On the eve of football season, Center Field is continuing its tradition of pre-season roundtables. Four of our writers answer questions about how the Red Foxes are shaping up this season. Give it a read below!
What’s the feeling coming off last season?
Jonathan Kinane, Editor-in-Chief: Well, for me, that season-ending loss to Butler really looms large. Things seemed in position for the Red Foxes to finish with six conference wins and their first overall winning season since 2013. Last year’s squad exceeded expectations, but when the time came for a must-win game (since they were still in the PFL race), they could not execute.
Coming into this season, it’s hard for me to be optimistic because I wonder if this team has the offensive firepower to compete and contend in the PFL. Without quarterback Austin Day, running backs Hunter Cobb and Mekhai Johnson, and wide receiver Dwayne Menders, you have to wonder where the production will come from. New faces will have to step up to support what should be a strong defense, but I’m not sure if the offense can gel and produce enough to secure a winning PFL record, which seems like a feasible goal.
Andrew Hard, Football Beat Writer: Last season was yet another so-so year to add to the pile of disappointment for the Red Foxes since their last winning season back in 2013. As I wrote ad nauseam during my preview, I believe there will be a sizeable improvement in the defense this season, as last year’s iteration featured a ton of first-year starters on defense who will now be second-year starters this year.
Keep in mind that defenders who will be first-year starters this year have had some sort of experience within the program and have had playing time in the past. There is confidence within the team that the defense will have much better communication after already having a full season under their belts. This, theoretically, should lead to better defensive play. To be honest, I don’t know what my feeling is toward the offense, because there won’t be a lot of players returning, as we will get into.
Dan Aulbach, Associate Editor: Certainly some mixed feelings coming into the Red Foxes’ 2022 debut against Georgetown at Tenney Stadium. The big question marks are over the turnover at the offensive skill positions for Marist– which will be discussed further in this roundtable– including a change of leadership in the quarterback position.
Despite many veterans on this team leaving, like most college teams, the Marist coaching staff was prepared for these losses, creating a solid starting offense with sophomore Brock Bagozzi under center. Despite losing Jayden Johnson, the defense looks great.
If Marist is going to shock some opponents in the PFL, this defense will be in the headlines. The Red Foxes already know Clay Fields III and Mike Arrington are great, but look out for safety Teddy Wright in perhaps his final year in the Red Fox secondary core, who led the team in solo tackles last year (39). With some mediocre feelings left over from last year, the Red Foxes have a chance to shake up the PFL with their gritty defense. Can Bagozzi and the offense be a valid complement?
Kevin Chin, Contributor: Despite starting 3-0 in conference play, Marist football struggled to find success down the stretch last season. Offensive difficulties, poor late-game execution, and a challenging schedule all contributed to losing three of their final five games. They lost major pieces including lead receiver Dwayne Menders, their top two running backs Hunter Cobb and Mekhi Johnson, along with Jayden Johnson, who led the team in total tackles. However, these losses provide an opportunity for others to step up.
The most significant change for the Red Foxes will be having starting quarterback Brock Bagozzi at the helm for every game. He impressed in the few games he appeared in as a freshman, but now with consistent playing time, the expectations will be much higher. Of the three conference losses, only one game – at St. Thomas – were the Red Foxes truly out of it. They can compete with anyone, and as long as they can compete during crunch time, they have a chance to take the PFL.
Who will be a breakout player for the Red Foxes this year?
Jonathan: Someone on the coaching staff can give you a much better answer than me, but I’ll say redshirt senior wide receiver, Scott Scherzer. The quarterback, whoever that is, needs people to throw the ball to. Scherzer is the most likely candidate since he was second on the team in both catches and receiving yards. It makes sense for a young QB to have a veteran target, and I think Scherzer is in line to better his one touchdown catch from last year as well as add to his catches and receiving yards.
Andrew: I’m going with the fastest man at Marist – Glenmour Leonard-Osbourne. With Hunter Cobb and Mekhai Johnson both being taken out of the fold, there will be a larger rotation at running back, and I think Leonard-Osbourne will turn some heads out of the current group. It’s usually hard to stop speed, so I’m going to assume it will be even harder to stop the multi-sport athlete who broke the school record in the 100m dash (twice!) last season. Current Marist women’s basketball player, Kendall Krick, wrote a great feature for Center Field on Leonard-Osbourne’s incredible story last semester.
Dan: It seems like the defense this year is the strength this season (shout out to Andrew for a wonderful debut preview for football). No shockers on this side of the ball: Clay Fields III, Mike Arrington, and Teddy Wright all with All-PFL nods on the first and second team. If there’s going to be a breakout this year, it’s going to need to be on the offense to prevent it from being too volatile. Even though I’m confident Brock Bagozzi can find comfort in the starting role, it wouldn’t be surprising if Coach Parady would be willing to mix things up in search of an answer in the first few weeks. I wouldn’t want to steal any more of Andrew’s thunder, but Glenmour Leonard-Osbourne is going to be the spark in the offense.
Kevin: Brett Landis is primed for a breakout year. Even with limited snaps last season, the junior wideout put up exceptionally strong numbers with the opportunities he received. Landis finished his 2021 campaign with six receptions, 176 yards, and three touchdowns. The departure of Menders will allow for players such as Landis, Will Downes, and Matt Stianche to have an increased role on the offensive side of the ball. With Landis’s 29.3 average yards per catch last season, proving he is not only a deep threat but also a stellar playmaker once he has possession of the football.
