Spartan Captains, Darren Callan, Tyler Higley, Soren Pelz-Walsh provide insight on the upcoming season.
CASTLETON, Vt. - The Castleton football program looks to continue its success as it enters the 2016 season following back-to-back 7-3 seasons that included wins over some of the top teams in the Eastern Collegiate Football Conference.
Although the Spartans have had a record-high number of wins in each of the last two seasons, the team has its sights set higher in 2016. "I think the guys want to contend for a title, and I think when you're in those last couple of weeks of the season, and you have a chance to be competing for a title, that's a good thing for our program," said third-year head coach Tony Volpone. "I think our guys want to finish it off a little better than the way last year ended. We beat Norwich, and that's great, but the second-to-last game of the year last year could have positioned [our game against Norwich] to be the championship game and it just didn't go our way."
The strength of the Spartans' offense begins in the backfield, as Castleton returns each of its two top rushers from a season ago. Moe Harris became the first Spartan running back to eclipse the 1,000-yard rushing mark in a season in 2015, finishing with 1,065 yards on 211 carries for a whopping 5.0 yards-per-rush. Corey Brimmer also returns for the Spartans following a junior year in which he collected 270 yards on the ground. The backfield also features a speedy freshman in Brett Waller.
The receiving core of the Spartans also remains nearly unblemished from a season ago with seniors Soren Pelz-Walsh, Makai Hawkins and Anthony Porcelli leading the way. Pelz-Walsh, a captain in 2016, was the team's top option on the outside in 2015, catching 60 balls for 968 yards and seven touchdowns. Hawkins and Porcelli combined for 66 catches, 687 yards and a pair of touchdowns a year ago. Another senior, Isaiah Pearson, and sophomore Ryan Barry contribute depth to the wideout position for the Spartans.
Eric Decker returns to anchor the offensive line following a season in which he garnered New England Football Writers Division II/III All-New England accolades. Decker also received ECFC Offensive Lineman of the Year honors in 2015, starting all 10 games without individually allowing a sack. The 2016 Spartan offensive line will feature faces that haven't seen the field as much, but have spent time with the program. Senior Jordan Stone also returns to the offensive line after appearing in all 10 games a season ago. Sophomore Sam Lewis has starting-center potential, while senior Joe Ramada has shown improvement on the right side of the line after appearing in two games in 2015.
One of the most-watched battles on the offensive side of the ball at camp thus far has been the quarterback position, as it has been a three-way battle for the starting spot. Nick Boles, Mitchell Caron and Luke TanCreti are each fighting for the top spot in a decision that will likely be made just days before the season opener. TanCreti, a senior, has made just three appearances for Castleton, while Boles and Caron—both sophomores—have yet to appear in a collegiate contest.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Castleton secondary returns a handful of key players and experience from last year's squad. Senior captain Tyler Higley is back for his senior season after setting the school record for interceptions in a single season in 2015, with seven. Higley will fill one cornerback position, while Joe DeAlesandro, Owen Tretter and Luke Mullin will spend time at the corner spot as well. Other features in the defensive backfield include safeties Tyler Sturtevant and Mark Alberque, both of whom are seniors.
Volpone sees his defensive front-seven as a strength as well, even though there may be some new faces in the crowd. Darren Callan, one of the team's three captains and the squad's leading tackler a season ago, looks to lead the group of linebackers once more in 2016. Joining him will be Jakob Trautwein and Joel Antoine, a pair of juniors. On the defensive line, newcomer Bubba Collins has impressed early in camp. Matt Lawhorn and Sha'ron Schmidt-Bilowith, who each saw limited action a season ago, have also had strong preseasons and project to see significant snaps on the defensive front.
Rob Lineberger highlights the special teams grouping, as the senior handled both the placekicking and punting duties a season ago. Lineberger was 7-for-9 on field goal attempts in 2015, and made 32 of his 34 extra point attempts. The senior also boomed a 70-yard punt in week seven last season, and averaged 34.0 yards per punt while placing 13 punts inside the opponents' 20-yard line.
"I think from a skill standpoint, we're very deep," said Volpone about the team as a whole. "[We have guys] that make it difficult to not put them in the game because of what we're seeing at practice right now."
The Spartans open their season on Saturday, Sept. 3, when they host Plymouth St. at Spartan Stadium at 1 p.m. The homecoming contest will be played on Sept. 17, against Salve Regina, with a noon kickoff. Castleton will begin its ECFC schedule on Oct. 1 with a home contest against Anna Maria.