2017 Football Season Preview

(L-R): Captains Wesley Becton, Kevin Hopsicker, John Jackson and Jared Lebowitz, along with their teammates, open the 2017 slate on Saturday against Wesleyan.
(L-R): Captains Wesley Becton, Kevin Hopsicker, John Jackson and Jared Lebowitz, along with their teammates, open the 2017 slate on Saturday against Wesleyan.

With a plethora of starters returning from last year's 6-2 squad, Middlebury has its sights set atop the NESCAC standings this fall.  The Panthers welcome back several players in key positions, but will have some holes to fill on the offensive line.

A year ago, the team paced the league in total offense with 418.9 yards/contest, while its defense was fourth with 304.9 yards allowed/game. The team outscored its opponents 272-182 over its eight-game schedule.

Bob Ritter enters his 17th year at the helm, owning a career mark of 81-47. His teams have won 31 of 40 games over the past five seasons and shows no signs up letting up in 2017.

This year's schedule will feature nine games for the first time since 1915. The NESCAC implemented round-robin scheduling last spring, allowing teams to play a full nine-game schedule in a 10-team league.

The Panthers kickoff their season with they host Wesleyan on September 16 at 1:00 p.m.

Senior Jared Lebowitz returns to lead the NESCAC's top passing offense. A second-team All-NESCAC selection a year ago, he completed 197-351 passes for 2,585 yards with 29 touchdown passes, second-most in a single season at Middlebury. He opened the season with back-to-back five-touchdown performances in wins over Bowdoin and Colby. Lebowitz also rushed the ball 54 times, gaining 249 yards with four touchdowns. Juniors Colin Waters and Jack Meservy will battle for the number-two spot.

The rushing game is intact with the team's top-five ball carriers from a year ago returning to the field. Junior Diego Meritus was a Second-Team All-NESCAC choice as a sophomore, rushing for 56.9 yards/game. He carried the ball 113 times for 455 yards, entering the end zone three times, while also catching 23 passes for 159 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Junior Drew Jacobs is next on the depth chart, gaining 197 yards on 64 attempts in 2016. Senior Matt Cardew also returns and will look for carries.

Junior Conrado Banky earned First-Team All-NESCAC honors a year ago after leading the conference with 115.6 yards receiving/game. He was second in the league with 6.88 receptions/contest, pulling down 55 passes for 925 yards with a dozen touchdowns.

Senior Tanner Contois will look to bounce back after an injury sidelined him for most of 2016. He caught 14 passes for 179 yards with a pair of touchdowns his sophomore year. Junior Jimmy Martinez had a strong sophomore season with 17 catches for 204 yards.

Sophomore Frank Cosolito turned in an impressive rookie season at tight end in 2016, catching 18 passes for 227 yards with three touchdowns.

Juniors Andrew Rogan (6-4, 280) and Connor Roche (6-2, 270) return to anchor the left side of the line. Rogan moved into a starting role at left tackle midway through the year. Roche started all eight games at left guard. On the right side, sophomore Kevin Woodring (6-2, 285) saw time last season and will look to move into a starting role. Seniors Joao Rocha (6-1, 235) and Logan Shrout (6-1, 270) will challenge for time, as will senior Roman Rudisill (6-2, 290) and junior Parker Ferguson (6-2, 265).

Senior Robert Wood finished the year with 28 tackles, including 9.5 for lost yardage, while earning five sacks on the defensive line. Sophomore Martin Williams had a big rookie season for the Panthers, picking up 19 tackles and a pair of sacks. Senior August Peters and Joe Laliberte will also compete for time on the line.

Senior John Jackson paced the team with 61 tackles a year ago, earning First-Team All-NESCAC honors. He earned a league-best 7.5 sacks and forced a pair of fumbles. Three-year starter Wesley Becton also returns to the lineup after finishing third on the squad with 52 stops a year ago, picking off a pair of passes.

Juniors Clay Hunt and Kevin Maxwell split time last season in a starting role. Hunt finished with 44 tackles and two picks, while Maxwell had 26 stops, five for lost yardage. Senior Aaron Slodowitz (34 career tackles) will battle back from injuries.

Senior Kevin Hopsicker returns for his third year as a starting safety. A year ago, he finished the season with 37 tackles to go along with two interceptions and three pass break-ups. Junior Justin Fahey (43 tackles) will be in his second season as a starter at the other safety position. Junior Matthew Daniel was in a starting role a year ago after making 23 stops in 2016. Also vying for a starting spot will be junior Bobby Ritter (2 INT) and senior Alex Kasirye.

Sophomore Carter Massengill handled the kicking duties a year ago and returns after converting 31-32 extra points and going 3-3 in field goal attempts. Sophomore Maxwell Rye (32.7 yard avg.) also looks to return on special team's as the squad's punter.