May 23, 2003
Before last season, Brown's football program had been the most successful program in the Ivy League for eight straight years, from 1994-2001. While last year's 2-8 record and 2-5 Ivy League mark was disappointing to the Brown faithful, closer inspection reveals that it was a blip on the map, an anomaly. The Bears were just a play away in virtually every loss to having a solid season, with four of Brown's five Ivy League losses coming by a combined 11 points - two points to Harvard, two points to Princeton, three points to Cornell in overtime, and four points to Yale.
Head coach Phil Estes has his work cut out for him this season to restore the Brown program to its upper echelon status with the loss of 16 starters and 28 lettermen.
"We're going to be an extremely young football team," said Estes, who has posted a 31-18 overall mark in five years as head coach of the Bears. "Despite our youth and inexperience, we've have a group of talented players waiting in the wings for an opportunity to play. Our team has rededicated itself to getting back to the top of the Ivy League standings."
The key to the Bears' high-powered offense is the quarterback position, and senior tri-captain Kyle Slager looks to have another record-breaking season at the helm. Slager, the nation's fifth leading passer last season, finished the 2002 season with 230 completions (8th in the Ivy record book) and 2,609 yards (T-15th in Ivy record book).
"Kyle stepped into a starting role last year with little experience in running our complex offense," said Estes of Slager, who transferred to Brown from the University of Arizona. "Once he started to grasp all of the reads late in the season, he became an efficient leader of our offense."
Slager tied two NCAA I-AA records when he connected on 20 of 20 first half passes against Rhode Island, equaling the NCAA record for consecutive passes completed in a game, and consecutive passes completed to start a game. He connected on an Ivy League record 44 of 58 passes for 497 yards and three touchdowns against URI. His 497 passing yards, an Ivy League record for a non-Ivy game, was just four yards shy of the Ivy League record of 501 yards passing. He also passed and ran for 447 yards in total offense against Towson State in Brown's first game of the season (434 passing, 13 rushing), which ranks 5th in the Brown record book, and is tied for 8th in Ivy football history.
Competing with Slager for the starting job is senior Nate Poole, who completed 44 of 78 passes for 354 yards and two touchdowns last season, sophomore Matt Hostetler, who had an outstanding Spring Game, and junior Nick Marrietti.
Since 1996, Brown has been known as Receiver U., with three first team All-Americans and several NCAA receiving leaders grabbing footballs for the Bears. With the graduation of Chas Gessner, the nation's number one receiver, the next great wide receiver for the Bears could come from a crop of several talented sophomores and freshmen.
Sophomore Jarrett Schreck returned kickoffs for last year's team and bided his time behind Brown's exceptional senior receiving corps. When head coach Phil Estes called his number against Columbia, Schreck stepped up and was named the Ivy League's Rookie of the Week. He made two key plays in the win, making a 32-yard touchdown reception, catching the ball at the seven-yard line and spinning through two Columbia tacklers into the end zone. He also made a leaping 30-yard catch at the five-yard line between two Columbia defenders on a third and 13.
Also waiting in the wings is 6-4 sophomore Lonnie Hill, who saw limited varsity playing time last season after missing the entire pre-season with mono.
At tight end, sophomore David Turner knows the Bears offense and is an excellent blocker, seeing playing time at fullback last season. He should return to a tight end role, along with senior Nick Christ.
Coach Estes is optimistic about his running game after an injury-plagued season where his top four runners were out of the lineup at the same time. Several talented backs saw valuable playing time a year ago, including highly-touted sophomore Tristan Murray, who earned his first start in Brown's fourth game against Fordham, but injured his ankle midway through the second quarter, and was lost for the season. He had already rushed for 58 yards against the NCAA Playoff-bound Rams. Overall, Murray ran for 71 yards and a touchdown last year. Also vying for playing time in the backfield is Nick Hartigan, who had a strong Spring Game, running for 98 yards, and sophomore Carson Brennan.
Senior fullback Brent Grinna, a tri-captain of this year's team, is a threat on the ground and can catch the ball coming out of the backfield, running for 106 yards and making 15 catches for 123 yards and a touchdown.
The Bears' offensive line graduated three seniors, but should be solid with the return of senior tackle Lawrence Rubida (6-4, 285) and junior guard Will Burroughs (6-3, 265). Sophomores Noori Abdul-Ghani (6-2, 245) and Alex Jury (6-0, 270) were both on the Bears' travel roster, as were juniors Tyler Johnson (6-5, 270) and Sean Fortin (5-11, 250). Sophomore Mickey Cooper (6-3, 260) will also compete for a starting role.
Brown's defensive secondary returns two of three starters, including two-time Ivy League Rookie of the Week Jason Ching, and senior Darren Carmon. Ching led the Bears with three interceptions last season, and ranked sixth with 37 total tackles, including 29 solo hits. Carmon registered 18 tackles for last year's team and picked off a pass for the Bears. Sophomore Rashad Collins also saw valuable playing time a year ago, as did sophomore safeties Craig Young and James Gasparella.
Despite the loss of its top three tacklers from a year ago, coach Estes is optimistic about his linebacking corps with the return of senior Jermain Griffin and junior Angel Guiterrez to the outside. Gutierrez ranked fourth on last year's team in tackles with 44, while making four tackles for a loss and two quarterback sacks. Griffin, Brown's ninth top tackler with 29 total hits, has a nose for the ball, picking off two passes last season after intercepting four passes as a sophomore. Senior Nick Mellors is also expected to have an impact on the outside.
The Bears will have to replace both inside linebackers, but will be buoyed by the return of senior Andrew Gallagher, who missed all of last season due to injury. Gallagher, who was last year's defensive captain, made 26 tackles in four games two years ago, and registered 40 tackles as a sophomore. The Bears will look to sophomore James Frazier (2 tackles), a 6-1, 250 hard-hitting linebacker, sophomore Richard Dunk (3 tackles) and juniors Scott Epperson, Dan Doublin and Jon Loiacono (1 tackle) to fill the void.
On the defensive line, 6-2, 250 senior tri-captain Christian Garnett returns as a down lineman, and senior Jessie Hawkins returns as an end. Garnett's seven tackles for a loss was tied for first on the 2002 team, while his 36 total tackles were tops among the Bears' defensive line. The 6-4, 250 Hawkins saw considerable playing time last year, making 15 tackles, including three tackles for a loss and two quarterback sacks. Junior end Tynan Wyatt made 9 tackles for last year's squad, while juniors Paul Kaminski 91 tackle) and Kurt Bazarewski are also expected to see playing time.
Brown's punting game should remain with the capable foot of senior Tim Goobic, who averaged 37.7 yards per punt, with a long boot of 56 yards. The place kicking duties will be battled out between sophomore Paul Christian, and junior Tynan Wyatt. Christian handled the kicking duties for most of the season, converting 1 of 6 field goals and 22 of 25 extra points, before being injured prior to Brown's final game against Columbia. Wyatt booted 5 of 5 extra points in a relief role.