A dark cloud followed Union College quarterback Drew Connolly for nearly the entire 2010 football season.
Connolly’s personal difficulties, which included his father’s death and a season-ending shoulder separation, played a major role in the Dutchmen’s fall from perennial playoff contenders to a 2-7 campaign, the first sub-.500 record in head coach John Audino’s 19 years at the helm.
But with Connolly back and healthy again, coupled with the return of brothers Justin and Connor Gallo, a pair of outstanding big-play receivers, there is optimism that the Dutchmen can make a dramatic turnaround.
“It was definitely a tough year for me, personally and for the team,” said Connolly, who completed 72 of 150 passes for 1,055 yards and nine touchdowns, despite missing four games.
“I learned a lot from the situation. With all the injuries we had last year, a lot of the younger guys got some valuable experience, and it should only help us get better this year.”
Connolly’s bad luck continued in the offseason. He slipped on some stairs and hit his head. The resulting injury sent him to Albany Medical Center, and it took two doctor visits to finally get clearance to attend training camp this summer.
On top of that, his car got stolen.
“I guess you could say I’ve had some bad luck, but it’s about to end,” said the 6-foot-2, strong-armed senior from Foxboro, Mass. “I feel awesome. I’m ready to go. Step by step, the chemistry on this team is great. My arm feels great, and I’m looking for a successful year. It will be fun to finally play football again.”
Audino is thrilled to have Connolly back, especially since his understudies will be Nick Becker and Connor Eck, a pair of untested freshmen.
“He looks great in warmups,” said Audino. “Last year, he made so much progress before missing all those games. Drew has good skills. Our goal is to keep him in the game all the time.”
When Connolly drops back into the pocket, he will have two very familiar targets.
Justin Gallo caught 46 passes for 942 yards and seven touchdowns before suffering a late-season injury himself. Connor Gallo, Justin’s younger brother, caught 15 passes for 259 yards and two scores. He also filled in at quarterback when Connolly was out of the lineup.
“I’m not expecting to be filling in at quarterback this year, but you never know. Maybe there will be a special play or two for me,” said Connor Gallo.
“Truly, it was unbelievable how much adversity we had last year with Drew’s dad dying and his shoulder injury. But that adversity taught us some things. We worked harder than ever over the winter. If we can stay healthy, we expect to have a very good year.”
Although the Dutchmen have a strong passing game with Connolly tossing to the Gallos and Jimmer Bennett, the biggest question mark will be who fills the shoes of graduated tailback Chris Coney, who finished his career as the program’s second-leading all-time rusher with 4,091 yards.
“Chris is so much to lose,” said Justin Gallo. “He ran like a man possessed every Saturday. But we have some excellent running backs who waited behind Chris for their chance.”
“Over the course of time, we’ve always had a real good player at the tailback position, but we also have a good system,” said Audino, who has a 135-56 record with the Dutchmen. “We will miss Chris. He was one of the best players we ever had at that position, but we have some excellent running backs. We just haven’t figured out how we will use them yet.”
The depth chart lists Dylan Schuck, Tim Mogan and Daniel Thomas as the top three tailbacks, with Tim Hersey and Vinny Vivenzio battling for the fullback job.
“We have a very experienced group of offensive linemen coming back, along with a strong group of tight ends and fullbacks. That will be the strength of the team, along with our top skill guys back,” said Audino, who can’t wait to put last season’s dismal record behind him.
“We’re looking forward to this year. It was not the most pleasant of times last year. We have no excuses. We didn’t get the job done, especially in the third and fourth quarters. But our expectations will be the same as they always are — to get back into the NCAA playoffs.”
3 — at Salve Regina, 12; 10 —at Utica, 7. 17 — ITHACA, 1; 24 — at Rochester, 12:05.
1 — WPI, 1; 8 — HOBART, 1; 15 — at St. Lawrence, 1; 29 — RPI, 1:30.
5 — at U.S. Merchant Marine, 1; 12 — SPRINGFIELD, 12.
(Home games in CAPS).
Categories: College Sports