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Sprint football vs alumni Credit: Laura Francis , Laura Francis

Losing an impact player is never an easy adjustment, but losing one of Whit Shaw’s caliber means Penn’s receiving corps needs to step up.

Last season, Shaw led the squad with 488 receiving yards and 493 return yards, both kick and punt returning for the squad. The next leading receiver was then-sophomore Nick Longtin, who caught 18 passes for 190 yards. Junior quarterback Keith Braccia looked to Shaw as his safety blanket, a measure of security he won’t have heading into Army on Sept. 13.

“It’s tough to replace a guy like Shaw with just one guy,” coach Bill Wagner said. ”But we hope that we will have at least five receivers who can pick up the slack.”

Despite the departure of Shaw, Longtin and the rest of the receiving corps have the utmost confidence in the next crop of young pass catchers.

“I feel that I, and the rest of the receiving core, have the ability to fulfill any void the team felt with the departure of Whit Shaw,” Longtin said.

Wagner will look to receivers like senior Freddy Ordonez, sophomore Jack Epstein and the return of a healthy senior Andrew Donald to provide leadership and open the field up for Braccia. It is vital that this corps of receivers provide speed and serve as threats on the outside to stretch out strong defenses such as Army and Navy.

Penn must spread the ball around. Obviously, Shaw was an incredible talent but his high receiving total speaks volumes about the comfort level of Braccia and the rest of the offense. The Quakers can create an even more explosive offense by utilizing the height of Donald, speed of Ordonez and the versatility of junior running back Mike Beamish.

Perhaps the most vocal individual has been Longtin. He produced last year for the sprint football team after leaving behind his status as a walk-on for coach Al Bagnoli’s Penn football squad. Wagner expressed Longtin will have to become the “go-to guy” without Shaw.

“Switching from the role of a walk-on on the regular football team to a [starter] on the sprint football team has been a great move for me,” Longtin said. “It has helped me to develop my skills as a receiver as the position was entirely new for me upon becoming a collegiate athlete. I feel more athletic than I ever have.”

One of the more pressing concerns for Penn is replacing Shaw’s “big-play” ability on special teams. However, there is optimism in the new freshman class in the form of a new defensive starter.

“I think the excitement on kickoffs and punt returns that Shaw brought to this program for four years might be found in a new freshman, Rob Diorio,” Wagner said. “He may start on punt returns but we need him on defense for now though.”

Wagner and his staff feel more than confident that the receivers will step up for the Red and Blue. He commented that the depth in the offense will allow the team to produce just as effectively last year’s team.

The first preview of the offense’s explosiveness will be on display in the alumni game on Sat. at Franklin Field. The first look at returning receivers and Longtin’s confidence will give Quakers fans something to look forward to when Penn returns to play Mansfield on Sept. 20.

“Braccia, along with new and very impressive freshman quarterback Mike McCurdy, have both done a great job with the offense thus far,” Longtin said. “We haven’t missed a beat from last year on our side of the ball.”


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