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Holy Cross football readies for big year

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Holy Cross Coach Tom Pugh hopes a year older means a year wiser for his football team. The Knights were littered with talented sophomores last season, but injuries and inconsistent play sent them into a late slide they never recovered from.

“We are expecting to be a little more seasoned,” Pugh said.

Second-year captain Juwan Wilson, a linebacker, said the Knights losing four of their last five games and finishing 4-6 was the talk of the offseason in the weight room. It centered around last year being unacceptable, that it was something Holy Cross football isn’t about.

“As seniors, our big thing is we need to finish,” he said.

There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic with nine starters back on defense and a stable of running backs to work with new quarterback Michael Loprete behind a veteran offensive line. Pugh described the 5-foot-11 senior, who takes over for Yianni Gavalas, as a tough runner with a big left arm and sound command of the offense.

“He waited his turn,” running back/linebacker Jordan Francklin said of Loprete. “He knows what he is doing. I am really confident in him.”

The Knights could feature as many as four different ball carriers, despite graduating standout Shyheim Wingate. The group starts with bruising back Brandon Pelzer, continues with Terrell Hinton, Brian Contino and the explosive Francklin. The balance will keep any one player from having to shoulder the bulk of the running duties and allow Cross to vary its running style.

“We have speed, but we got to use it,” Pugh said. “We have to get the kid outside.”

They are joined by returning wide receivers Lekeith Celestain, Anthony DiPasquale and Brandon Jackson, who could be a breakout star, Pugh said. Receiver and defensive back Joshua Wallace will not be playing this year as he chose to focus on basketball. Jordan Pagan, Christian Hallerdin and Stefan Harrington all return on the offensive line along with newcomer Kevin Walsh.

The unit that Pugh is the most excited about is his linebacking trio of Pelzer, Francklin and Wilson. He feels it could be the best he’s ever had at the position.

“They are our best three at one time,” Pugh said.

He felt the unit’s youth left them ill-equipped to deal with hardship last fall, but they are prepared for it now after learning valuable lessons a season ago.

“Being young they didn’t handle adversity,” Pugh said. “This year they should.”

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