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August 21. 2013 12:11AM

Young UNH defense looks to step up

THE UNIVERSITY OF NEW HAMPSHIRE football team has some up-the-middle holes to fill as it chugs along toward its season opener at Central Michigan on Sept. 7.
Jared Smith, the defensive tackle, is off on the West Coast trying to make it as an NFL offensive lineman with the Seattle Seahawks. Linebacker Matt Evans, the school's all-time leading tackler, and the guy who played beside him for three-plus years, Alan Buzbee, have been lost to graduation.

Enter the likes of senior Sean McCann and junior Matt Kaplan of Franklin at defensive tackle, a crew of younger guys pushing them for playing time and another young group in the mix at linebacker.

"Jared's spot falls on me and some other guys," McCann said on Tuesday after practice. "Matt Kaplan does a great job of working hard every day. Julian Turner and Rashid Armand are working hard and getting better every day."

Kaplan started all 12 games last year and McCann started 10 as a sophomore and played in 11 last year. Turner and Armand both saw action last year as redshirt freshmen.

Junior Shane McNeely, sophomore Akil Anderson and redshirt freshman DeVaughn Chollette are three of the key guys at linebacker.

"Obviously, you can't replace a guy like Matty Evans right off the bat," McCann said. "But these guys are hard workers and they're smart kids and I'm confident they're going to get the job done for us."

Evans, in particular, leaves a huge spot to fill.

He was UNH's first Buck Buchanan Award winner as the best defensive player in the Football Championship Subdivision in 2011 and finished with 460 career tackles, topping the record of 434 set by Steve Doig from 1978-81.

THE DEFENSE took a hit this week when junior defensive end Robbie Zauck went down with a knee injury.

Test results came in on Tuesday.

"He tore his ACL and he's probably done for the season," said coach Sean McDonnell. "I'm real disappointed for him. He worked extremely hard in the offseason and he made great strides last spring. He was a very good complement to Cody Muller and Jay Colbert at defensive end."

McDonnell said sophomore Mike Detroia and redshirt freshman Kyon Taylor have looked good at wide receiver.

UNH will look to improve on its scoring numbers of 34.1 points a game from last year. That was second in the Colonial Athletic Association to the 45.2 of Old Dominion, which has moved out of the CAA and up to the Football Bowl Subdivision.

Wide receiver R.J. Harris, now a junior, was crucial to that offense and will be again.

He had 84 catches, the fourth-best single-season total in history, and 1,059 yards, which was sixth-best. He caught nine TD passes.

The Wildcats did their offensive damage in a balanced manner last year, too. They averaged 220.8 yards a game rushing and 230.8 yards passing.

Junior Nico Steriti had nine rushing touchdowns and one via pass.

Harris is excited about the entire offense, which returns nearly all of its skill position players, including quarterbacks Andy Vailas, the junior from Bedford, and sophomore Sean Goldrich, who continue to compete for the starting job.

"And it's not just that," Harris said. "We have a lot of guys coming back on the offensive line. If we can protect up front and are able to get time for Andy and Sean to get the ball into the playmakers' hands, we can put up a lot of points."

Senior offensive tackle Seamus O'Neil of Manchester anchors the o-line at left tackle and senior Sean Ryan of Londonderry has been working beside him at left guard. Junior Mike Coccia is the center, senior Ricky Archer is at right guard with junior Rob Bowman at right tackle.

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THE WOMEN'S SOCCER TEAM gets the athletic year started this weekend at the TD Bank Classic in Burlington, Vt. The Wildcats play Colgate on Friday at 1:30 p.m. and face Sacred Heart on Sunday at 11 a.m.

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THE men's and women's basketball teams have announced the non-America East portion of their schedules for 2013-14.

Both teams are scheduled to open their seasons at home on Nov. 9, the men against Suffolk and the women against Worcester State. Times for the games will be announced later.

Among the non-league home games for the women are contests against Northeastern on Nov. 16, Colgate on Nov. 25 and Boston U. on Dec. 22. UNH plays at Dartmouth on Dec. 7 and at Boston College on Dec. 15.

The men's home games include New Jersey Institute of Technology on Nov. 17, Bryant on Nov. 24, Holy Cross on Nov. 30 and Dartmouth on Dec. 18. UNH is at Duquesne on Nov. 13, Marquette on Nov. 21 and at Rhode Island on Dec. 22.

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alessels@unionleader.com On Twitter: @AllenLessels


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