By Bill Doyle, Staff Writer
August 26, 2012
Worcester, MA --- A lot of former backups will try to make sure the Worcester State football team doesn't back down this season.
The Lancers return only four starters on offense and five on defense. The good news is the backups last season played for the best WSU team in nearly a decade. They probably would have started for a lot of other Lancers teams. WSU was 8-3 for its first winning season since 2004 and its best record since 8-3 in 2003.
"We have a real good core coming back," coach Brien Cullen said, "and the new kids we have coming in actually are athletically just as good if not better, but they're pups. They're still learning the whole thing. How they pick up the system will be the key."
Worcester State visits city rival WPI and defending New England Football Conference champion Western New England in the second and third weeks of the season, so the young squad will be tested early.
The Lancers must replace all-NEFC quarterback Tony Tokarz, who threw for 24 touchdowns, and running back Marcus Price, who rushed for a school-record 1,230 yards last season despite missing one game and most of another with a leg injury. Tokarz and Price accounted for 325 of the 388 yards WSU averaged per game.
Senior Corey Spencer, who backed up Tokarz the past two years, is expected to start the season opener at 7 PM Friday at home against Anna Maria. Tokarz will be on the opposing sidelines as a graduate assistant and wide receivers coach for the AmCats.
Spencer completed only 9 of 27 passes for 175 yards and one touchdown with two interceptions last season, but he did throw for a touchdown in overtime and the winning conversion in the third OT in a 42-40 victory over Westfield State. His teammates respected him so much, they voted him one of the team's four captains this fall. Cullen said Spencer is the first backup to be voted a captain in his 30 years as WSU head coach.
"He had a great spring and he's been here all summer working out," Cullen said.
Cullen also could turn to sophomore Kevin Bumpus, who transferred from Assumption. Bumpus threw for 1,220 yards and five scores and ran for 230 yards and five TDs last season and was Worcester Area Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Whoever ends up at quarterback will line up behind an offensive line that returns only one full-time starter, tackle Kyle Morris, but will be throwing to an experienced receiving corps. Three of WSU's four returning offensive starters are junior slot receiver AJ Scerra of Marlboro, senior flanker Justin DeAndrade, and sophomore tight end Casey Hippert of Douglas.
Scerra caught 43 passes for 635 yards and 10 touchdowns, all team highs. Hippert's 19 receptions ranked third on the team and DeAndrade's 12 were fourth.
"We are the deepest at wide receiver that we've ever been," Cullen said. "We want to get the ball in the hands of our playmakers."
Sophomores Kemani Jones, Mike Dance, and Stephen Payen are in the hunt to replace Price.
Matching last year's average of 31.5 points a game ranks among the greatest challenges for Cullen, who will return to his run-and-shoot, wide-open style while serving as his own offensive coordinator following the departure of Devin Gates to Fitchburg State.
Captain Joe Sweet anchors an experienced defense line that features four returning starters. Captain Graham Asum of Marlboro is the team's shutdown corner.
The kicking teams are experienced. Third-year Alex Blakeslee, who averaged 36.1 yards a punt, and classmate Derek Muccini, who converted 7 of 12 field-goal attempts and 29 of 36 conversion kicks, are back.
Shrewsbury junior Richie Dube, who averaged 14.4 yards on his 23 punt returns to lead New England, and Asum, who averaged a team-high 24.4 yards on 19 kickoff returns, also return. Beyond Sports Network chose Dube as a third-team preseason All-American.
Cullen was named NEFC Coach of the Year for the fifth time last season.
"There were other years that I've coached better and we ended up 2-8," Cullen said, "but it shows the hard work everybody put in. That should be a staff award."