BROWN FOOTBALL: 2002 PREVIEW
May 30, 2002
Brown's offensive juggernaut continues to be the mainstay of its football success. The Bears led the Ivy League and ranked 10th nationally in total offense (447 yards per game) last year, and were number one in the league and ranked 13 nationally in scoring offense with 35.4 points per game. Individually, senior All-American Chas Gessner led the nation in receiving yards, the second straight year a Brown receiver has led the nation in receiving.
Since Brown instituted its offensive philosophy in 1994, no team in the Ivy League has been able to match Brown's success. The Bears' 53-26 (.671) record over the last eight years, makes Brown football the most prosperous football program in the Ivy League. Last year's 5-2 Ivy League record (6-3 overall) has been bettered only three times in Brown history, with five other Bears' teams equaling that mark.
"The Brown football program has evolved to the point where our players believe they can win every year," said head football coach Phil Estes. The fifth-year coach has posted a 29-10 record in four years as head coach of the Bears and was the fastest coach in Ivy League history to have his team score 1,000 points, scoring 1,022 points in his first 32 games as head coach of the Bears.
"While we lose some key starters on offense, we should be strong once again with the return of some exceptional skill players, especially Chas Gessner and Joe Rackley," said Estes, "Our defense made drastic improvements and matured last season, developing into a cohesive unit by season's end."
Gessner, a first team All-American in 2001, is following in the footsteps of a long line of All-American wide receivers at Brown. What makes Gessner so difficult to defend is his speed and his 6-5, 230 pound frame, which has drawn the attention of NFL scouts. A first team All-Ivy and All-New England selection and second team All-American by The Sports Network and AP, Gessner was a finalist for the prestigious Walter Payton Award, presented annually by The Sports Network to the nation's top I-AA player.
Gessner's 1,182 receiving yards was first in the nation and 5th best in Ivy history, averaging 131.3 yards per game. He was second in the nation with 9.2 receptions per game, making 83 catches, which ranks 8th in the Ivy record book. Gessner's 12 touchdown receptions in 2001 and 24 career TD receptions are 5th in Ivy football history, and he is currently 6th in all-time Ivy League receptions with 180 catches. He tied the Brown record with 19 receptions against Rhode Island, and smashed the Brown record for receiving yards with 269 against the Rams.
Senior wide receiver and kickoff return specialist Brandon Buchanan, one of the fastest players in the Ivy League, caught 8 passes for 99 yards last season, and is always a deep threat. A first team All-Ivy selection in the 60 meters for the Brown track team, Buchanan registered a 63-yard run on a reverse against Cornell, and returned a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against Fordham in 2000. Senior Chris Walther made 3 catches at tight end for the Bears and is expected to earn a starting role.
The Bears look strong at running back, despite the loss of All-American Mike Malan, Brown's all-time career rusher. Senior runningback Joe Rackley may have been listed second on the Brown depth chart last season, but he was hardly a back-up. Rackley rushed for 415 yards in 2001, running for a career high 122 yards against Cornell, and scampering for 109 yards against Dartmouth. The Brown coaching staff has high hopes for senior Leo Evriviades to also contribute at runningback.
The starter at quarterback probably won't be determined until early September with junior Nate Poole and junior transfer Kyle Slager battling for the starting job. Poole has seen limited time in his first two years at Brown, playing behind fifth-year seniors each season. He completed 3 of 5 passes for 57 yards and one touchdown against Princeton as a freshman, and 1 of 2 passes last season. Slager is a transfer from the University of Arizona, who sat out last season after seeing limited action in 2000. He played against Poole in the same high school football league in Ohio.
The engine that drives Brown's explosive offense is its offensive line that was the Ivy League leader in scoring offense (35.4 ppg), passing offense (264,8 yards per game) and total offense (446.9 yards per game). The Bears are led by senior guard Nick Bardo (6-3, 295) and senior tackle Dan Startsman (6-1, 300), who were both second team All-Ivy selections last year after earning honorable mention All-Ivy honors as sophomores. Also returning to provide stability to the lineup is senior Matt Slowik (6-2, 285), a two-year starter at center. With the graduation of two starters, senior James Dominic (6-4, 265), junior Lawrence Rubida (6-4, 285) and sophomore Will Burroughs (6-3, 265) will look to step into starting roles.
Brown's much-improved defensive unit returns eight starters, including its entire linebacking corps. Senior Joel Barone, an honorable mention All-American and second team All-Ivy selection, came off the bench to lead the Ivy League and rank sixth nationally in tackles, making 12.9 tackles per game for the Bears, finishing with 103 tackles (53 solo, 50 assists). He was named the Ivy League's Defensive Player of the Week following his performance against Dartmouth where he registered a 15 tackles, including a quarterback sack where he jarred the ball loose which was picked up in the end zone for a touchdown. Barone got his first start in Brown's third game of the season vs. Fordham, starting in place of injured linebacker Andrew Gallagher, who returns to the lineup this season. Gallagher, a senior, made 49 tackles in four games last season, returning to the lineup late in the season. He registered 40 tackles his sophomore season, including six tackles for a loss.
Junior linebacker Jeremiah Watts earned honorable mention All-Ivy honors last season after making 92 total tackles, second best in the Ivy League, averaging 10.2 tackles per game. Watts, who had 8 tackles for a loss and three quarterback sacks, made a career high 18 tackles against Penn. He was second on Brown's 2000 team in tackles with 78 total hits. Junior linebacker Hunter Young, a second team All-Ivy selection, was Brown's third leading tackler last year with 73 total hits - 48 solo and 36 assists. He returned a fumble 82 yards for a touchdown against Cornell, and made a key fourth-down stop against Yale that turned the momentum of the game in Brown's favor.
Brown's secondary led the Ivy League in pass defense, yielding 191 yards a game. Junior Jermaine Griffin picked-off a team high four passes last season, including an interception against Cornell that he returned 24 yards for a touchdown. Griffin made 35 tackles for the Bears and registered two quarterback sacks. Seniors Ryan Devlin (8 tackles) and Luke McCullough (5 tackles) should also see action in the linebacking corps.
Senior safety Bobby Parisien ranked fourth on last year's team in tackles with 57 total hits, picking off two passes. He was an All-Ivy (honorable mention) selection in 2000, starting out the season at quarterback and moving over to be the backbone of the Bears' defense, making 71 total hits, while making two interceptions and knocking down six passes. Senior Selom Azuma made several starts for last year's team, making 23 total tackles, including 12 solo stops. Senior Shaun Eidson, who made five tackles a year ago, also returns for the Bears.
Brown's defensive line returns junior starter Christian Garnett, who made 18 tackles, including 5 tackles for a loss and 1.5 quarterback sacks. Despite the loss of two starters on the defensive line, senior Phil Ford (15 tackles), junior Jesse Hawkins (5 tackles) and senior Brendan Kelley (8 tackles) saw significant playing time.
Junior Tim Goobic will continue to handle the punting duties after averaging 34.7 yards per punt a year ago. Sophomore Tynan Wyatt, who kicked-off for the Bears last season, will look to step into the place-kicking void created by the graduation of Sean Jensen, the Ivy League's all-time career kick scorer.