There was a time, in the not-too-distant past, that Homecoming Saturday was just another game on the schedule for the Merrimack football program. Athletics sputtered at the college in the early-2000s, and a game like Saturday’s against Assumption would have been sparsely attended – a friends and family atmosphere – and the result sure to be forgotten as soon as the first few cracks of beverages were opened at the post-game tailgate.
Actually, back then, those tailgates didn’t exist either.
But the rise of Merrimack’s football program has mirrored the enormous growth of the campus the past 10 years. When the Warriors suit up across from Assumption tomorrow, Martone-Mejail Field will be crammed with not only today’s students, but faces from the past; some of those faces might be former football players.
Really, if you’re a Merrimack football fan, now is a fun time. The NE-10 title might remain elusive, but the sheer volume of talent that has passed through that locker room in just a handful of seasons is unparalleled. In terms of next-level talent, these years have been the best the program has ever experienced, and through strong recruiting, that momentum shows no signs of suddenly stopping.
At no other time in the program’s history has so many players had a chance to play football at the next level.
Since 2011, James Suozzo (New York Giants), Tony Johnson (Baltimore Ravens) and Isaiah Voegelli (Philadelphia Eagles) have all had NFL camp invites after graduating. Shawn Loiseau was signed by the Houston Texans after going undrafted in 2012, and this season is on injured reserve with the Indianapolis Colts after tearing his ACL in training camp this past summer. By keeping him on the roster, it’s apparent that Loiseasu would have made the NFL team out of camp, if at least as a special teams player.
Then there’s Joe Clancy, the quarterback who shattered every Merrimack and Northeast-10 record he could find. After a stint in Sweden, Clancy is starting for the Florida franchise in the FXFL, with hopes of advancing his pro career to the NFL in the future. Voegelli is there too, with the duo hooking up for a familiar touchdown pass on Wednesday night.
Athletics is an important part of any campus. That’s never more evident than on days like Homecoming, when alums travel to rally around athletic teams. The degree is certainly important, but rarely do graduates have a sense of college pride by gathering in a science lab or an old lecture hall. Tomorrow will start with football in the afternoon, and end with Merrimack’s hockey team opening its Hockey East schedule against Connecticut tomorrow night. That game is already sold out.
Merrimack has become a place that alumni want to return to. In the same years, Merrimack football has become a program that top-tier players want to play for.
With the old guard trying out their pro prospects, there’s plenty of new stars in the making at Merrimack. Freshman quarterback Joe Capobianco, who sat last week, has shown flashes. Samuel Francois only has 14 tackles this season, but was heavily recruited by Division I schools and has the potential to be stud on Merrimack’s defensive line. Then, of course, there’s Jere Brown, a preseason All-American wide receiver who leads the team with 556 yards receiving, and Armond McRae, who is on pace to be Merrimack’s first 1,000-yard rusher since 2009.
Like most top-tier programs, the wheel hasn’t stopped at Merrimack since John Perry took over as head coach. The Warriors haven’t rebuilt, they’ve reloaded, posting a winning record in five of the last six seasons, including the last three.
The Warriors are 3-3 (3-2 in Division II games) heading into tomorrow’s NE-10 game with Assumption at 1 p.m., and after gritting out a win at Bentley last Saturday, the Warriors would be tied for third in the conference with a win tomorrow, one game out of second place.
Mike McMahon covers Merrimack College for The Eagle Tribune and is the founder and managing editor of The Mack Report as well as on staff as a senior writer at College Hockey News. Follow him on Twitter @MikeMcMahonCHN