Tighter offensive line forms the basis of rejuvenated Towson

August 18, 1999|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

Towson offensive line coach John Donatelli could reasonably imagine his charges sitting together for the football team's first meeting Sunday at the Towson Center one day before practice started.

What he could not expect, however, was to see starters on the team's most heralded unit sitting in formation. Right tackle Brian Wronski to the right, right guard Braedon Galloway next to Wronski, center John Tierney next over, and Mike Zito and Adam Nepp at the end.

"That raised an eyebrow," Donatelli said of the move, which made him ignore the matching Mohawk hairdos that the returning offensive linemen have been donning since last Tuesday. "They're really learning how to be tight, what it takes."

What it takes to do better than the 5-6 finish of 1998 is an offensive line with muscle and experience to compete in a Patriot League that sent two teams to the NCAA Division I-AA playoffs. Towson -- as evidenced by a last-place, 1-5 result in conference play -- didn't have it.

"Colgate dominated us. Lehigh dominated us. Bucknell dominated us," Donatelli said, recalling teams who beat the Tigers by a total of 136-34. Even with the advantage of Jason Corle, the league's leading runner with 1,073 yards, the offensive line couldn't clear room for more than 67 rushing yards on average in those games. "We had no business being in the same park with those teams in those games."

The progression toward where the Towson offensive line hopes to be began in the first game of last season against Morgan State. That was when a knee injury sidelined then-right tackle Tony Campitelli for the season. Nepp was his replacement, complemented on the left side by Wronski, whose previous college experience consisted of four junior varsity games.

Though Tierney and Zito had been starters in the past, it took a while before their inexperienced peers were able to come close to mastering their tasks. The team cashed in on the line's efforts late in the season, scoring 42 second-half points in a loss to Dayton, a performance that built confidence heading into spring practice.

"All of us have seen some quality game action," Tierney said. "Adam and Brian came in and played really good. The Dayton game really summed it up, and translated into great things this summer."

All of the returning linemen stayed in Towson after the spring semester, participating in non-mandatory workouts outdoors and spending time with new strength coach Dean Aresco indoors.

The desired result is players who are bigger and more skilled than last season. Donatelli said he's gotten his wish so far, with a group that averages 6-foot-4, 290 pounds, up from the 6-foot-2, 275-pound average from a year ago.

As practice began, Towson coach Gordy Combs looked to the offensive line as a final obstacle cleared from the path to competitiveness in the Patriot League. Since joining the conference and being able to offer financial aid, the Tigers have been able to attract good athletes on both sides of the ball, such as Corle, wide receiver Jamal White, linebacker Aaron Sakevich and defensive back Jabari Garrett.

The rejuvenated squad takes the field for its first game of the season at 1 p.m. on Sept. 4, at home against Monmouth.

"We believe we'll see the fruits of our labor the past two years," Combs said. "We have nine offensive linemen who can play, and that's going to help us."

Towson 1999 schedule

Date Opponent Time

Sept. 4 Monmouth 1

Sept. 11 Lafayette 1

Sept. 18 at Bucknell 12: 30

Sept. 25 at Columbia 1: 30

Oct. 2 Holy Cross 1

Oct. 9 Morgan State-a 8

Oct. 16 at Howard 1

Oct. 23 Fordham 1

Oct. 30 at Lehigh 1

Nov. 6 Dayton 1

Nov. 13 at Colgate 12: 30

a-at Homewood Field

Pub Date: 8/18/99

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