Quarterback Brian Roland is one of four captains for the Griffs this season.
Only six of 22 starters return from last season and about half of the 53 letter-winners have departed. Among the missing are the entire starting offensive line, tailback Nick Adinolfi, the No. 2 rusher in school history, standout defensive end Mike Fatta and all three starting linebackers.
Canisius College football seems headed for big trouble, but coach Chuck Williams seems to love it.
"To be honest about it, I'm pretty excited about the challenge," Williams says and he means it. "One nice thing with rebuilding is you get youthful enthusiasm."
What has Williams excited is a group of newcomers, including two key transfers.
"It's the best recruiting class we've had within the last five years. We've got some quality kids coming in. We always suffer from a lack of depth. We're looking to these kids to give us depth and improved team speed."
Williams also likes the leadership of the Griffs' four captains -- linebackers Sean Ackerman (Depew) and Bill Goldsworthy on defense, and wide receiver Jake Coppola (Forestville) and quarterback Brian Roland (North Tonawanda) on offense.
The Big Picture: Things can't get much worse than last year for the Griffs, who started 3-0 and ended up a dismal 3-7, losing the last seven games by a combined 255-49 score. Canisius (2-5) was a disappointing sixth in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, a non-scholarship league playing at the NCAA Division I-AA level.
MAAC coaches picked the Griffs for fifth place this year behind Georgetown, Duquesne, Marist and Iona, and ahead of Siena, La Salle and St. Peter's. The Griffs' only MAAC wins last year came against St. Peter's and Siena. This is the first year La Salle is on the schedule. MAAC member Fairfield is not eligible for this year's league championship.
What's Up: Roland, who has started at quarterback for two seasons, is back but he is locked in a battle for the starting job with sophomore Mark Nachreiner (North Tonawanda). Roland passed for 1,255 yards last season, but had only four touchdown throws. Nachreiner completed two of the three passes he attempted last year. He is bigger, stronger (6-foot-3, 190 pounds) and more athletic than Roland. "Roland is a good leader, a helluva kid and smart," Williams said. "Nachreiner has great feet and can run the option better. He's been pushing hard."
There's experience at wide receiver with starter Mike Minnuto (17 catches) and Coppola, who caught 17 balls for a 16.2-yard average and two touchdowns as the third receiver. Tight end is another strong spot. Luke Rood, last year's starter, is back, but the Griffs have landed two standout prospects in 6-6, 230-pound Tom Perkovich (Tonawanda) and 6-4, 240-pound Craig Reddinger from the Syracuse area.
Although three starting linebackers graduated, Goldsworthy, Ackerman and Frank Fusco (Canisius) have game experience. Goldsworthy is 6-3, 235. "We've been waiting the last couple of years for this guy to step up," Williams said of the senior from Cazenovia. A freshman to keep an eye on is Josh McHale, who played at The Gunnery, a prep school in Connecticut. Rich Birkenhead, who averaged 36.6 yards last year, is back to do the punting. Freshman Brandon Lisk (East Aurora) succeeds four-year standout Dustin Bukowski as the kicker.
What's Down: All five starters are gone, but the O-line picture may not be all that bleak. Left tackle Paul Garver and left guard Rich Stonebraker and right guard Ed Vorrasi drew some starting time. A newcomer, senior transfer Tom Glomb (St. Francis) could be one of the leaders up front. The Griffs are high on freshman right tackle John DiGiorgio (6-3, 235). DiGiorgio played on the same Ramapo, N.J., High School team as University of Texas-bound quarterback Chris Simms, the son of Phil Simms, former New York Giants quarterback.
Adinolfi's backup Jeremy Lee carried only 35 times for 91 yards last season but looks ready to move up. Dan Tryon (Amherst) is another veteran candidate. Frank Corigliano (Iroquois) and James DeMarco (St. Francis) are impressive freshmen. Another freshman Williams is excited about is 215-pound fullback Curtis Snowden (Lockport), who is challenging junior Tom Elliott.
There will be some new faces in the defensive line, usually a Canisius strength. Joe Domagala (Williamsville North) is a tackle with game experience. The other tackle could be converted offensive lineman Harley Alhart or freshman Jason Nesci (Iroquois). Brian Hammond (Iroquois), who was red-shirted as a tight end at UB before transferring to Canisius, and Ryan Howell figure to start at end.
Corners Ryan Nyce and Kyle Murphy and safeties Kris Sullivan and Trae Roberts are likely starters in the secondary, which will be missing Dan Wojtulewicz and Darrione Nall.
Keys to the Season: Can the Griffs develop any kind of running game with an all-new offensive line? They couldn't be much more ineffective than last year, when they netted only 725 yards for the season and averaged 2.2 per carry. Without a running threat, Roland, Nachreiner and the defense will have to come up big if Canisius is going to be competitive.
Outlook: Griffs have to grow up fast against the biggest schedule (11 games) in school history or it will be a long year in more ways than one. They again will find difficulty competing against MAAC's first division. Last year Fairfield, Marist, Georgetown and Duquesne outscored Canisius by a combined 171-21. For these unproven Griffs, anything better than 3-8 should be considered over-achieving.