August 20, 2009
Pitcher eager to grab Red Dragon reins
Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
With last year’s entire starting offensive line having graduated, SUNY Cortland had a new batch of blockers working out Wednesday at practice got under way.
Dan Pitcher admitted he has been waiting for this moment for five years now.
For the first time since finishing up a record-setting scholastic career at Cortland High, he has longed to start pre-season practice sessions as a No. 1 collegiate quarterback — which is his current status with the SUNY Cortland football squad that began workouts on a warm Wednesday afternoon.
A year ago, senior Ray Miles passed for 2,963 yards and 23 touchdowns as the Red Dragons won the New Jersey Athletic Conference regular season title in unbeaten fashion and captured two games in the NCAA Division III playoffs. A sparkling 11-2 season ended with a quarterfinal round loss to eventual national champion Mount Union in Ohio.
Pitcher completed 15-of-25 passes with a touchdown and interception in a back-up role after coming back to town following two seasons at Colgate University and an autumn off from football. Now the 6-foot, 200-pounder, who is a senior class-wise at the college but a junior in football eligibility due to a red-shirt season at Colgate following an injury, takes over an offense that was decimated by graduation losses a year ago.
The entire starting offensive line and key players like running back Andrew Giuliano are among the departed, Giuliano having rushed for 1,480 yards and 22 touchdowns. On the plus side, wide receiver Eric Hajnos (50 catches for 898 yards and a team-high nine touchdowns) was granted an extra year of football eligibility and should be a prime Pitcher pass target.
You can add on a new offensive coordinator in Greg Roskos, who has a Division I background arriving from Minnesota in the Big 10, to what’s new about the Cortland offense that averaged 364 yards and 32 points per game in 2008, too.
“That’s the nature of football, people come and people go,” said Pitcher following a three-hour practice on two grass fields near the SUNY Cortland PER Center. That’s where the Red Dragons will work out until the New York Jets say good-bye to the SUNY Cortland Stadium Complex fields at the end of this week.
“The talent’s there, no doubt about it,” added Pitcher of the offense he will direct. “It’s just a question of how well we can put it together. I’ve liked what I’ve seen so far.”
Being named a team captain was an extra bonus for Pitcher, who spent the summer as an intern with the Jets but started practice with a heavy heart following the recent passing of a beloved grandfather.
“It was something that meant a lot, especially after having only been here three semesters,” said Pitcher of being elected a team captain along with defensive tackles Lou Crispo and Bryan Wiley and offensive lineman Chris Van De Weert. The other captains are Red Dragon seniors.
“I guess some of the guys saw I was an older guy so I must know what I’m doing,” Pitcher chuckled of the election process, noting he’s five years older than some of the Red Dragon rookies on hand Wednesday.
Coach MacNeill is happy having both Pitcher and Roskos around, noting with Pitcher living in town the two had time to meet prior to workouts to help make this transition process smoother. Last year’s offensive coordinator, Dan Lounsbury, moved on to take that role at his Texas A&M-Commerce alma mater.
“It’s a lot of pressure coming here and seeing we don’t miss a beat, especially because there are so many different people on the field, but I like the way things are coming together” said MacNeill of the task facing Roskos.
A Scranton native who was a linebacker for a Division II Bloomsburg University squad in Pennsylvania that reached a Division II national title game, Roskos was in charge of offensive quality control at Minnesota. He was looking to become an offensive coordinator and campaigned hard for the Cortland position.
As if those new responsibilities weren’t time-consuming enough, Roskos’ wife gave birth to a baby girl on the eve of the opening of pre-season workouts.
“He’s doing a great job of bringing his stuff in and incorporating it with what we do, so there’s not much of a learning curve,” said Pitcher of adjusting to Roskos.
The Cortland defense has five starters back, but among the missing is talented junior linebacker Brian Haas. The younger brother of former Red Dragon All-America defensive tackle Adam Haas, he was in on 102 tackles including 11 sacks and picked off a pair of passes a year ago.
A late-detected rotator tear was operated on during spring break earlier this year, and Haas has just resumed some light weight-lifting this week in his bid to rehabilitate. Though Coach MacNeill left the door open if Haas has the urge to join the team in mid-season, he’s not expected back for his final two seasons until the fall of 2010.
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