The 2013 season had its highs and lows with a 3-0 start, an undefeated record at home, but also a winless road record. That past won’t necessarily be prologue as the 2014 will see significant changes from that 5-5 season.
First, the Presidents’ Athletic Conference will be different. Now with 12 members, the conference will use an unbalanced schedule that will include for the first time with the addition of Carnegie Mellon and Case Western Reserve will make the conference even more challenging.
Also, graduation took away career leading scorer Rocco Colavecchia, prolific passer Zach Hayward, leading tackler Dillon Goodell, and offensive line stalwart Brandon Martin, among many others.
"When you have a solid program, good players are what is needed," said head coach Geno DeMarco. "The downside to that is every year there is someone to replace-Rocco, Hayward, Goodell, Martin etc,"
With over 70 incoming freshman joining the program in 2014, the Golden Tornadoes will be facing a daunting learning curve. The learning curve, however, will level the PAC field somewhat as most teams in the conference used senior quarterbacks last season.
Geneva returns 15 starters from last season - eight of which were all-conference last season. Six come from the offense, seven on defense and two from special teams.
"The 17 season ending injuries that happened last year (the second most in 21 years), although it kept us from a run at a title, it gave an opportunity for a lot of people to play" said DeMarco. "We have depth at all positions for the first time because of our numbers that include letter winners, transfers and players, who have started games, but the key to our season is speeding up the learning curve and the only way to do that is through a disciplined simplicity."
That disciplined simplicity will be most evident on offense as Geneva retools after the loss of Hayward (3193 yards of total offense) and Colavecchia (21 TDs). The Golden Tornadoes are looking to a pair of transfer quarterbacks Aaron Channing (Kutztown) and Jeff Clegg (Youngstown) and DeMarco could even choose to use a righty (Clegg)/lefty (Channing) rotation.
Whoever the quarterback may be, there will be tools at their disposal. The top two receivers return in Lemuel Fuller (67 catches) and Josh Guiser (60) as does the top rusher in Dylan Jones (492 yards).
The Golden Tornadoes offense could be as balanced as it has been in years as Geneva will use packages using (gasp!) a tight end (Kyle Exline) and/or a fullback (Brandon Hacker).
No matter the schemes and packages, though, the success will be determined in great part by the blockers up front. Only stalwart Mike Underwood returns as a starter but the silver lining in the last year’s gray cloud of injuries allows that other players were able to get valuable experience. Among that group of players are Aaron Protch, Josh Niluis, Robbie Wadsworth, and Joe Hlebiczki.
"We will rely on how quickly the offensive line develops," said DeMarco.
Despite the turnover in personnel, DeMarco intends to continue the fast pace Geneva established last season. The Golden Tornadoes ran an average of almost 83 plays from scrimmage per game.
On defense, Geneva must replace three-time leading tackler Dillon Goodell but will have experience returning – five of the eight who will start behind the line are returning starters. Four are in the secondary – Ed Schuster, named an all-conference selection, Matt Leach, and Thomas Benyo at the safeties and Tim Martin at corner. Named the 2013 PAC Newcomer of the Year, Martin led the league in both interceptions (6) and passes defended (20). He also ranked second in NCAA Division III in passes defended per game (2.0). As a result, the other corner will be tested early and often and will be a newcomer – the competition is between incoming newcomers or players switching positions. Nick Goforth returns as a starting linebacker and he will be joined by Jim Quinlan, who played a lot last year because of injuries.
Up front, end Brett Alberti earned all-conference honors last year and nose tackle John Antonishen also returns at starter. At the other end, transfer Brandon Heckman is expected to contribute.
Unlike the offense and defense, the special teams are completely manned by veterans. Zachary Taylor and Guiser are back as the returners and will be a strength. Taylor earned PAC special team player of the week honors last season and Guiser had 621 yards in kickoff returns. Mike Gardner returns as the placekicker after scoring 55 points last year. Ed Schuster returns as the punter but, since he also has significant responsibilities as a starting safety, he cold relinquish those duties.
"We have improved on the kicking game. Conference games usually come down to the kicking game and we have been in those games and so we will keep striving to improve" said DeMarco.
Geno DeMarco is a staple of the Golden Tornadoes sidelines entering into his 22nd season as Geneva’s football head coach. He has compiled an overall record of 133-87- more wins than any other coach in Geneva football history. Incorporating his life verse, "More than Conquerors" (Romans 8:37) with his passion for football, DeMarco has compiled numerous post-season appearances and honors on the football field while impacting the futures of the student-athletes wearing the uniforms.
"I can’t believe it has been over 20 years," says DeMarco. "I have to be one of the most blessed me in the world to have the opportunity to do what I love to do it at a place like Geneva. We have outstanding young men come through our system and it is a true honor to have the opportunity to minister to them on a daily basis."
Van Zanic, Director of Athletics at Geneva says, "Geno DeMarco has a passion for football and a passion for Geneva College that goes a lot deeper than the football field. For over two decades Coach DeMarco has molded young men into something special on and off the field. Once again bringing in the largest freshmen class in school history Coach DeMarco and his staff have done an outstanding job getting talented kids into Geneva College. They will continue to work hard at developing those kids into men and will once again bring the winning tradition back to College Hill."
Washington Monthly ranks Geneva among the nation’s top ten “Best-Bang-for-the-Buck” baccalaureate colleges for providing students the highest chance of graduating with an affordable degree that has marketplace value.