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Penn Quakers vs Princeton Tigers. Credit: Ceaphas Stubbs , Ceaphas Stubbs

The Red and Blue’s 2013-2014 offensive squad is fortunate to have starters from last year’s squad coming back at every position except two (offensive line, running back). This season will see the likes of senior quarterback Billy Ragone, senior wide receiver Conner Scott, and senior running back Brandon Colavita storm the field in what hopes to be a historic Quakers campaign.

QB: Penn fans can look forward to a Ragone that is “100%” and has practiced very well since the spring. But fifth-year senior Ryan Baker will also get some play time this season, a privilege that offensive coordinator Jon McLaughlin says he’s earned.

“He’s someone who deserves to play. He’s practiced well, he’s got a great understanding of the game,” McLaughlin said. “We aren’t giving him charity by giving him reps … I think he will be outstanding.”

RB: Colavita holds the obvious starter spot in the backfield but Quakers fans should look forward to the contributions of Spencer Kulscar, who showed flashes of his brilliance against Villanova and William & Mary.

“He’s [the] kind of guy that last year with Marsh and Jack who was a very talented kid that we could, should, would have gotten the ball,” McLaughlin said. “Spencer will do a great job. We feel very, very confident with him.”

FB: McLaughlin noted an exciting development in the Penn backfield with the additions of Duke transfer Ben Challgren and former Penn defensive lineman Matt Schwartz as fullbacks. The fullback position has been snake-bitten in recent years, falling prey to recruits backing out or walking on to other teams but this year’s rotation looks better than ever.

“We are one of the few teams that can line up with a full back and run the ball,” McLaughlin said. “But the … guys are gonna be exceptional sooner rather than later. We hit a jackpot … being able to have our fullback on the field and soften up defenses.”

WR: Last season, there was a disparity for wide receiver in favor of Scott. This season, Ragone and the offense will look to spread the ball around based on what defenses give the Quakers.

“I think when we were struggling we were trying to force things in … as opposed to throwing to the open guy,” McLaughlin said. “Cameron Countryman and Ryan Mitchell … will be on the field as much as the other guys. I would be disappointed if [they weren’t] a factor in every game.”

TE: The tight end position will be spearheaded by juniors Mitch King and Ryan O’Malley who demonstrate an incredible display of stature and ability to catch balls and block effectively, a rare combo of skills in today’s tight ends. McLaughlin echoes that they are getting better at that position and have three young players behind the two starters that will be very capable football players.

OL: Penn’s offensive line will only feature one new starter at the right tackle position, junior Matt Kiefer from Georgia who is unheralded and will be fresh to the lineup. He’s the only player this year who will be inexperienced and therefore under the eye of the coaches and Penn fans.

Unlike last season, Penn’s defense features a plethora of returning starters, veteran role players and plenty of experience. An infusion of youth on the defensive line bodes well for defensive coordinator Ray Priore, whose Quakers finished fifth in total defense last season in the Ancient Eight.

“It’s always easier to coach guys who have a lot of experience,” Priore said. “I still would expect us to get better and better as the year goes on.”

DL: Typically filled with veterans, Penn’s defensive line is the one group that lacks a truly experienced leader. Brandon Copeland has graduated and the Quakers are now forced to fill the void left by the Baltimore Ravens’ practice squad player with a variety of young, raw talents.

Junior Jimmy Wagner, sophomore Austin Taps and senior Alex Kahn will start for Penn against Lafayette. Wagner led the group with 10 tackles a season ago, but the Red and Blue’s line will be defined by more than its starters.

Sophomores Dan Connaughton and Tanner Thexton will also find plenty of playing time this year, especially after a productive spring and preseason.

“We obviously have the inexperience of the defensive line, but they’re talented young men, they simply lack game experiences right now,” Priore said.

LB: Like most defenses in college football, Penn’s defensive front is linebacker-oriented and returns two key players from last year’s core. Junior Dan Davis and senior David Park will anchor down the group this year, as Davis finished third on the team a year ago with 58 total tackles.

The defense will be forced to replace former starter Steve Lias. In order to fill the void left by Lias, Priore and the Quakers will turn to a group of returning role players.

“It’s hard to replace a guy like him, but the guys we have returning combined played almost an equal role last year,” Priore said. “[Junior] Brian Wood has had a real good camp, [junior] Mike Casias has done a real good job and [sophomore] Nolan Biegel is an awesome young kid who has done a nice job.”

CB: The cornerback position is the one of the deepest on the team and the Quakers are prepared to rely heavily on their defensive secondary throughout the season.

While Dan Wilk is Penn’s defense’s “spiritual leader,” the senior captain is complimented by fellow senior Evan Jackson on the other side of the field. The duo combined for 71 total tackles a year ago, with Wilk adding three interceptions during the 2012 campaign.

“Evan was not on any All-Ivy teams last year, but he very well could be this year,” Priore said. “I thought he had a good year last season, and I can see him being one of those kids who really emerges in the conference this season.”

Sophomores Dylan Muscat, Ian Dobbins and Kenny Thomas have all done a nice job throughout the preseason, and they will help provide the starters with depth.

S: Coming into 2012, the safety position was Penn’s defense’s biggest question mark. A season later, the Quakers will rely heavily on its safeties to lock down the opposition.

The Red and Blue have five safeties with varsity experience who will all see playing time this season. Senior Sebastian Jaskowski can rotate between the free and strong safety, and he provides a versatility that opens up the Quakers’ defense.

Junior Mike Laning and sophomore Trent Dennington will be active at free safety, while junior Drew Harris will be prominent behind Jaskowski at strong safety.

“All of those guys will play a role, they will be on the field, and we’ll try and take advantage of their best skills,” Priore said. “We’re trying to get the best combinations possible.”


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