MILTON, Mass. – Skip Bandini has coached football long enough to know that the expression "you are what your record says you are" is usually accurate.
Not always, though.
"We weren't a 3-6 football team last year," said Bandini, Curry College's head coach since 2006 after three seasons as a coordinator. "I thought we were a better team than that."
Ironically, Bandini sensed trouble as the Colonels jumped to a 2-0 start: Wins over Bridgewater State University (28-24) and New England Football Conference foe Anna Maria College (42-3) were welcome, naturally – except for the part about losing a veteran starting inside linebacker to season-ending ACL tears in each victory.
A pair of three-game losing streaks loomed, with a 42-41 victory over Maine Maritime in Game 6 the only break. Three of the losses were by margins of eight points or fewer.
So, how to reverse this in 2017?
Getting Devin Williams, one of last year's injured linebackers, back on the field will certainly help a defense that yielded 419 yards per game last season (162 on the ground), but Bandini thinks that a more diverse offense might help the defense just as much.
Again, there's some irony there: The Colonels didn't have any trouble gaining yards (407 per game) or scoring points (28 or more in six of nine games) last year, and an injury made some of that production possible. Quarterback Alex Corvese, not even assured of starting the 2016 opener until Spencer Tyler got hurt a few days before the game, went on to start all nine games, completing 63.1 percent of his 360 pass attempts for 2,545 yards and 25 touchdowns. His passer rating was 138.7.
The type of clock-chewing ground game that would help a battered defense, however, wasn't there. Corvese's 29.8 rushing yards per game led the team.
"If we can move the ball on the ground this year, it's only going to help us," Bandini said. "We'll be on the field longer.
"As tough as our kids were last year, we need an improvement on the offensive line. I think we've recruited some kids who can help us there. If our offensive line is better than it's been in the last five or six years – which it has the potential to be – it's going to make our defense better, just by keeping it off the field a little more."
It might be harder for Corvese or fellow senior Tyler to throw this season, as it is. Receivers Anthony Nastasi (170 receptions over his last two seasons) and Jake Cawlina (13 TD catches last year) are among those who graduated.
Then again, there's talent in the pipeline such as sophomore Nick Vilaneuva, a Whitman-Hanson product. While he only got into five games as a freshman, two of his four receptions were touchdown catches.
"I did get to play a little bit, and I learned a lot," Vilanueva said. "(The senior receivers) were really good guys, and it's hard to lose them ... but it might not be terrible for me. Hopefully, I'll get my time eventually. I'm excited."
Led by Williams' return and fellow linebacker/co-captain Steve Grogan (no relation to the former Patriots quarterback), Curry brings back an experienced defensive group populated by many who learned on the fly last year. Included are Abington High School alum Aidan Cawley, who was in on 34 tackles and recovered a fumble as a sophomore last season, and fellow defensive back Ted Flaherty, who got into seven games as a freshman.
"We have a lot of returning people," Cawley said. "We're good on that side. I'm looking forward to playing defense with these guys."
Curry, where a new athletic facility will be under construction soon, is also looking forward to its first football season in the Commonwealth Coast Conference, this year a six-team league that includes former NEFC members Western New England and Salve Regina universities, Endicott and Nichols colleges, plus newcomer Becker College. The Colonels play their first five games out of conference, starting Sept. 1 against Fitchburg State University.
"We've got a good, sound base," Bandini said. "We've brought some good young kids in. We have great leadership in our three captains (Corvese, Grogan and offensive lineman Ryan Boucher). How well we're going to do depends on how well people progress from week to week."
(Season Outlook/Preview Courtesy of Mike Loftus, Patriot Ledger)