After another record on the .500 mark in the Pioneer Football League, Marist football enters the 2023 season with many moving parts.
One key storyline involves the offense, which finished 3rd to last in scoring last season, and their hiring of a new offensive coordinator in Casey Tosches as a hopeful cure for the scoring woes. Another key development is the many seniors who have parted ways with Marist, including First-Team All-PFL defensive back and Marist captain Clayborne Fields III, who left for UT-Chattanooga.
Fields III, who was also a Second-Team All PFL return specialist, is the most notable loss for the program, but he isn’t the only key player leaving. Other captains graduating from the program include Teddy Wright, Aaron Acosta, and Wyatt McMahon, each of whom were multi-year captains who left a large impact on Marist.
Coach Jim Parady and his current squad would rather talk about the here and now.
In early August, Marist football was polled at seventh in the PFL rankings, which is more or less where the team polled last year when they were tied for sixth with Valparaiso. In fact, Marist was 4-5 overall and 4-3 in conference play before their final PFL game of the season against Valparaiso, where they ended their PFL season with a big loss to the Beacons.
But alas, with the PFL preseason Coaches’ poll expecting Marist to finish around the same spot, Parady disregarded it in favor of the progress he believes the team has made during camp.
“I’m glad people are talking about our conference, but you know what, it has no factor or bearing on our season whatsoever,” said Parady.
Speaking of the here and now, Marist football announced its new captains on Tuesday afternoon. While losing many veterans, two of the Red Foxes most important veterans are returning as the first ever three-year captains in Parady’s 32 years as a head coach.
One of those captains is first-team PFL linebacker Mike Arrington, who led the team in total tackles last year with 93, just one ahead of Wright. After entering the transfer portal in the offseason, the graduate student is back for his final season as a Red Fox. Arrington joins graduate student Arthur Pinckney– an honorable mention all-PFL linebacker in 2022– in the three-year captain duo that will provide needed experience for a younger roster.
A lockdown defender who excels on both pass and rush defense, Arrington is a huge part of the reason Marist’s defense was strong against the pass last season, ranking fourth on pass defense efficiency in the PFL.
While Arrington’s playmaking is stellar, Parady values his leadership and ability to step up, which shined in preseason camp.
“We were running punt drill in camp and were a man short, and Mike [Arrington] jumped right in to help out, and he’s on the punting team,” said Parady. “The way he carries himself shows other guys on the team what they should be doing.
While Arrington and Pinkney will be retaining the veteran presence as the defense attempts to fill the gaps, three first-year captains– quarterback Brock Bagozzi, redshirt junior defensive end Dominic Dutton and redshirt sophomore tight end Jackson Willette– are filling the gaps of the departing captains. In fact, this was the first time in several years that the players voted as a team to decide on their own captains rather than selected by the coaches.
“First time we’ve done it in a long time,” said Parady when asked about the player vote. “I felt they had a good handle on it, and they had earned the ability to choose their captains.”
With the player vote in effect, Bagozzi became the first quarterback named captain of the Red Foxes since Austin Day in 2021, solidifying his rise. At the beginning of the 2022 season, there was more or less competition for the starting role, with backup quarterback Diego Arroyo getting significant reps in games against Columbia, Stetson, and Dayton.
Being named a captain, Bagozzi has cemented himself as a leader for this offense. Parady admires his competitiveness, one of the reasons why he is a good fit for his new role.
“He’s just nuts on the competitive part,” said Parady. “All he did this summer was, you know, watch film, talk football, and just get himself into the best physical shape he’s been in. He came in at 220 with PR’s in bench, squat, and clean. He put the work in.”
Bagozzi’s most important task this preseason wasn’t commanding this offense; the quarterback already earned that role. Bagozzi will now be working with a new playbook under offensive coordinator Casey Tosches, who joined the team in February.
More importantly, this is the first change in offensive coordinator in four years for the Red Foxes.
Since 2018, the new coordinator Tosches has been solely the running backs and tight ends coach, and now is tasked with transforming the offense into a high-scoring unit.
That all starts with the quarterback, a new position for Tosches to oversee. Bagozzi feels that learning a new playbook hasn’t stunted his growth in any way.
“I think at times we’re still learning, but that’s part of it,” said Bagozzi. “It’s a growing process and he does a good job. He’s been really helpful to me, he’s been really free and that allows me to do things. We’re on the same wavelength now.”
To get the entire offense adjusted to a new system, Parady (also the quarterbacks coach) would have the quarterbacks and receivers meet with Tosches to get intertwined on learning plays. With the necessary tweaks being made, Tosches’s new offense allows Marist to be more deceptive during games to provide touches to their desired targets.
“His system allows us to be very multiple and appear to defenses; they have to cover a lot of shifts and motions and things like that out of the same personnel groupings,” said Parady. “That gives us the idea to be very diverse.”
One player who will surely be missed from last season is Glenmour Leonard-Osbourne, a running back who platooned alongside returner Amin Woods last season. While Woods had the majority of the carries, Leonard-Osbourne’s speed made him an electric playmaker, as each back rushed for over 400 yards last season with Leonard-Osbourne averaging 5.9 yards-per carry.
Redshirt Junior Triston Shannon has risen to the occasion as Wood’s new partner in the backfield, as Parady complemented Shannon’s ability to rise to the occasion.
Another goal for the offense during the offseason was to assemble a more refined receiver core. Over the spring, lead receiver Brett Landis was injured for the majority of spring ball with a knee ailment, which meant working on the rest of the core in a new offense. Parady mentioned the rise in leadership from wide receiver Matt Stianche over the course of the offseason; the redshirt junior finished third in receiving yards for the Red Foxes last season.
Tosches’ first test is coming on the road against non-conference opponent Georgetown Sept. 2 at 12:30 p.m. There are plenty of important PFL games to follow, but when asked about which matchups they’re most looking forward to, both Arrington and Bagozzi responded in sync, “the next one.”
“This summer, as we met week by week, something we wanted to instill in this team is that the mentality is all eyes on this week,” said Parady. “Everything is on this Georgetown week, obviously human nature is looking over the fence and seeing what’s on the other side, but they’ve talked about it over and over and over, and now they’re living it.”
With attention on a new-look offense, what can’t be overlooked is the loss of multiple All-PFL defensive players. And despite the familiar records in the past during Arrington’s tenure, the linebacker believes that they still have what it takes to improve off last season by limiting teams’ explosive plays as a unit and giving the offense more chances to separate the score.
“Those were really deflating for us, and I think limiting those will help us get to where we want to be in each game,” said Arrington.
While on the field the Red Foxes look different, one thing that hasn’t changed is both the captains and players trust Parady’s system enough to take them to a better record. The real task is execution. The PFL has left Marist stuck in the middle of the road for years, but for now, the 2023 Red Foxes are focused on just getting the next one.
Edited By Ben Leeds and Luke Sassa
Photo Credit: Kira Crutcher