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Coast Guard football opens with St. Lawrence, saves MMA for Week 2

By Vickie Fulkerson

Publication: The Day

Published September 07. 2013 4:00AM
Dana Jensen/ The Day
Coast Guard Academy's Blake Thompson will take over the quarterback position beginning with today's season-opener at St. Lawrence. Thompson, a junior, was a quarterback in high school before moving to wide receiver his first two seasons with the Bears.
CGA opens with St. Lawrence, saves MMA for Week 2

Bill George has already assisted the public affairs department at the Coast Guard Academy in narrating a video entitled "A look into the Secretaries' Cup," regarding the Coast Guard/Merchant Marine football rivalry.

For the first time since 2005, however, the Bears won't be opening with Merchant Marine.

Coast Guard, coached for the 15th season by George, plays its first game at noon today at St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y., and will instead play at Merchant Marine in Week 2.

For a young team, George has found it helpful to concentrate on football this week instead of having the players wrapped up in the emotion of beating a rival.

"I'm enjoying it in the sense that we're not opening up with a big rivalry. That takes away from some of the fundamentals of football," George said. "When the players go back to the dorm room, instead of people talking about Merchant Marine, we can concentrate on football to start the season."

The Bears, 5-4 overall and 4-3 in the New England Football Conference last season, most notably will start five new offensive linemen this week in addition to first-year starting quarterback Blake Thompson. Thompson makes the transition from wide receiver.

Senior captain Mike Vitrano, who was to be the only returnee on the offensive line, is sidelined indefinitely with an illness.

The line, then, will feature sophomore Kevin Painten (6-foot-1, 235 pounds) at right tackle, freshman J.D. Dunaway (6-1, 260) at right guard, junior Kevin Postiglione (6-1, 230) at center, sophomore Tom Condon (6-2, 230) at left guard and freshman Jordan Hart (6-3, 240) at left tackle.

The Bears start three freshmen and have 12 freshmen overall on their depth chart.

Coast Guard opens with its first of three nonconference opponents in St. Lawrence, which is trying to snap a 10-game losing streak. The Saints are also young, with 50 newcomers to their roster, but will start a Division I transfer at quarterback in Mike Lefflbine. Lefflbine joined the team last semester from Sacred Heart University.

Nick Phillips, a senior linebacker and Coast Guard's other captain along with Vitrano, missed the bulk of last season with an injury to his right knee. He calls himself hungry to play again.

"I made it back 70-75 percent the last couple weeks of last year, but coach said we're not going to risk it by putting you in there," Phillips said. "Since that day, I've known we open Sept. 7. That's it. I've been marking the calendar."

Phillips is roommates with Vitrano, whom he said is still a "big leader" for the line despite his absence on the field.

"It's funny. Last year it was me," Phillips said of missing Vitrano. "There's a day or two where you're feeling sorry for yourself, but you know the guys are looking to you.

"Mike wants to be out there, but he's still a big leader helping our young offensive line. He's like a second coach out there."

Coast Guard, in a newly aligned NEFC featuring one eight-team division, will play seven different teams than it did last year beginning with St. Lawrence. The Bears will play a 10-game schedule for the first time since 2000.

The Bears return their top receiver from a year ago in junior Collis Brown (53 catches, 538 yards, 4 TDs) and their top two rushers in junior Jake Wawrzyniak (127 carries, 516 yards, 8 TDs) and senior Tyler Hames (35 carries, 186 yards).

On defense, Aaron Black returns to the line, leading the team last year with four sacks and 10 tackles for a loss. Victor Rizzardi (linebacker), Kyle Wood (linebacker) and second team NEFC All-Bogan Division Evan Rothfeld (free safety) will also anchor the defense, along with Phillips, who was pleased with the attitude of the defense in a recent scrimmage.

"Defensively, we made all our checks. ... It was good to get that game feel back. We're an intense group on defense. We're young; everyone knows we're young. But we have no lack of confidence."

v.fulkerson@theday.com

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