Preseason camp is history for the Penn football team, as the Quakers get set for probably the most challenging season of the Al Bagnoli era. In 1993, Bagnoli's second season as the Penn coach, the young and hungry Quakers steamrolled the Ivy League and finished with a perfect record for the sixth time in school history. Last season was a different story. No longer so young and hungry, the Quakers had to deal with the fact that a win over them would have made any opponent's season. The thing was, Penn simply had too much talent and too much experience for any opponent, no matter how motivated, to stand much of a chance. The Quakers finished perfect again, upping their winning streak, which dates back to the penultimate game of 1992, to 21 games. That is the longest current streak in college football and an all-time Division I-AA record. In 1995, the two-time defending champions will still be highlighted on the schedules of each of their opponents. A win over Penn will still make any team's season. The problem for the Quakers is they are not as overwhelmingly talented as they were last season. Now a team that comes out on an emotional high could very conceivably rise to the level needed to stop the Quakers and their winning streak in their tracks. That's where preseason camp, which ran from Aug. 24 through yesterday, came in. Penn is likely the best team in the Ivies, but there is a lot of work to be done if the Quakers want to match the achievements of the previous two seasons. Football camp Bagnoli-style is one week of two-a-day practices in Lawrenceville, N.J., designed to begin honing skills and sorting out the starters from the reserves and the benchwarmers. A lot of information is fed to the team in a hurry, with good reason. When the Quakers broke camp yesterday, the Sep. 16 opener at home against Dartmouth was just 16 days away. Penn has key returnees at just about every position. But question marks exist -- most notably at running back and on the defensive front seven, where only senior defensive end Tom McGarrity returns. Bagnoli hoped Lawrenceville would be the first step in finding some answers. The new-look starting lineup is one big question. Not as many jobs are locked down heading into the season as in the past two years. Last year the Penn roster abounded with two-year first-stringers who had a starting spot nailed down before they ever stepped onto the practice field. Not nearly as many guys can say the same thing this time around. "Every spot is technically open," Bagnoli said. "Some are more open than others. The positions where we're losing a starter, those are wide open. There are an awful lot of positions like that." Players unfamiliar to many Quakers fans -- running backs Jasen Scott and Aman Abye, linebackers Joey Allen and Tim Gage, and a host of inexperienced D-linemen -- were in line for starting roles or significant playing time for the first time in their collegiate careers in Lawrenceville. The competition for some jobs could go right down to the wire, Bagnoli said. · The reduction in the experience of the roster at-large means the incoming freshman class might be called upon to contribute some in games. The word on paper is the Class of '99 could eventually have a huge impact, but according to Bagnoli, it will be "a year down the road" before Quakers fans discover just how good -- or disappointing -- the spring harvest of gridiron recruits really is. "I thought it was a very solid class, but then again, it's not an exact science," Bagnoli said. "We think we have some quality and we're very excited about some of the kids." The University has officially enrolled 38 football student-athletes in the Class of 1999, slightly above the annual average of 35. Of the recruits, 21 are projected to play on defensive side of the ball, from which seven starters have been lost to graduation. "We went out and really needed to do a good job recruiting on defense and I think we did that," Bagnoli said. "We recruited some size, especially on the defensive line." Nevertheless, all ye Quakers faithful should not necessarily strain your eyes searching for many freshman faces in the starting lineup at the opener against Dartmouth. "Usually it's only the exceptional freshman who can step in and adapt to football, academics, and the whole jump from high school to Division I-AA," Bagnoli said. "You get here and everything is so different -- there's a natural transition time." · In addition to losing half of last year's starting 22 to graduation, Bagnoli will have to cope with the departures of several of his assistant coaches, all of whom accepted job offers during the offseason. Four offensive assistants left for assistant coach positions at other schools. A fifth assistant, linebackers and defensive ends coach Jim Wilcon, accepted a teaching position at another school. Bagnoli spent much of the offseason poring over replacement possibilities for the vacancies, some of which drew over 100 applications. In August the Quakers announced wide receivers coach Larry Woods had been moved to quarterbacks coach and secondary coach Mark Chmielinski had moved over to the running backs position. They also announced the hiring of five new assistant coaches: Tight ends coach Ed Foley, linebackers coach Clay Moran, defensive backs coach Louis Brunelli, wide receivers coach Rick Urlich and defensive assistant Bob DePippi. Foley returns to the Quakers after a one-year stint at Williams. He was the tight ends coach at Penn in 1992 and 1993 and is the brother of NFL quarterback Glenn Foley. DePippi, hired as a defensive assistant just over a week ago, brings with him assistant coaching experience from Princeton, Temple and the World Football League. Could the large turnover in the coaching staff hurt the Quakers' continuity? Bagnoli is not too concerned. "The core coaches are back. I suspect it won't be too much of a problem," he said. "Ed Foley is a welcome addition since he was with us a couple of years ago. The full-time [staff] situation remains strong, especially with the addition of Bob DePippi. It's not a major concern going in." · For a while this summer it looked like Terrence Stokes, the '95 grad who finished his career second on Penn's all-time rushing yardage list, would be brought onto the coaching staff as an offensive assistant. But in early August Stokes was hired by "Mentor," a program in Trenton, N.J., that involves working with inner-city kids. "It's a very good job, a great opportunity for him," Bagnoli said. Jeff Wieland of The Daily Pennsylvanian contributed to this story.Comments powered by Disqus
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