It is not how you start, but how you finish. This could have easily been the motto for the 2008 Geneva College football team. After limping to a 1-5 start against a rigorous early season schedule, the Golden Tornadoes quickly turned their fortunes around in winning their final four games, including a victory over eventual PAC champion Thomas More.
The Golden Tornadoes dropped early season games to NCAA Division II national qualifier Seton Hill and top ten Division III programs Salisbury and Washington & Jefferson in the first four weeks of the season. That tough stretch only made Geneva stronger and the Golden Tornadoes were able to take advantage with a final season stretch that saw them outscore opponents by a combined 45 points in the final four games.
The question for Geneva and head coach Geno DeMarco heading into 2009 is whether they can maintain that momentum and get off to a better start in September and October. That question will be answered soon enough, but with the firepower returning on the offensive side of the ball and a solid core returning on defense, the prospects for a special season in 2009 are already in place.
Many football experts will say that a college football player makes his greatest improvements from his first to his second year. That theory couldn't have been truer than in describing the play of quarterback David Girardi. Girardi took great strides in becoming one of the finest quarterbacks in the Presidents′ Athletic Conference. Girardi is set for his third stint as Geneva′s offensive leader after completing close to 54% of his passes for 1474 yards and ten touchdowns. "David certainly came of age a bit last year," said head coach Geno DeMarco. "He has worked extremely hard on and off the field to be the best quarterback he can be and to be the leader that we need on the offensive side of the ball."
While the quarterback position seems to be in good hands with an experienced signal caller, the running back position is almost overflowing with experience. In 2009, Geneva will return three starting backs, all of which made significant contributions in 2008. Gerard Muschette (719 yds), Matt Barge (633 yds) and Matt Dean (426 yds) combined for close to 1800 yards rushing and 17 touchdowns last year. All three backs will return in 2009 looking to improve upon an already impressive resume. "We are blessed to have so much talent in the backfield," said DeMarco. "At times it seems there are not enough footballs to go around, but I certainly am looking forward to watching these guys get after it this year." Dean and Barge will be playing in their final season, while Muschette, who ran for two of the programs five longest touchdowns in school history last year, is only a junior.
The receiving core will look different in 2009 after the graduation of Luke Duriancik and Brian Dvorsak. But even with those departures, DeMarco is optimistic about his wideouts. "We still have some weapons out there," he said. "Parker (Neutzel) has enjoyed an outstanding off season and AJ (Delmonico) will only continue to get better. We also have some new faces that may surprise some people."
The offensive line will also have a new look after the graduation of some key members in 2008. But like the receiving core, it appears that group won't miss a beat. "Nothing can happen on offense without a solid group up front," said DeMarco. "We feel like we have the personnel to get it done, but we will be looking for several guys to step up early in the season."
It could be a fun year at Reeves Field for the offense and for the fans, but maybe not so much for the scoreboard operator.
While the Geneva offense will enjoy the return of many of its key components from 2008, the defense will be looking to fill some very big shoes on the other side of the ball. Most notably, the Golden Tornadoes will be without 3/4 of a starting linebacking core that included three-time All-Conference selection Zach Feltrop.
Additionally, starters Dan Terracciano and Greg Pfeifer will also need replaced.
The Golden Tornadoes will look to simply reload in the middle of their defense and surround four-year starter Aaron Tommelleo in what should be a very athletic group on the defensive side of the ball. Chance Kelosky and Javon Moody should see significant time at the linebacker spot, while key returners up front on defense include Adam Rose (11.5 TFL), Dan Dillman (24 tackles) and Brian Wilson (3 sacks). In the secondary, Matt Curry and Marcus Costanza will return for their second stint while four-year starter Rich Kolesar will be looking to put an exclamation point on the end of his career.
"Clearly the defense will have much less experience going into the season than does our offensive group," said DeMarco. "We are still very excited about the athletes we have on defense and feel this could develop into a very strong group."
Along with the rest of the football team, the defensive unit struggled early in 2008, but came on late in the season to help contribute to four straight victories to end the year. In those four wins, the defense yielded an average of less than 20 points per game. "The guys returning from last year certainly know what it takes to be successful," said DeMarco. "We need to simply build on those positive experiences at the end of the year and take them into 2009. It will be fun to watch this group grow together throughout the season."
Graduation has also taken a bite out of the special teams tandem at Geneva for 2008. After three years as the Golden Tornadoes punter, Andy Stopchick ended his run last season. As a result, Geneva will be auditioning for a new punter in the fall. As far as placekicking duties go, the Golden Tornadoes are in good hands or in good feet with junior Nick DiPietro. In his first two collegiate seasons, DiPietro has accounted for a team high 90 points, which includes 13 field goals and 51 extra points.
"We don't minimize our special teams in any way," said DeMarco. "This coaching staff understands the importance of our kicking coverages and returns, as well as our punting and placekicking. We are fortunate to have some experience in several areas of our special teams, but we will certainly be looking to develop a punter early in the season."
AJ Delmonico did a solid job returning kicks last year with an average of close to 22 yards per return. He also came up with the only return for a touchdown in 2008 when he scampered 88 yards for a touchdown against Grove City. Delmonico may also get the first shot at replacing Luke Duriancik on punt returns.
Being consistent is one of the main ingredients to success on the football field. Nothing could be more accurate when it comes to a coach. Geneva College has been blessed to have plenty of consistency on its coaching staff with only two head coaches in the past 33 years. Geno DeMarco begins his 17th season as Geneva′s head coach, which will match his predecessor Gene Sullivan for the longest head coaching tenure in 120 years of Geneva College football.
"It is really quite overwhelming to understand all that we have accomplished in 17 years," said DeMarco. "It takes a lot of people to make this thing go in the right direction and I have been very blessed to have some of the best coaches around me during these years. Coach Sullivan has remained an inspiration in my life and will continue to be a person that I will try to pattern my coaching and personal life after."
Geno DeMarco has guided the Geneva College football ship for a long time and has seen his program take off in ways that never seemed possible. As the Golden Tornadoes prepare for another chapter in 2009, coach DeMarco and his staff will look to continue the great tradition that has already been built on College Hill."Everyday we try to maintain a standard that was set long before me or any of these players stepped foot on this campus. It is our job to put a product on the field that makes everyone proud and to put a group of young men in the classroom and in the community that makes us even prouder."
At last count, nearly 100 former Geneva players under Geno DeMarco had themselves entered the coaching ranks. That number in itself proves what kind of impact that Geneva College and Golden Tornadoes football is having on our community. In 2009, Geno DeMarco and the Golden Tornadoes will continue to provide excitement for the fans and alumni on the field. Off the field, he will continue emphasize a teachable spirit aimed at servant leadership.