NEW BRITAIN - Who will be replacing Jacob Dolegala?
As it turns out, the biggest question for the Central Connecticut State football team this offseason is still going to take a little bit of time to get sorted out.
“Obviously, we’re replacing a four-year starter at quarterback,” Blue Devils interim head coach Ryan McCarthy said after Saturday’s annual Blue-White game. “We’re trying to find a guy who is going to step up and take over that role and I don’t think we’ve found that at this point.”
Dolegala, an NFL hopeful, set school records in passing yards (8,129) and passing touchdowns (48) and helped lead the school for an NEC title in 2017 and the program’s first-ever FCS playoff berth. True freshmen Romelo Williams and Kyle Zajack and redshirt freshman Edison Galan have competed throughout the spring in hopes of being CCSU’s next signal caller. There’s also Aaron Winchester, a graduate transfer from Georgia State, who is set to arrive in time for fall camp. He has the most experience of any quarterback on the roster, although it isn’t a lot, with three starts.
All three of the freshmen quarterbacks had positive moments in the spring game. But all three were also inconsistent and weren’t able to develop much of a rhythm.
The offense, which lost 43-35 to the defense, didn’t score a touchdown until the Blue Devils ran their red zone portion of the scrimmage. Both of the unit’s touchdowns came on running plays: a nine-yard dash by Danley Exilhomme and a three-yard scamper by Keonte Lucas. Overall, it was a performance McCarthy called “flat” and the head coach was rather disappointed with the play of the offensive line as well.
Williams, a 6-foot-1 Florida native, played the most series with five and completed four of his 12 passes for 27 yards. His longest pass went for 15 yards to Arthur Gilmore. Galan, more of a running quarterback than the other two, went 2-for-6 for 29 yards with nine rushing yards on three carries. He played four series, but did have a nice 17-yard pass to set up Lucas’ score. Zajack looked the most comfortable throwing the football. He completed half of his eight passes for 31 yards and an interception to end the scrimmage.
It’s expected there is going to be a steep learning curve throughout the summer.
“We’re going to have to give them small [doses of the offense],” McCarthy said. “We started really, really basic. The things we did with Jake, we could do just about anything really because he was like have an extra coach on the field. Two of these guys were true freshmen [this past season] so they didn’t get a lot of reps last year when they came in as freshmen and they’re just trying to keep their heads above water. We’ll obviously have the summer to keep progressing, moving forward, learning the nuances of the offense.”
Still, the players aren’t particularly concerned. Tyshaun James, anticipated to be the Blue Devils’ top playmakers on offense, said it’s just a matter of guys continuing to learn the playbook and developing chemistry, which will come in time. It is after all only April 27.
“Our defense didn’t look like it skipped a beat, which is good,” said the sophomore wide receiver, who averaged 19.8 yards per catch and scored four touchdowns last season. “Offensively, we’re still learning and getting there, but we have a great coaching staff. We have veteran players on the O-line, playmakers at receiver, so I feel like once we all mesh and start clicking, we’ll be good.”
There’s also likely to be a heavy emphasis on the run game like last season. CCSU led the NEC in rushing offense last season (289.3 yards per game) and ran the ball 31 times on Saturday. The team returns two of its three top tailbacks, including Aaron Dawson, who set an FCS record with 341 yards against Wagner last season.
One area that did impress McCarthy in the scrimmage was the defense, which as James pointed out, looked sharp despite losing defensive coordinator Andrew Christ, who is now the defensive quality control coach at Ohio State and replacing
In addition to not letting up any touchdowns during the full-field scrimmage, the unit came away with four sacks, nine tackles for loss and two takeaways, while also letting the offense convert on just five of 16 third-down opportunities. Cornerback Dexter Lawson, rush linebacker Tre Jones and linebacker Foday Jollah are among the players who have stood out this spring.
“We set high standards that we try to achieve every day,” junior corner Tajik Bagley said. “For me, I try to set the standards for myself and the younger guys and try to achieve that. We wanted to accomplish the simple things [today], running to the ball, the fundamental, so when we’re out there on real Saturdays, it comes easy.”
Now, it will just be a matter of how much the Blue Devils progress between now, fall camp and the start of the season on Aug. 31 at Fordham.
“The thing about spring is you get 15 practices and you go against one another,” McCarthy said. “You get into preseason camp, you go against one another. You see the same people every day. To keep them motivated and have them come out to practice with the same intent and right approach that’s what we strive [for]. Every day you step on the practice field, you have to have the same mentality because it’s either one of two things: you either get better or you get worse.”
David Glovach can be reached at (860) 801-5085 or firstname.lastname@example.org