Will a defense full of veteran players be able to make up for the inexperienced offense?
Jonathan: I fully expect the defense to be among the best in the PFL, but I don’t know how far it can take them if the offense proves to be underwhelming. Not every game will be a 7-0 final score (like Marist’s win last season over Drake), and the youth on the other side of the ball will have to contribute something. I think that the Red Foxes may have to win ugly sometimes, but that’s better than losing pretty.
Hopefully, a defense full of veterans can ease the pressure on the offense filled with new faces. I think the offensive line will have a key role in determining how this season goes. If they can open more holes on the ground and keep the passer upright, that will take the pressure off the defense to pitch something close to a shutout. Both sides of the ball depend on the other, but the defense should set the trend.
Andrew: I love this defense, but I don’t know if this can be the ‘85 Chicago Bears who won the Super Bowl with a great defense and mediocre offense. Last season, even with an offense with known commodities, Marist was below average in terms of total offense. Now, this year, there will be new faces (seven first-year starters) on offense, and they don’t have a ton of in-game action together. Based on all of that, a spin you could make for this is that you can’t be that much worse than last year on offense, so why not try something new? I had this in my mind as well, and the more I write about it, the more I agree with it.
Let’s be clear – I do think the individual pieces will be missed SORELY. This is not a contradiction to my last answer. However, I do believe that if there are two guys, say, for instance, wide receivers Scott Scherzer and Antoine Morales, who take the leap and make up for Menders’ production, that would be an incredible outcome. We just don’t know if we can bank that yet like we probably would have for someone like Menders.
Dan: Don’t get me wrong, many individual players on the defense last year were phenomenal, with three players in the top 10 for tackles. The team itself is above average in both yards allowed and scoring on defense. However, even if the defense builds on the efficiency from last year (especially in the rush defense), the offense remains fragile. The team was middle of the pack in terms of passing and last in total rushing yards. I’m looking forward to watching this team make opposing offensive coordinators frustrated and some low-scoring barn burners, but I can’t make a confident ruling on their success until I see it myself.
Kevin: Aside from losing a few key contributors, the rest of the defense remained intact. Standouts such as Mike Arrington, Teddy Wright, and Clayborne Fields III all returned and if they can match their production from last season, this defense will be one of the premier ones in the PFL. Though in order for this kind of success to be possible, the offense needs to hold up. On multiple occasions in 2021, the defense would exhaust from three and outs and quick drives by the offense and with all the massive turnover in personnel on the offensive side of the ball, this may once again be a common issue. However, I have faith that Bagozzi will be able to run this offense; it may take a few weeks for him to build chemistry with all his teammates in live games, but by the season’s end, I expect them to be able to drive down the field with a legitimate chance to score nearly every time out. Therefore, when the offense finds its rhythm, the defense and special teams will benefit as a result of not being completely overworked.
Give us your predictions for this season. Marist’s overall record and its PFL finish.
Jonathan: I would love to say that I have Marist notching an overall winning season for the first time in nine years, but I just can’t. The team has been on such a steady trend of .500 or worse over the last few seasons and I have a hard time seeing how they can do enough out of conference to get to six wins. I’ll say they finish 5-6, with all five of those wins coming against PFL foes. The defense will be strong, but I think the youth on the other side of the ball is what holds this team back.
Andrew: If you take a look at Marist’s overall season records since the 2014 season (seven seasons of play), the Red Foxes have only finished with two unique win totals – 4 wins or 5 wins. I have self-diagnosed OCD, so I believe that after finishing with five wins last year, they will finish with four wins this year and accumulate a record of 4-7.
This would place them about sixth in the PFL because I think two of their seven losses will come from their three non-conference games against Georgetown, Columbia, and Bucknell. Even though I have them projected to be near the bottom of the pack, don’t color me surprised if something clicks for Parady’s squad which elevates them to a boom year.
Dan: 5-6. I think this Marist team is bound for a neutral year similar to the previous season. If they can find a way to utilize their young offense and mature in the latter half of the season, I see this team being pesky for opponents fighting for a playoff spot. Marist will finish sixth or seventh in the pack this year, but keep an eye out for their 2nd half opponents. Marist will play winnable conference matchups against Dayton, Valparaiso, and Stetson; all of which they defeated last year. Marist will also look for redemption against Butler, which resulted in Butler’s only conference win of the season in 2021. These non-conference games, as always, will be tough to compete for. I think they squeeze out one of the three non-conference games, leaving their PFL record at 4-4.
Kevin: Everyone has their doubts about this team and they did lose some very important members from last year’s squad, though even with those subtractions, they have gained assets in the form of increased playing time for talent that was already on the roster. I project them to finish 7-4. Their non-conference schedule is not going to be easy, however, those games are meaningless in the grand scheme of everything, with St. Thomas and Morehead State being the only two conference games I see them legitimately having trouble with. A full season of Brock Bagozzi will be an interesting development to see how it unfolds, as he will totally change how this offense looks and I believe it will be for the better. It is unlikely he will be the Red Foxes’ savior and lead them to an undefeated season, but he is going to change the way they perform on a drive-to-drive basis and hopefully grant them their first PFL title since 2013.
Photo from Jonathan Kinane