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Merrimack football plans to go on the offensive

Nick LaSpada

Nick LaSpada

Merrimack views life after Joe Clancy

The Merrimack College football team attempted a whopping 617 passes last season.

Newburyport’s Joe Clancy , slinging footballs these days in the Swedish Super Series, unleashed 615 of those aerials, completing 396. He led NCAA Division 2 in completions (36 per game).

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Luke Bakanowsky, who backed up Clancy the past two seasons, attempted those other two passes last fall, completing one.

Merrimack second-year coach Dan Curran does not expect Bakanowsky or his other two leading candidates at QB — former Billerica High standout Nick LaSpada , a sophomore transfer from Bates, or freshman Joe Capobianco out of Oceanside, N.Y. — to step in and take over where Clancy left off.

“You don’t replace a kid like Joe Clancy,” said Curran, whose squad will kick off their season Saturday at Bryant, a former Northeast-10 rival now competing at the FCS level.

“I don’t think of him as just the best in Merrimack College history, but as the best in the history of this conference. The kid took it to another level.”

Clancy, a two-time Northeast-10 Offensive Player of the Year, piloted the Warriors to a 7-4 mark last season. His numbers were staggering: 48 touchdown passes and 4,116 yards.

‘You don’t replace a kid like Joe Clancy. I don’t think of him as just the best in Merrimack College history, but as the best in the history of this conference. The kid took it to another level.’ — Dan Curran, Merrimack College football coach

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But there is life after Joe Clancy, one that Curran hopes will continue to feature an uber-productive offense, albeit one that may rely a little more on a defense that came on strong late last year. A unit that has has continued to improve during fall camp.

“In the spring and in preseason, the story has been the defense and that’s good,” Curran said. “It’s pushed us. At Merrimack, we’ve been known for our offense, which is great, and we’re not going to shy away from throwing the ball around and trying to score tons of points. But the defense has really come on and is doing some good things with its schemes, the Xs and Os, and has some really good players.”

Senior linemen Justin Hood of Billerica and Chris Unis of Gloucester, both co-captains, are key players on defense, along with sophomore defensive lineman Josh Hill , sophomore linebacker Carey Wells-Jowers and senior defensive back Ervin Johnson.

On offense, there are still plenty of playmakers, punctuated by junior receiver Jere Brown , who had a breakout season with 86 catches, 1,186 yards, and 17 touchdowns.

It will be the job of Bakanowsky and the other quarterbacks to get the ball to Brown, along with backs Armond McRae , Adriell Mayes , Mance Walls, and Derrick Villard .

Barankowsky had the edge in camp with his knowledge of, and experience in, Curran’s offensive system.

LaSpada landed on the Merrimack campus, roughly 20 minutes from his Billerica home, in a roundabout way, via Connecticut and Maine.

He was on a path to Harvard until blood clots forced him to the sideline for his final two games of his senior season at Billerica High. During his recovery, he was sidelined for six months.

“At that time we were taking it day by day, and I wanted to be healthy before I started worrying about other things,” La-Spada said. “That was the No. 1 priority. There was a lot going on at the time.”

Recruiters shied away. He enrolled at the Taft School in Watertown, Conn., where he played safety. Bates then recruited him and asked him to start throwing again.

He was a backup last season for a Bobcats team that threw the ball a limited number of times. As his health continued to improve, he got the urge to play at a higher level in a wide-open offense, and he approached Merrimack this summer.

Bringing LaSpada in, whether he plays quarterback early or late, plays some special teams or switches to another position, was an easy decision, according to Curran.

“He’s got some things you just can’t teach,” the coach said. “His compete level, his leadership skills. The kid’s special. And he’s real tough.”

Here and there

Joe Clancy has had quite an introduction to football in Sweden.

He signed with the Orebro Black Knights about a month ago as an injury replacement to serve out the rest of the season, which runs from May through September.

In his first game against the Arlanda Jets on Aug. 16, Clancy completed 17 of 29 passes for 414 yards and 10 touchdowns in a 78-14 win. With 341 yards passing and two TDs, he and the rest of the Black Knights came back to earth in their next gamed, a 48-20 loss to Carlstad . . . The UMass-Lowell field hockey team was picked fifth out of six teams in the America East preseason coaches’ poll. Albany was the top choice, followed by New Hampshire, Maine, Fairfield, Lowell, and Vermont. The River Hawks went 2-16 overall and 1-4 in the league last year in their first year moving up to Division 1 from Division 2. Lowell won Division 2 national titles in 2005 and 2010 . . . .

Marten Vandervelde, a strength and conditioning coach at his alma mater, Tufts University, has written “Beneath the College Jersey: The Athlete's Guide to Healthier Nutrition, Habits, and Recovery Methods.”

“Too many athletes leave college, only to then discover what living healthy is all about,” said Vandervelde in a release about the book.

“Nearly every athlete I know wishes they had lived healthier in college. This book is everything an aspiring high school or college-aged athlete needs to know about living healthier during the oppressive four years of college, at least in regard to health.”

Vandervelde graduated from Tufts in 2008 and became a certified strength and conditioning specialist.

Allen Lessels can be reached at lessfam321@gmail.com.
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