Beaver Falls, PA - Geno DeMarco has roamed the Geneva College football sidelines longer than any other coach in school history. As DeMarco gets set to open his 20th season at the helm, the Golden Tornadoes will be looking to avenge a 4-6 campaign from a year ago. The 2012 team reported to campus on Tuesday and is preparing to open the 2012 season with its first workout on Thursday morning.
In four of the past five seasons, the Geneva College football team has ended its season on a winning streak. The 2011 campaign was a microcosm of the last half decade where the Golden Tornadoes ended the year playing its best football of the season but got off to a very rocky beginning by dropping their first four games of the year. The four-game slide to start the 2011 season was the first time a Geneva team had started 0-4 since 1978. So it comes as no surprise that head coach Geno DeMarco has just a one word answer for people who ask about the upcoming campaign. "Start", DeMarco says. "We have to be ready to start right out of the blocks. Our program has traditionally gotten better as the season wears on which is how we want things to be but we have to start the season at a much higher level and be ready to play from the opening whistle."
A year ago, the Golden Tornadoes averaged over 22 points per game. Considering they were trying to fill the shoes of the all-time leader in rushing and touchdowns, it was a highly successful campaign on the offensive side of the ball. Implementing a two quarterback system for the entire season, Geneva relied on the skills provided by a pair of red shirt sophomore signal callers. The duo of Zack Hayward and Rocco Colavecchia opened some eyes across the Presidents′ Athletic Conference and those eyes will still be popping in 2012. "We aren′t going to surprise anyone this year," DeMarco says. "We were able to mix and match a bit last year and keep some defenses off balance. Nobody will be surprised to see us use both guys this year so we will have to be that much more prepared come game day." While Hayward experienced more success through the air, it was the legs of Colavecchia that provided much of the damage. Hayward completed 56% of his passes for 1468 yards and 12 TD′s. While Colavecchia did throw for 653 yards and five TD′s, it was his team leading 730 yards rushing that provided a balanced attack for the Geneva offense. "Both guys bring a different skill set to the table," says DeMarco. "The one thing they have in common is amazing athleticism and we try to capitalize on those skills throughout our playbook."
The quarterback duo will have leading receiver Corey O′Patchen (34 rec, 505 yds) back in the fold but as a whole the receiver core will be somewhat inexperienced. In fact, the only other wide receiver remaining on the roster with any catches at the college level is now on the defensive side of the ball. Vince Larson pulled in 15 receptions in 2011 before taking over as a defensive back. Larson will open the 2012 season in the Geneva secondary. When Colavecchia wasn′t busy throwing passes and leading the team in rushing, he did grab 27 catches for 202 yards and a touchdown. "Probably the one area of offense that we are somewhat inexperienced is with our receivers," says DeMarco. "I am encouraged having a pair of experienced quarterbacks helping to break in some new guys on the outside."
Returning to the mix in the Geneva backfield will be the duo of Jordan Curry and Dom Saragusa. The pair combined for nearly 400 yards on the ground with a pair of touchdowns a year ago. Leading the way for Geneva′s ground game will be an offensive line that features the return of three starters from 2011 in Brandon Martin, Bobby Hites and Derrick Baney. "We had a veteran group last year up front," says DeMarco. "Some of these guys grabbed the opportunity to play and never looked back. We want each of our linemen to continue to improve with each practice. We have some nice young guys coming in that will certainly help our depth across the front line."
Early in the 2011 season, the Geneva College defense was having its problems stopping anyone. In fact, the Golden Tornadoes surrendered an average of 42 points per game during the four-game losing streak to open the season. Much in line with the rest of the football team, the Geneva defense got better as the season progressed. In winning three of the last four games of the season, Geneva′s defense yielded an average of 18 points per game. "We are looking for a resurgence on the defensive side of the ball," says DeMarco. "We finally got guys in their more comfortable spots as the season wore on. It was nice to see them step up at the end of the year and play team defense week after week. I think we will have a very strong season on defense led by a veteran group that includes a total of 12 players that have started at least one game at the college level."
That defensive experience includes three of the top four leading tacklers from a year ago. Dillon Goodell led the defense from his linebacker position with 73 tackles that included 11 tackles for loss. Scott Erb finished the campaign with 55 tackles while Tucker Nuetzel checked in with 53 tackles a year ago. Kevin Miranda, who garnered second team All-PAC honors, stabilized the defensive line with a team best five sacks and eight tackles for loss. "We have some key components returning on defense," says DeMarco. "It′s hard to predict how things will go from year to year but I believe we are better on defense to start the year than we were this time last year."
There will be some heavy competition in the secondary for the Golden Tornadoes as they will have to replace four-year starter Marcus Costanza. There are several players that chipped in at both cornerback and safety in 2011 and will once again be battling for playing time this fall. Despite that experience, there are no returning players in the secondary that came away with an interception last year. In fact, Geneva had only eight interceptions all year and will look to improve upon that number in a big way. "We have to do a better job of taking the ball away," says DeMarco. "If we can give our offense a short field once or twice a game, it could be a lot of fun in 2012."
One of the bright spots from the 2011 season was the break out year from placekicker Bryan Visingardi. Visingardi was named an All-PAC honorable mention selection for his work last year. Visingardi connected on 13-19 field goals to go along with 22 extra points. The 13 field goals for Visingardi were the most since Mike Gill′s 13 field goals in 1996. "We had a very solid season in the placekicking game," says DeMarco. "Bryan established himself as one of the top kickers in the conference. He certainly gives us another offensive weapon down by the goal line."
While the placekicking was a bright spot last year, the punting game for Geneva left something to be desired. The Golden Tornadoes averaged just less than 29 yards per punt with a net average of less than 25 yards per punt. "We cost ourselves a lot of field position last year with our punting game," says DeMarco. "We have to be much more consistent in that area and find away to lose all of that hidden yardage in the special teams game." A quartet of players will audition for the punting job during the first weeks of training camp as the Golden Tornadoes look for some consistency on fourth down. "We have given ourselves some depth at punter and we have to find someone that will simply get the job done week in and week out."
Another area of concern a year ago was returning punts. Geneva finished last in the conference with just 30 punt return yards all season. The Golden Tornadoes only managed nine returns on the season. "Again it′s all about field position and we have to field punts and make positive yardage when we get the chance. Winning football teams are strong in all three phases of the game and we are all on board in helping to improve our special teams."
No man has roamed the Geneva College football sideline longer than Geno DeMarco. DeMarco becomes the first Geneva football coach to reach his 20th season in the long history of Golden Tornadoes football. The winningest coach in Geneva history is not used to suffering through a sub .500 season like the one that was experienced in 2011. "Losing is not an option at this school," says DeMarco. "Every program is going to experience a down year from time to time but we will not stand pat and allow that to happen again. Our players and our coaching staff are dedicated to getting back to Geneva College football in every way possible. If we do the right things on the practice field and improve every day, the scoreboard will take care of itself."
DeMarco and the Geneva football team has stood in the winner′s circle 125 times over the last 19 years. With a rededicated focus and desire to get back to winning football, the winner′s circle could once again be a very crowded place in 2012.