Marist Football Preview: Defense Looking to Lead the Way

Saturday afternoons are about to get loud at Tenney Stadium once again. 2021 was an up-and-down year for the Marist football team, which has been the trend for eight consecutive seasons. Following a 5-5 mark last year, the team this year is trying to find a way to change that narrative.

In 2022, the Red Foxes bring upon a team that can only get better defensively with stout players all over. The offense, well, that’s to be determined. Here are the storylines surrounding the Red Foxes entering this new season.

Veteran Defensive Leadership

This defensive group returns a bunch of its anchors from last season, including three Preseason All-PFL Team members – senior linebacker Mike Arrington, senior safety Clayborne Fields III, and senior safety Teddy Wright. The three of them have also been named team captains alongside senior defensive lineman Aaron Acosta, senior tight end Wyatt McMahon, and senior linebacker Arthur Pinckney, per Mike Ferraro of Marist Athletics.

The naming of the captains tells a story right away about this team. Five of the six selected are defensive players, showing the veteran depth on the defensive end, along with the lack of veterans on offense. Seven of the 12 projected returning starters on this side of the ball have already played with each other in a game situation, which is a big deal to Wright.

“When we played last year, we were all first-year starters,” said Wright. “We all got a glimpse of what we could do as a unit. This togetherness will not only help us in making plays on the field but also help in the locker room in getting the freshman to buy in…last year we didn’t have that.”

This “buy-in” for the younger players that Wright mentioned seems to be a theme that the team captains seem to be looking for this season. Yeah, that sounds great, but what does buying in mean to this group of upperclassmen?

“Buying all the way in means going on scout team and earning your stripes,” explained Fields III. “That just shows everyone that you’re willing to do whatever it takes to get us all better. That’s the difference between a championship team and a losing team.”

The veteran leaders believe they have found the key to changing Marist’s fortunes. It has been a long stretch of mediocrity for the Red Foxes, a team that hasn’t gone above .500 since the 2013 season when the team went 8-3 and nearly won the PFL. That team would feature future NFL defensive end Terrence Fede.

Head coach Jim Parady, now entering his 31st season as the head man, is in agreement with this movement through his words and actions.

During the conditioning session of last Wednesday’s practice, players weren’t touching the set line during a round of “suicides” and weren’t starting behind the beginning line. Parady and the coaching staff took note of this and added an impromptu round of sprints to the practice session, to the disgust of every player on the turf.

With an action as simple as this, the coaching staff wanted everyone, but especially the younger players, to learn that they are all in it for each other. If one player messes up, they might just ruin everyone else’s day.

The result of this discipline?

“[Thursday’s] practice was perfectly run,” Parady said. “Everybody ran perfectly. They got it. They heard it. They paid attention to those little details…this will help them get focused in critical situations when they’re tired.”

Teaching moments that are showing results like this have been the biggest difference in this year’s team from last year’s.

“Our team chemistry has been excellent this year,” furthered Parady. “We felt that coming out of spring practice, it was good, but we added 26 freshmen into the mix here during the summer…those guys have definitely come in and bought in, thanks to the leadership of the returners.”

For effective leadership, you can’t just be strict and disciplined all the time. You have to sprinkle in those opportunities for fun and team bonding. Mike Arrington knows that.

“The best parts of practice are the dances that the defenses do,” said Arrington. “We try to encourage it, but we have to be sure that we are dialed in when we need to be.”

Offensive Question Marks

When you compare Marist’s situation on defense to their offense’s, you realize they are in two different worlds.

While the defense has all of these returning leaders, the offense only has a few. The defense has established commodities to the Red Fox faithful. The offense, well, does not.

This offseason, just in skill positions, Marist lost their starting quarterback Austin Day, their 1-2 punch at running back in Hunter Cobb and 2021 First Team All-PFL member Mekhai Johnson, as well as their top receiver in Dwayne Menders, who was named Second Team All-PFL.

While there is a belief that the wide receivers and running backs on the roster can make up the production lost in Cobb, Johnson, and Menders, there seems to still be a question at quarterback.

There are currently six quarterbacks on the roster: redshirt freshman Diego Arroyo, redshirt freshman Logan Brabham, true freshman Josh Ehrlich, true freshman Sonny Mannino, true freshman Cole Boyd, and the only one with in-game experience, true sophomore Brock Bagozzi.

Bagozzi appeared in five games during the 2021 season. He had impressed many during his Parents Weekend night game against Bryant, in front of a record Tenney Stadium crowd of 6,154. Bagozzi threw 20-37 for 211 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception in a game where Austin Day was hurt.

Even if Bagozzi is officially named the starter, there is still quite an inexperienced quarterback room – a room of all underclassmen.

Parady was supposed to make an official announcement about the starting QB after last Friday’s scrimmage, but redshirt sophomore safety DeAngelo Williams suffered a freak injury where paramedics had to arrive on the turf. Parady gave a speech to the players and broke the scrimmage after the injury, but there had been no word on if Parady made a QB announcement afterward.

If there had to be a position group with the offense where there weren’t as many questions being asked, it would be the offensive line.

This group returns two graduate students in Anthony D’Urso and Ethan Parrish, a player who is hungry to play again after only playing the first three games last year before a season-ending injury.

Redshirt junior Landon Pitts also returns to this rotation, and even though he hasn’t played that much, he does have tenure in the program and knows the drill.

After this is a host of underclassmen, but compared to the other offensive position groups, it’s at least some bit of stability.

No one truly knows what the product on the field will look like once in-game action begins, but Parady feels comfortable with whoever is playing on offense. He likes his group of guys.

What’s Next?

Marist will open their season at home on Saturday, September 3rd at noon against rival Georgetown. This will be their first meeting since 2019 after COVID hampered their past two scheduled battles.

After that, they will have their bye week and then play continuously until the end of the season.

Other highlights on the schedule include the only 6 p.m. start time of the season on September 17 against Columbia, the beginning of PFL play on September 24 against Drake, and Senior Day, which is scheduled for the game against Valparaiso on November 12 at noon.

Preseason practice has officially ended for the Red Foxes after their scrimmage on Friday, and now, this week, they are focused on game prep for their Georgetown opener.

Edited by Jonathan Kinane

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