Knights wrap camp, won’t hold game

Gannon University quarterback Liam Nadler calls Brad Rzyczycki a “players’ coach.”

“He’ll love you up, yell at you when you need it and then love you up again,” Nadler said.

Rzyzcycki, who is technically in his first spring as Gannon head coach after serving under an interim tag until May 3 last year, has gained a largely favorable reputation among his players.

Part of that distinction means recognizing when they can’t play.

“There’s quite a few kids on the shelf that were not going to play and therefore we’re not going to have a spring game,” Rzyczycki said. “Just because I don’t know if we could line up consistently enough bodies to go through a spring game.”

Gannon has managed to largely avoid serious injuries in the 29-day, 15-practice camp that wraps up Friday, but minor nagging injuries have continued to pile up, forcing the cancellation of the game, Rzyczycki said.

“You deal with numbers in camp and there have been some kids I haven’t put through camp because of nagging injuries and I don’t want it to turn into something bigger,” he said. “Right now, we’re paper thin on the defensive line.”

Gannon will look to retool its defense, which was a bellwether for its 2012 season. The Knights won two of their last three games to finish 3-8 overall and 1-6 in PSAC play.

In those wins against Lock Haven University and Long Island University-Post, the Knights allowed seven and six points, respectively. In nine other games, opponents averaged 34.3 points.

Gannon will have to retool on defense after losing several key players to graduation, including middle linebacker and captain Will Giles and three-year starting defensive tackle Ian Jeffers as well as starters Jon Petrigac (linebacker), Matt Jones (tackle), Ashton Jones (safety) and safety Khayree Connors-McChristian, who missed the second-half of last season with a broken leg.

In all, Gannon returns 15 players from both sides of the ball who started at least five games a season.

But it’s what’s left on offense that’s highlighted camp so far.

“I think we’ve progressed because we didn’t have an offensive coordinator in spring ball last year,” Rzyczycki said. “Now we’re able to attack the little things that we may have made mistakes with over the course of a season.”

Rzyczycki singled out the offensive line for its improvement in spring on the heels of a season in which Gannon allowed 42 sacks and ranked second-to-last in the PSAC in rushing with a team total of 806 yards.

“Those kids are experienced; they’re all juniors except for (Matt) Andry but he played the entire year last year,” Rzyczycki said. “Not only are they talented, but they’ve been in the system for a year where blitz pickups and all those protection schemes and running the football, they’re probably the best part of our football team right now.”

Nadler figures to start the season under center when Gannon kicks its season off against Lake Erie College as he did a season ago when he set records with 21 touchdowns and 2,910 yards as a redshirt freshman.

This year, however, he doesn’t have to beat out teammates for the spot like he did in 2012.

“It definitely takes the pressure off you,” Nadler said. “I feel like a heavy load has been taken off my shoulders, but it’s comforting to know there’s another quarterback right next to me in Dan Tapscott, who started a season, that can help me out.”

Rzyczycki also acknowledged being more comfortable with a season of experience.

“Anytime you’re in something new, as time goes on, you become more efficient at it because nothing surprises you, you know what you’re doing,” he said.

Gannon’s run game managed to surprise almost no one in 2012, but the Knights return both main threats in Jansen Jones and Alex Papson.

Jones led Gannon with 692 yards on 181 carries a season ago but the Knights often used multiple backs, something they intend to continue this season, Nadler said.

“It’s been a focus (to get running more involved) and they’ve made tremendous leaps,” he said. “We have a lot of depth at running back and if you look at the way a lot of NFL teams work, they use more than one back, so we like having a lot of guys able to carry the football.”

On Monday, Gannon also announced the signing of 33 recruits to the 2013 class.

“We had some areas we had to address,” Rzyczycki said. “If you go through that list, you’re going to see some older kids who are some defensive linemen.”

The list notably includes seven recruits from California, including four junior college transfers.

Gannon will begin the season at Lake Erie Sept. 5 and hold its home and PSAC opener Sept. 14 against West Chester University.

 

JOE CUNEO

[email protected]