was named to the Fred Mitchell Outstanding Place Kicker Award Watch List, an award that honors excellence both on the field and off of it, in late July. Riley brings stability to the punting game, pinning opponents inside the 20-yard line 11 times in 2012.
Coleman is listed as the primary punt and kick returner, roles he also held a season ago.
Capital has never played Thomas More, a member of the Presidents' Athletic Conference that finished 7-3 a season ago. The Saints led the PAC in scoring offense (32.7 ppg) and scoring defense (15.3 ppg) in 2012.
Thomas More returns several key skill position players on offense, including quarterback Jensen Gebhardt, who threw for 14 touchdowns last season, and running back Domonique Hayden, who missed the 2012 season but posted more than 800 yards rushing and 400 receiving in 2011. Defensively, the Saints are led by linebacker Alex Taylor (94 tackles in 2012) and defensive lineman Erick Butler (7.5 sacks).
Since starting varsity football in 1990, Thomas More is the second-winningest Division III program in the nation, amassing a 166-72 mark.
"They're a great football team, and after watching them on film, we know it's going to be a great challenge for us," Candeto said. "We have to take care of the football on offense and get takeaways on defense to put our offense in a position to score some points."