By Brittany Burke
Music at a sporting event is generally used to pump up the players entering the field, get the crowd going by signaling them to cheer even louder and in some cases to put the opponent on edge, but not for the Blue Devils.
On Thursday’s football practice, the team’s last before heading on their first road trip of the season, music wasn’t used as entertainment it was used as a learning tool. The Blue Devils football team began its season against the James Madison University Dukes, a ranked powerhouse of the South. The last time the Blue Devils entered Virginia they left JMU’s Bridgeforth Stadium with a 14-9 loss and a lot of that could be attributed to the noise.
Inarguably the south is football country and the Blue Devils learned that as they played their second game of the 2011 season in front of 25,000 people. The sound was defeaning and it overwhelmed the players who weren’t used to such a crowd. Head Football Coach Jeff McInerney wanted to make sure that his squad was prepared this time around, hence the intermittent blasts of Top 100 hits.
“In 2011 when we went down there it was quite loud … the student section is like a division 1 section and you can’t hear. I didn’t prepare them that year and we lost a tough one so we said we were gonna get ready and that’s what we did all week to get them used to it,” said McInerney.
McInerney has learned that you have to own up to your mistakes in order to change them and that’s the mindset going into the new season. CCSU is predicted to finish sixth in the NEC pre-season poll. They’re coming off a 2-8 season, a far cry from the back-to-back champions they once were but despite the down years McInerney is expecting good things this year.
Change began this offseason starting with McInerney and trickling down to his assistant coaches, captains and then the other members of the team.
“What we did right after the season is evaluate it and right when they came back we started a leadership program and accountability is huge for me. If I didn’t change they would never change, the assistant coaches wouldn’t change, the players, I needed to change. It wasn’t going the way it was supposed to go and if I didn’t change it was never going to … we’ve worked hard on it and its been fun our tempo’s good. I don’t know what it’s going to do wins and losses I don’t want to make a great prediction but I know we’re a better team and I know our tempo is better I know our organization is better and I know our communication is better that I know,” said McInerney.
Luckily for the Blue Devils they didn’t lose many to graduation but they did lose key players such as go-to kicker Juan Duque, wide receiver Deven Baker and linebackers D.J. Radich and Lorenzo Baker. The team does have veteran returners for the season, which should offset their losses.
A strong core including Blaise Rosati at center, Taylor Fuller at right tackle and Tyler Hurd at left tackle will anchor the offense while Rob Hollomon, Chris Linares and Tyrell Holmes are back to diversify the scoring abilities. Hollomon was named pre-season All-NEC at running back, punt returner, and kick returner.
The biggest things on the mind of McInerney are controlling the turnovers and bettering the defense.
“If you look at our stats last year we were horrible and you can’t sugar coat that and it comes down to fundamentals,” said the coach. “You can have all the ability in the world but if you aren’t doing your fundamentals right, you’re not working as one, you’re not going to do any good and we lost our way.”
As the summer practices come to an end and the team prepares for the Dukes there is still an inter-squad competition for starting kicker and punter. Heading into Saturday night’s game McInerney was still unsure if it would be Steve Calitri or Ed Groth permanently kicking for the extra point, the same could be said for punter with Groth and Joe Carter vying for the spot.
The Blue Devils are also playing harder this year in honor of their fallen teammate, Jamar Johnson. Johnson, a would-be sophomore at CCSU passed away on August 1, 2013 following a car accident in Bloomfield, Conn., on July 28.
Johnson was a redshirted defensive end with an impressive athletic resume through high school though he didn’t play with the Blue Devils last season. Prior to CCSU Johnson was named to an All-Conference Team as captain, given the most-athletic student award and was a part of two track and field championships, but it was his presence off the field that touched most closest to him.
“He was a bright man with a smile,” said McInerney, donning a sweat stained hat with an embroidered bear on the front. “His nickname was the Bear … he always had a smile. His favorite color was green, he was born on St. Patrick’s Day, he had nicknames for everybody…he always had a smile and that’s probably one of the brightest things.”
Johnson’s death wasn’t the first that McInerney has had to deal with in his time as coach. In January 2011 the Blue Devils lost Rich Royster and his girlfriend Brittany Mariani, again to a car accident. Many of the athletes now weren’t on the team when Royster passed away but McInerney is taking into account what he’s learned and applying it to help his team through Johnson’s death as best he can.
“We’ve learned from past none of them are easy they all hurt it doesn’t matter … We learned the last time, it just doesn’t go away,” said McInerney. “The pain can come up two months from now. His roommate was a student here that wasn’t a student athlete, there’s just so many people who you have to reach out to and you have to keep your eye out because something like that doesn’t necessarily stop today.”
As a way of helping the students and faculty affected by Johnson’s loss the school provided counselors. The team is also finding ways to keep his memory alive. The team has put his picture up alongside his jersey and will have the number 93 patch on all of their jerseys. McInerney not only wears his baseball cap with the bear but also a green pirate hat in honor of Johnson’s favorite color.
“One of the things they said at his funeral and his vigil [was] you know lets love each other and if we want Jamar to live, lets help the 19-year olds, he was 19 years old when he passed away and when we see somebody down pick them up and spread the love that’s really what we’ve done.”
There will be a vigil on campus in his honor but according to Dr. Laura Tordenti it is still being planned and they have yet to set a date.