The UMass Dartmouth football team is looking for the momentum of last season’s strong finish to carry over to the 2018 campaign, as Head Coach Mark Robichaud heads into his 12th year at the helm with a group of experienced veterans and talented newcomers ready to make a run at the Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference title. The Corsairs, who posted four overall triumphs in 2017, ended the fall on a high note with impressive league road victories at Massachusetts Maritime and Fitchburg State, as UMass Dartmouth welcomes back 40 letterwinners and 12 starters back from that squad.
Robichaud, whose tenure as head coach is only exceeded by Bill Kavanaugh’s 17-year reign on the sidelines from 1990-2006, will look to a pair of veterans to provide leadership by example both on and off the field this fall in naming senior Antonio Mitjans (Ashland, Mass./Ashland) and junior Tony Slaughter (Springfield, Mass./Chicopee) as the Corsairs’ co-captains. The longtime mentor describes the duo as “respected team leaders both on and off the field, and their performance certainly speaks volumes about their character. The high expectations they set for themselves are the same they have for their teammates, and I know they will continue to set a positive and productive example this season.”
Here’s a look at how things are shaping up for the 2018 edition of Corsair Football:
OFFENSE. Robichaud welcomes back a pair of talented signal callers in junior Jace Pena (Riverside, R.I./LaSalle Academy) and sophomore Stephen Gacioch (Tiverton, R.I./Tiverton), as Pena threw for 1,264 yards and 14 touchdowns while Gacioch tossed for 865 yards and seven scores.
Replacing all-MASCAC standout Michael Slaughter Jr. (who is serving as a graduate assistant coach) in the backfield present a challenge in the running game, but senior Matt Mitchell (Westerly, R.I./Stonington) lends experience after amassing 122 yards and a visit to the end zone a year ago. Junior Fernando Silva (St. Thomas, V.I./St. Peter & Paul) and sophomore Gayee Myers (Providence, R.I./Classical) will also be vying for roles in UMass Dartmouth’s ground attack.
Sophomore Leroy Brown (Milton, Mass./Milton) hauled in 24 receptions for 318 yards and three touchdowns during his rookie collegiate campaign for the Corsairs, while Mitchell added 11 catches for 72 yards along the way. Juniors Jacen Hudson (Hudson, N.H./Alvirne) and Kevin Gonzalez (Pawtucket, R.I./Saint Raphael Academy) combined for six receptions and a score as well last season.
Mitjans anchors a solid offensive line unit for Robichaud, as he is flanked by fellow senior Quinn Fallon (Somerset, Mass./Somerset Berkley) and sophomores Trevor McCarthy (Ashaway, R.I./Chariho Regional), Zac Hodges (Agawam, Mass./Agawam) and Andrew Gingras (Attleboro, Mass./Attleboro). Fellow sophomores Bruno Abbatessa (Danvers, Mass./Danvers) and Christian Sermos (North Providence, R.I./North Providence) provide additional depth up front.
DEFENSE. Tony Slaughter is the top returning tackler for the Corsairs after amassing 57 total stops (46 solo) to go with two interceptions, a pair of sacks and a team-best nine breakups in the secondary in 2017. Sophomore Jacob Burkhead (Plymouth, Mass./Plymouth North) added 65 tackles (44 solo) and a pair of break-ups as well for UMass Dartmouth, which received two picks from junior Moise Rainford (Boston, Mass./Boston Latin Academy) as well as 26 stops (16 solo) from sophomore Brendan Cuthill (Fall River, Mass./Durfee) in the defensive backfield last fall. Junior Dwayne Hunter-Parker (Waterbury, Conn./Hyde), a transfer from Mount Ida, looks to impact the secondary after earning all-Eastern Collegiate Football Conference accolades last season for the Mustangs, while sophomore Sam Krajewski (Taunton, Mass./Taunton) goes from catching passes to defending them this season.
The graduation of all-New England linebacker Marvey Mathurin leaves a void in the middle for Robichaud’s defensive unit, but senior Zakk Rodrigues (Westport, Mass./Diman Regional) leads an experienced front line that includes fellow senior Ryan Bucko (Montgomery, Mass./Westfield) and Tom Janicki (Albion, R.I./Lincoln), junior Allston George (Foxboro, Mass./Foxboro) and sophomore Sean Reall (North Providence, R.I./Classical). Rodrigues recorded three sacks last fall, while Janicki, Bucko and George combined for 43 total tackles.
Junior Johnny Veiga (Lakeland, Fla./Lakeland) lends experience in the Corsair linebacking corps, which looks to be impacted as well by senior Samuel Ejiasi (Forney, Tex./North Forney) and junior Connor Russ (Middletown, R.I./Middletown).
SPECIAL TEAMS. Tony Slaughter and senior Mike Whitsett (Ludlow, Mass./Chicopee Comp) will be the primary returners on both kickoffs and punts for Robichaud, while sophomore James Tooker (Harwich, Mass./Nauset) will handle the placekicking duties after converting seven field goals and 30 extra points in his inaugural collegiate campaign. Junior Jack Droney (Suffield, Conn./East Catholic) will take over the punting responsibilities for the Corsairs.
SCHEDULE. UMass Dartmouth is set to tangle with Alfred State and perennial national power Delaware Valley in non-conference play during the opening two weeks of the season, and the Corsairs open MASCAC action on Friday, September 14th at Westfield State. Robichaud’s crew will entertain Plymouth State, Worcester State, Massachusetts Maritime and Fitchburg State in conference play while hitting the road for additional league clashes at Western Connecticut, Bridgewater State and Framingham State.
UMass Dartmouth raises the curtain on Mark Robichaud’s 12th season at the helm on Saturday, September 1st when the Corsairs travel to Alfred, N.Y. to square off with Alfred State in a non-league match-up that kicks off at 1:00 pm EDT.