Aug 31, 2008 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
A season ago, the Bishop Ludden football team began with high ambition, plenty of senior talent and a belief that it could reach a championship level.
What no one, not even head coach John Cosgrove, could have anticipated was the Gaelic Knights surviving a series of dramatic post-season battles that culminated Nov. 25, 2007 in the Carrier Dome with a win over Dobbs Ferry and the team’s first-ever state Class C championship.
Winning its final 12 games, Ludden relied on the immense gifts of three special seniors — quarterback Connor Sweeney, running back Daquan Grobsmith and wide receiver Wendall Williams — along with a supporting cast that came up with all the clutch plays at all the right moments.
Now, going into 2008, Sweeney, Grobsmith and Williams are gone. But Cosgrove said the players that returned have a different, more confident attitude about themselves.
“It (the state title) changes the kids’ expectations,” he said. “They now want different things for themselves. Having been to the top of the mountain, they feel like they know how to get there.”
One of the Gaelic Knights’ primary tasks is finding someone that could succeed Sweeney, a three-year starter under center who set every conceivable Ludden passing record.
In junior John Rooney (who played wide receiver a year ago), Cosgrove has a proven athlete at the varsity level in three different sports, most notably baseball, where he is a highly-prized college prospect at shortstop. As such, Rooney possesses speed and a strong arm, both assets that could prove handy.
No single player will succeed Grobsmith, Ludden’s all-time leading rusher. Instead, junior Omar Osbourne will see a majority of the carries, while Devin White assumes a larger role and freshman Malik Merritt brings a sprinter’s speed and big-play capability to the field.
Mark DeAngelis faces a daunting task, as the junior steps up and fits into the primary receiving role Williams mastered, with help from E. J. Beauford. Rooney might find that 6-4, 240-pound tight end Chris Davis is his most reliable target — Davis certainly creates matchup problems for any opposing defense.
Ludden has three starters back on the offensive line. All-State selection Steve Barrett is the star of the group, as the 6-3, 290-pound senior (heavily courted by Temple and Buffalo, among other colleges) moves from tackle to center, replacing Pat Rosanio.
Fellow senior Nate Stewart is the incumbent left guard, with Mike Hogan beginning his junior campaign at left tackle. Nick Ferrante converted from running back to take over the right guard spot as Conor Cosgrove fits in at right tackle.
The Gaelic Knights usually run a 4-3 defense, with an emphasis on speed from the end spots. Thus, Osbourne is penciled in to start at end with senior Nick Familo, a 6-2, 180-pound basketball player who came out for football for the first time. Barrett and Hogan make for a pair of formidable tackles.
Stewart returns as an accomplished middle linebacker, flanked by Ferrante and White, with Davis able to work at either linebacker or strong safety, depending on the play. DeAngelis is a returning starter at cornerback, while Beaufort takes over at the other corner. Rooney was already a starting free safety and will keep that role despite his increased offensive role.
Any defending state champion is bound to be the biggest game on an opponent’s schedule. As a result, Ludden will get fierce challenges when it opens the season Friday at Cato-Meridian and goes to LaFayette Sept. 13 before the home opener Sept. 19 against Port Byron.
A big expansion in Class C means that 27 teams will be vying for eight playoff berths (two in each division, Ludden is in C West), so just getting out of the section for anyone will be difficult enough. However, Cosgrove said his players are capable of at least a run at league and sectional honors, if not the ultimate prize.
“There are many questions that this year’s team has to answer,” he said. “But we’ve got guys with the talent to be pretty successful themselves.”