MILTON, Mass. – There was one specific game that could have gone better, but the 2017 football season will still be remembered as one in which Curry College saw an opportunity, seized it and was recognized for it: The Colonels couldn't upend Western New England University to claim the inaugural Commonwealth Coast Conference championship, but an 8-2 regular season resulted in Curry being awarded an extra game, in the New England Bowl Series.
This season will show how much those who weren't on the field as much as others paid attention, and how ready they are to step up.
The Colonels took advantage of just about every weapon at their disposal in 2017. Quarterback Alex Corvese was named CCC Offensive Player of the Year. First-year running back Sean Amaru led the conference in rushing yardage and per-game average, and was named Rookie of the Year. Converted quarterback Spencer Tyler caught more passes than anyone in the league. Joe Surace, one of three senior defensive linemen, led the conference with 7 1/2 sacks.
The Colonels, 8-3 after four consecutive losing seasons, were a handful when they had the football (403.8 yards per game to lead the conference, No. 1 or 2 in virtually every major category), and in terms of yards allowed per game, better than any team in the league when they didn't.
But now they don't have Corvese, or Tyler, or Surace. Even Amaru won't be back; he tore an Achilles in the spring.
"There are a lot of questions because we lost a lot of great players," said junior wide receiver Nick Villanueva of Hanson, a returning Second Team All-Conference selection who led the CCC with 10 touchdown receptions a year ago. "But we still have a lot of good players here. I really think we have the tools; we just have to put in a lot of hard work."
Skip Bandini, Curry's 13th-year head coach, thinks a good amount of that work may already have been done by players who simply haven't had much opportunity to show what they can do in games.
"We wait for kids to step up every year," Bandini said, "but just learning the system can be difficult. Once a kid learns the system, though, if they have athletic talent, they can rise to the top. We think we have a number of kids like that."
Villanueva, who made only four catches in four games as a freshman, was last year's shining example with a 43-reception sophomore year.
"They've been in the system for two years (Juvelier) and one year (Keogh), so they have a head start," Bandini said. "And they've both been working their tails off, doing a tremendous job."
With Amaru (798 yards rushing) and double-threat Corvese (511) gone, running back D'Aundray Burcy (Hyde Park, Reading High School) is likely to get a chance to build on a 95-carry, 370-yard sophomore season, and classmate Vondre Parham (Dorchester, Lincoln-Sudbury) could see more opportunity to showcase his speed.
Bobby Evans, who starred for Div. 5 champion Dennis-Yarmouth, and Zach Levy (Bellingham), a transfer from Wagner College, are first-year backfield candidates who could emerge.
That sophomore Hunter Atwood (Reading) is the only returnee on the defensive line "is a major concern," Bandini said, but there are options.
"We have some tough kids," the coach said. "They might be undersized, compared to the guys who were there before, but they know what their assignments are, and that can be just as important.
"But yeah, we have some holes on defense to fill."
The defensive backfield, at least, looks solid. Abington High product Aidan Cawley cracked the starting lineup last season, figured in 35 tackles and led Curry with three interceptions as a junior. Ted Flaherty, who only saw spot duty as a freshman in 2016, played all 11 games last year.
While perhaps not as obviously set up for success as a year ago, the Colonels want it and will work for it.
"We want to build off last year," Villanueva said. "It was about proving we could become a better team. Now it's about proving we can stay there."
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(Season Outlook/Preview Courtesy of Mike Loftus, Patriot Ledger)