During spring practice, the Penn coaching staff sought to discover replacements for last year's stars. After its first Ivy League title in four years, the Penn football team is preparing to make sure the title stays in Philadelphia. However, Penn will step onto the field this fall without many of the familiar faces who helped bring the title to Franklin Field -- its future NFL running back, its two-time first team All-Ivy linebacker and its Golden Boy quarterback. With only 13 of 22 starters returning, the Quakers have their work cut out for them if they wish to repeat as champions in 1999. "We are going to go as far as our senior leadership," Penn coach Al Bagnoli said. "We are going to go as far as a little bit of lady luck. We are going to go as far as we can develop mental stability because there are going to be some crisis points." During their 12 spring practices, the Quakers worked hard to find replacements for Jim Finn, Darren Macdonald and Matt Rader. Last season, Finn -- drafted 253rd by Chicago in this year's NFL Draft -- carried the ball 323 times for 1,450 yards; both figures shattered Penn single-season records. Trying to maintain their high-powered rushing attack without the services of the Bears' newest fullback, the Quakers have made several changes to the running game. A three-year starter at fullback, junior Brian Cosmello's impressive spring camp has caused the Quakers to script several fullback running plays. Sophomore Mike Verille, a transfer from Duke, and freshmen Kris Ryan and Matt Thomas will share time with Cosmello in the backfield. While Bagnoli will most likely rotate the tailbacks, Ryan's teammates feel he will be seeing the most time on the field. "Ryan played incredible during the spring," defensive tackle Mike Germino said. "I think down the road he is going to do a lot more than Finn did to the record books." Among other vacancies in contention, the Quakers find themselves in desperate need of a quarterback. Last season, Rader threw for 2,026 yards and compiled a 134.65 quarterback rating. Six players came in this spring attempting to take over where Rader left off, but only three stood out. "The quarterback situation remains unsettled," Bagnoli said. "No one came out of spring being the person. I think that is going to be the focal point of preseason." Although Bagnoli declined to comment on who the leading contenders were, sources close to the team feel that Ed Mebs, Reed Werner and Tom DiMenna will be competing for the quarterback position this fall. While Mebs is the only one to ever complete a pass for the Quakers, the coaches feel that any of the three could be an effective play-caller. As for the receivers and offensive line, senior leadership will be key. Seven are members of the Class of 2000, including co-captain and center Carmelo Rubano. "It's just a reverse of where we were last year," Bagnoli said. "We came in prior to the '98 season saying that we think we have a heck of a quarterback and we think that we have a heck of tailback and all of our strength experience is in those positions. This year we come in and our offensive line has 50 to 60 games between them." On defense, the Quakers received their first taste of life after Toop. Defensive coordinator Mike Toop left Penn during the offseason to take the same position at UConn, a soon-to-be Division I-A football program. While the Quakers tallied 35 sacks in '98, this year looks to be a more painful year for opposing quarterbacks. With four returning starters on the defensive line, Penn will not be hesitant to draw fire on opposing offenses. "Coach Bagnoli thought that in the last couple years we weren't playing as aggressive up front," Germino said. "We are going to capitalize on our strengths and really go after people more." With seven seniors returning, Penn's defense will have a touch of youth. After losing Macdonald and first team All-Ivy defensive back Joe Piela to graduation, the Quakers' success will be dependent on inexperienced players. While many have come forward, only a few have met the challenge. "There are kids there who can play," Germino said. "They all stepped up to fight for the position. Everyday in the spring you could see they were getting better and better." Although it might seem silly to be talking football in April, the Quakers and their fans have been thinking about the upcoming season since December. As practices have ceased until mid-August, the Quakers know they will have to stay in shape over the summer in order to pick up where they left off in the fall. "We need to work hard this summer, so we are ready when we come back," wide receiver Brandon Carson said. "That way we can get right to work so we can focus on the teams coming up instead of focusing on getting ourselves into condition."Comments powered by Disqus
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