Campus Currents

Football Starts Strong
A young offensive line begins to come together

Bookmark and Share
Easy to print version

Sean Jellison '11 (Photo by Michael Silverwood)

Tom Neill '10 remembers the first ball he ever snapped for UNH. It was four years ago, and the Wildcats were beating Stony Brook when head coach Sean McDonnell '78 put in the backup offensive line.

Neill, the second-string center, walked onto the turf at Cowell Stadium in a jangle of nerves. He lowered his helmet, took the ball and aimed for the open hands of the quarterback behind him. Then he watched the ball roll between his feet like a large, leather egg. "After two or three snaps," Neill recalls with a laugh, "the nerves calmed down a little."

Four years later, Neill is a veteran who was named a tri-captain by his teammates. He's the only offensive lineman who started every game in 2008, and his leadership this year is crucial to a group of young blockers.

With experienced talent at quarterback (R.J. Toman '11) and other offensive positions, UNH was on an early roll by mid-October, winning five straight games, including a 28-24 upset victory over No. 2 Villanova at Homecoming, which moved the team up to No. 4 in the Sports Network FCS Top-25 poll.

But in the trenches, it's clearly a transition year, as the team graduated four offensive linemen last spring. This season, the coaches asked Neill to give up his center position and fill in at right tackle. "I think they thought that with the most experience, I'd be able to handle a position change the best," says Neill with enthusiasm.

Redshirt freshman Chris Zarkoskie took over for Neill at center for the first three games. Just as it took Neill time to find his composure on the field, the offensive line is finding its way as a unit. Offensive lineman Dan Larkin '10 knows what it's like when a line plays in synch, and has no doubts about the guys he's playing with now.

"After a while there's a communication where you don't have to say anything," he says. "You know what you're supposed to be doing in each situation. You contribute to each other's success."

blog comments powered by Disqus