It simply doesn′t get any better than defeating your arch rival on the final play of the season for a thrilling overtime victory that put an exclamation point on the 2010 campaign. When Gerard Muschette crossed the goal line on the final play of 2010 and on the final carry of his career, the Geneva fan base went into a frenzy as the Golden Tornadoes secured a 30-24 triple overtime victory against Westminster that completed a 5-5 season. While the fans could not have been more excited, head coach Geno DeMarco had to be feeling some mixed emotions at that very moment. His team had just won the season finale against Westminster but it would prove to be the final time DeMarco could call Muschette′s number.
As the 2011 football season kicks off, DeMarco and the Golden Tornadoes will have some sizeable shoes to fill as they will need to replace a substantial list of contributors that have carried Geneva′s program through a four-year provisional phase that has led it directly into 2011 and the first year of full membership in the Presidents′ Athletic Conference. Gone are all-time leading rusher Gerard Muschette, three-year starting quarterback David Girardi and two-time NCCAA All-American defensive end Adam Rose along with several other key components. The good news for DeMarco and the Golden Tornadoes is that the cupboard is far from bare in year one of full NCAA Division III membership.
The Geneva offensive averaged nearly 28 points per game in 2010 while racking up just under 400 yards per contest. Admittedly, the majority of those points and yards came from one source in senior tailback Gerard Muschette. With the all-time leading rusher graduated, the Golden Tornadoes will look to a collection of backs to try to fill the void. "A back like Gerard doesn′t come along very often," says head coach Geno DeMarco. "To expect one guy to come in and fill those shoes would be unrealistic, but we feel like we have some guys that can certainly be very productive." Geneva will also be in the market for a new starting signal caller after David Girardi has filled that role for the past three years. The front runner to take over the starting position will be red shirt sophomore Zach Hayward. Hayward completed just two passes in very limited action last season. "Zach has been in the program for a couple years and he has a great grasp of the offense," says DeMarco. "David was a great student of the game and he has passed those traits on to Zach and we are confident that we won′t miss a beat at the quarterback position."
Perhaps the most experienced offensive group will be the offensive line in 2011. The Golden Tornadoes did lose a pair of senior linemen last season, but also have as many as seven that have seen significant time in the last few years. Coming off a stellar season leading the way for a record breaking back while keeping their starting quarterback upright and healthy throughout the campaign, Geneva′s offensive line seems to be in good shape. "We have some nice pieces in place along the offensive line," says DeMarco. "We always want to make strides to improve in every area and the offensive line is no exception. These guys will work extremely hard and I believe will be one of the strengths of our football team."
The only offensive position on the field that didn′t lose anyone to graduation is at the wide receiver spot. Each of the top five receivers from 2010 will return including senior AJ Delmonico (48 rec, 482 yds) and Corey O′Patchen (35 rec., 754 yds). Delmonico led the receiving core last year in receptions while O′Patchen pulled in an impressive ten touchdowns in his first year as a full time starter. "Having a veteran group of receivers will certainly help us to make a smoother quarterback transition," explains DeMarco. "Many of these guys had break-out seasons a year ago and will hope to build upon that success."
"We will be relying on some new faces to produce for us on the offensive side of the ball," says DeMarco. "There is no reason to believe that we can′t put points on the board. We don′t have time to look back and worry about who isn′t here. All we can do is push forward and get better every single day." The Golden Tornadoes will look to light up the Reeves Stadium scoreboard in 2011 with some fresh faces leading the way.
The defensive story in 2010 can be broken up into two chapters. In the first six games of the season, the Golden Tornadoes yielded 38 points per game. In the final four games of 2010, Geneva′s defense allowed opponents just 19 points per game. Why did Geneva′s defense make such a drastic improvement in the second half of the season? The easy answer is experience and confidence. "I believe it took a while to get the right personnel into the right positions last year," says DeMarco. "I was very proud of the way our defense picked things up in the second half of the year and it will hopefully serve as a springboard heading into 2011." Much like the offense, the defense did lose some key components to graduation, but many of the major pieces will be back.
Senior defensive back Marcus Costanza posted 66 tackles a year ago which is the most by any returning player. He also turned in two tackles for loss and an interception. Costanza and fellow-senior defensive back Jon Baldwin possess the most experience in the Geneva secondary. The linebacking core should include the likes of Solomon Hejirika, Scott Erb and Ryan Fronius. The defensive line should be in good shape with a healthy Dan Dillman and Tyler French holding down the trenches. "We have a lot of moving parts to our defense," said DeMarco. "We have a lot of guys that saw significant time last year and that will only help our cause this season. Much like the offense, many guys are going to have to step up to fill some spots but we expect them to do just that."
"If we protect the football on offense and make teams have to drive the length of the field, this defense can be very good," says DeMarco. "We have some playmakers out there and it′s our job to put them in positions to make those plays." If those playmakers come up big in 2011 it would certainly go a long way in helping the Golden Tornadoes compete for their first ever PAC title.
Consistency in the kicking game is something that Geneva has been fortunate to have in the past few years when it comes to field goals and extra points. The 2011 season will open a new era of placekicking as Nick DiPietro has since graduated. One of the all-time leaders in extra points, DiPietro posted 52 points a year ago including eight field goals. The Golden Tornadoes will be in the market for a new place kicker while they will also be hoping for a consistent punter.
Bryan Visingardi will return to the fold in 2011 after having punted just four times a year ago. As far as placekicking, the job will be up for grabs during pre-season camp. "We really made the kicking game a focus in our recruiting efforts this past year," says DeMarco. "We hope we have some good options that will help us move forward this year and in the future. We certainly don′t take special teams for granted. We had some very solid areas of special teams last year but had some significant problems to fix in other areas."
Geneva was among the bottom of the PAC standings in both kickoff and punt returns last year. The hidden return yardage effected both offensive field position while at times putting the defense in tough spots. "Special teams play such a huge part of any game and we understand that we have to do a better job with field position both in coverage and in the return game."
It has been four long years for the Geneva College football program and head coach Geno DeMarco as the wait to become conference eligible drug on. It is the 2011 football season that Geneva fans have been waiting for to finally watch the Golden Tornadoes compete for a conference title. "We have not been very patient," says DeMarco. "It has been a long process to get to this point but I know our guys are ready for the challenge and this coaching staff has worked extremely hard to prepare our football team for conference play. It′s going to be an exciting time on College Hill this year as the stakes have been raised and we are going all in."
Geno DeMarco is now officially the longest tenured coach in school history. He becomes the first coach in Geneva′s 121 year football history to begin his 19th season at the helm. "It almost feels like a new start for our football program in 2011," says DeMarco. "We had such great success in the Mid-States Football Association but it seems like forever since we had a chance to win a conference title. This is a quality conference and we certainly understand it will take a titanic effort to reach our goals but everyone in this locker room will work extremely hard to give ourselves a chance to succeed."