Date Posted:09/19/2002,  8:00AM

2002 Football Preview

The Bowdoin College football team played two entirely different seasons in 2001. The first three games of the season saw the Polar Bears outscored 90-7 and start 0-3. The next five games saw Bowdoin average 27.2 points per game and battle some of the toughest teams in the NESCAC. Although the team could only manage to win one of those final five games, there is a great deal of excitement around the Bowdoin football program in 2002.

?We?ve had a great off-season in the weight room,? according to head coach Dave Caputi. ?Our returning players have really dedicated themselves and have come into camp in better condition than in years past. We?re really maturing as a football team.?

The majority of the offense will be back, as veteran leaders return to man their posts again this season. Quarterback Justin Hardison (W. Hartford, Conn.) passed for over 1,000 yards and five touchdowns last season in his first full year as a starter. The Polar Bears lost their top two rushers from 2001, but have confidence that the running game will be solid this year. Tackles Greg Berry (Portsmouth, N.H.) and Justin Foster (Marston Mills, Mass.) will book-end guards Shaun Gagnon (Sanford, Maine) and James Weeks (Worcester, Mass.), along with center Bob DeSaulniers (Framingham, Mass.) to start the year.

The top returning rusher for the Polar Bears will be sophomore Rob Patchett (Pembroke, Mass.), who will share time with senior Sean Starke (Montreal, Que.) who will move from defense to offense this year. Patchett gained 250 yards on 46 carries in 2001. Senior Matt Giffune (New Hartford, N.Y.) and Chris Stratton (Weston, Mass.) will share time in the backfield at fullback.

Senior Jason Rawlins (Bridgewater, Mass.) caught 20 balls for 206 yards and two touchdowns in 2001 and will be Hardison?s number one option at wideout in 2002. Sophomore Brian Durant (Dorchester, Mass.) will see action at the other flanker position, with a number of underclassmen fighting for playing time. Senior tight end Brian Curry (Winchester, Mass.) will play a crucial role as a blocker and receiver for the Polar Bear offense.

?Our offense will be improved,? says Caputi. ?First of all, we have a good core of returning starters. We also had some positive results from the Middlebury scrimmage that tell us we?re moving in the right direction.?

The defense will be a young unit in 2002, but will be depended on immediately to produce results. Bowdoin allowed 34.3 points per game in 2001, and will start a handful of underclassmen on defense in an attempt to become more athletic.

The 3-4 defense puts a significant amount of pressure on the down lineman, as juniors Jeff Pike (Brockton, Mass.) and Chris Wagner (Norfolk, Mass.) will start at defensive end, while sophomore John Flinn (New York, N.Y.) will start at defensive tackle. A strong contingent of young, athletic linebackers will be the key to the group this season. Juniors Brandon Casten (Wells, Maine) and Jeb Boudreau (Waltham, Mass.) will lead the backers, as sophomore Ben Babcock (Newburyport, Mass.) and first-year Shaun Kezer (Mansfield, Mass.) will start the year at the other two spots.

The defensive backfield will be led by veteran corners Jamie Nichols (Skaneateles, N.Y.) and Andrew Parsons (Derry, N.H.). First-year safeties Steven Curwen (Milford, Conn.) and John Rizzo (Hyannis, Mass.) will start 2002 by being thrown into the fire against the offense of NESCAC champion Williams.

?We?ll be very young on defense,? according to Caputi. ?We?ll likely start four sophomores and three freshman, so that?ll put some pressure on our offense. They?ll have to work hard to make sure we don?t put too much weight on our defense, especially early in the season.?

The Polar Bears fail to get a break in their 2002 schedule, as they will open with the top three teams from 2001 in the NESCAC. Bowdoin will play at Williams (8-0 in 2001), home versus Amherst (7-1) and home versus Tufts (6-2) to start the season.

?We certainly have a tough opening stretch,? says Caputi. ?Obviously, starting the season with Williams, Amherst and Tufts is pretty daunting. But the key for this team is to get better as the season progresses.?

The Polar Bears open their season on Saturday, September 21 at Williams College at 1:00.