Union football’s ‘big five’ expected to bring experience, leadership (with 9 photos)

Union football's Stratton Sherman, left, and Andre Ross, Jr. talk at the team's media day on Tuesday at Messa Rink.
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Union football's Stratton Sherman, left, and Andre Ross, Jr. talk at the team's media day on Tuesday at Messa Rink.

SCHENECTADY Five fifth-year seniors will play a major role in how successful a relatively inexperienced Union College football team will be this season.

Granted an extra year of eligibility when COVID-19 wiped out the 2020 season, running back Ike Irabor, wideout Andre Ross Jr., running back Joe Ferreira, offensive tackle Tim Driscoll and safety Austin St. Pierre are expected to make an impact on the field, and more importantly, in the leadership department.

The Dutchmen, 8-2 a year ago, came close to securing a playoff bid, but late-season losses to perennial league power Ithaca and local rival RPI ended their hopes. The returning “big five” aren’t used to losing and most admitted an extra layer of motivation for this campaign. They dodged a thunderstorm that pushed the annual media day into Messa Rink.

“We don’t have a lot of them, but we have five of our better players who made the decision to play their fifth year and hold off graduation,” said head coach Jeff Behrman.

Irabor, a 6-foot, 200-pound tailback from Xaverian Brothers High School in Braintree, Massachusetts, has been one of the top running backs in Union College history. The three-time All-Liberty League first-team selection rushed for 880 yards and 11 touchdowns a year ago. Prior to the pandemic in the 2019 campaign, he rambled for 1,231 yards – eighth on the school’s all-time single-season rushing list – to go along with 16 running TDs. As a freshman, he not only ran for 798 yards and 10 scores, but he added 16 receptions for 149 yards and two more scores.

“We’re considered a pretty young team,” Irabor said. “I want to make sure that whatever happens, we all go out and play like the Union culture. I’m just going to leave the game plan up to the coaches each week and do whatever they want me to do.”

Driscoll, a 6-7, 250-pounder from Pleasantville, is a two-time All-Liberty League first-team all-star and a three-time D3football.com All-American.  He helped bolster an offensive line that allowed only six sacks a year ago.

“It doesn’t matter to me who our quarterback is,” Driscoll said. “Our goal is we just want to keep them [the QBs] clean every game we play. When you are pass-blocking, you kind of sit back and wait for them to come to you. I prefer run blocking because I get to run downhill. I expect this team to keep getting better every week.”

Ross, 6-3 and 195 pounds, was the ECAC DIII Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2018 when he caught 57 passes for a league-leading 929 yards and 13 TDs. He added 48 catches for 1,022 yards and 12 TDs in 2019 and hauled in nine TD receptions a year ago, when he averaged 83.9 receiving yards per game.

Ross said he is prepared to work with either one of Union’s two senior quarterbacks and doesn’t foresee any problems after getting used to catching passes from graduated standout QB Will Bellamy.

Union Football’s Media Day (9 photos)

Union's Stratton Sherman, left, and Donavan Pacatte share a laugh PETER R. BARBER/THE DAILY GAZETTE
Union's Andre Ross, Jr. PETER R. BARBER/THE DAILY GAZETTE
Union head Coach Jeff Behrman PETER R. BARBER/THE DAILY GAZETTE
Union's Stratton Sherman, right, talks with offensive coordinator Travis James PETER R. BARBER/THE DAILY GAZETTE
Union's Donovan Pacatte PETER R. BARBER/THE DAILY GAZETTE
Union's Stratton Sherman, left, and Andre Ross, Jr. PETER R. BARBER/THE DAILY GAZETTE
Union's Ike Irabor laughs as his team mates have their photos taken PETER R. BARBER/THE DAILY GAZETTE
Union's Ike Irabor laughs as his team mates have their photos taken during Media Day PETER R. BARBER/THE DAILY GAZETTE
Union's Ike Irabor PETER R. BARBER/THE DAILY GAZETTE

“You don’t always have to be on the field to build chemistry,” Ross said. “It’s all about communication. Both our QBs are great guys. What I expect of myself is to be a better leader, not just by example but also verbally. “We don’t like losing at Union College.”

Ferreira, from Rocky Hill, Connecticut, appeared in only one game before missing the rest of the season with an injury a year ago. But in 2019, he ran for 584 yards with nine rushing touchdowns and two more scores on receptions.

St. Pierre, from Loomis Chaffee High School in Westfield, Massachusetts, was a first-team All-Liberty League selection last year and intercepted two passes. He played eight games as a freshman, when he registered his first career interception, and he started 12 games in 2019, when he made 42 tackles and broke up six passes.

One of the Dutchmen’s biggest question marks is at quarterback, where both  Donovan Pacatte from Cobleskill-Richmondville and Stratton Sherman from Schuylerville are battling for the starting position.

“l won’t know yet who the starting quarterback is until after the Hartwick scrimmage this weekend,” Behrman said. “I will name a starter moving into the Allegheny game. Right now, it will come down to the one I think is the best decision-maker. You’ve got to move the ball with the team and possess the ball.”

“It comes down to who is the most consistent,” said Pacatte. “We both keep coming to work every day, and we don’t even really worry about who’s going to be the starter. I think we’re both about the same. We are both seniors who have been here for four years, so we know the offense.”

“Coach Behrman is a great coach, and he does a great job coaching us up,” Sherman said. “It’s kind of cool that both of us are local guys who played against each other in high school. I’m lucky to be a part of this team. Whoever can be more consistent day in and day out is going to get the job.”

The Dutchmen have been in training camp for about two weeks, and Behrman is beginning to get a good handle on what kind of team he has.

“We don’t have goals in terms of wins and losses. We are trying to develop strong chemistry and a team personality,” Behrman said. “This 2022 team has a new identity and a new personality. I want  us to continue to grow. We don’t talk about winning the league or anything like that, but we do talk about coming together and creating a family atmosphere. We want to develop trust in each other.”

More: All Sports | All Union College

SCHEDULE

Home games in CAPS

LL-Liberty League games

SEPTEMBER

3 — at Allegheny, 12; 10 — WORCESTER STATE, 1; 17 — at Springfield, 12; 24 — UTICA, 1.

OCTOBER

LL-1 — BUFFALO STATE, 1; LL-8 — at St. Lawrence, 1; LL-22 — ROCHESTER, 12; LL-29 — at Hobart.

NOVEMBER

LL-5 — ITHACA, 12; LL-12 — at RPI, 12.

More: All Sports | All Union College

Categories: College Sports, Sports, Sports, Union College

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