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Prepped to Play
Football focuses on a varied repertoire

by Rachel M. Collins '81
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After six years of "knocking on the door," head football coach Sean McDonnell '78 hopes this will be the year when UNH wins a national football championship.

"Everybody's goal at the beginning of the year is to win your league or get into the playoffs and win the national championship," he says. "Getting into the quarterfinals six out of the last seven years and not getting it—I just keep telling the guys, you got to keep knocking on the door and keep chopping at it."

The Wildcats' recent history is not lost on the players, especially seniors like quarterback and co-captain Kevin Decker '12. "We want to carry on that tradition" of reaching the quarterfinals, he says, but adds they're also focused on taking it a step further. "When you talk to these players—Kevin Decker, Brian McNally, James Jenkins—they want to be the team at UNH that takes the next step, that goes to the semis, that wins the national championship," McDonnell says. "That's very important."

To get there, the team has to "take care of business during the regular season," he says. "That's our task at hand."

McDonnell knew that starting out with three road games, "including a Division I team like Toledo out of the gate," would be challenging (UNH lost 58-22). But he says the competitiveness of the Colonial Athletic Association keeps players and coaches on their toes: UNH beat Lehigh 48-41 in a thrilling overtime victory on Sept. 14.

"We have to have different things in our repertoire, knowing that when we get somewhere down the line we will be ready," McDonnell says. "It's a great challenge as a coach and for the staff, but it's creative in a lot of ways and a lot of fun."

With only five starters returning to both offense and defense, the success of the Wildcats, picked to finish fourth in the CAA, hinges on "some of the young kids in the secondary stepping up," McDonnell says. "We have players who have athletic ability but they don't have game experience." And although "there is no barometer of what's going to happen," McDonnell says playing good defense and staying healthy, particularly in the quarterback position, is critical. (In mid-September, McDonnell announced that senior tight end Chris Jeannot '12 will miss the remainder of the season due to a concussion during practice.)

"I expect a big year out of us," says Brian McNally '12, who set UNH's single-season record with a CAA-best 13.5 sacks last year. "We definitely have high expectations for the season." Although that will mean a "lot of hard work," McNally joins a long list of players, coaches and fans who believe UNH will be a contender. "The potential is there," he says. "We just have to put 100 percent in daily to get there."

On every UNH helmet this season is an insignia in memory of freshman Todd Walker, who was shot and killed last March by a robber in Boulder, Colo. Last spring, the team took turns wearing his No. 80 jersey, and in May, a swamp maple tree was planted outside the Field House in his memory, chosen because it turns red—the color of Walker's hair—in the fall.

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