LIU Post quarterback Steven Laurino has one goal in his final season: win the NE-10 playoffs.
Post won five conference titles and earned three NCAA Division II bids from 2001-07 during its first alignment with what is now the NE-10. It found the NE-10 much tougher after returning last season from the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference. Post (5-6) went 3-6 in the NE-10.
"It has a reputation of being not quite as good and physical as the PSAC,'' Laurino said as he prepared for the season opener at home against East Stroudsburg next Saturday. "We didn't really overlook it, though. [But] we saw that a lot of the teams were far better than when we had left the NE-10, so it wasn't really a surprise to us. It's definitely a better conference than what people think.''
"For our players and coaching staff, it is critical to get comfortable in the NE-10. It's just like in the PSAC. We had a losing record in our first season, but we steadily rose to become co-champions of the East after a few years."
The 6-foot, 197-pound Laurino could have attended BYU but chose to come across the country to play in Division II. "Obviously, to fulfill this dream, my ultimate goal would be to win this conference and see what we can do after that,'' he said.
Post is ranked sixth in the 10-team preseason poll topped by American International.
Laurino has battled injuries, from a broken hand in his first season to a ruptured hamstring and separated shoulder last year. "It's football,'' he said. "I probably haven't been 100 percent since I was a freshman in high school. I'm 100 percent to what I can be and I'm going to play at the highest level I can play.''
In his first three seasons, he passed for 5,972 yards and 55 touchdowns and rushed for 1,567 yards and 14 TDs. "We are very happy and comfortable with that position,'' coach Bryan Collins said. "With Steven, it's like having another coach on the field. He is a passionate athlete and a tremendous competitor who understands our offense and has an input in our game plan.''
Post's offense is bolstered by running back Mike Williams, who rushed for 451 yards and four touchdowns last season. He also caught 28 passes for 277 yards and two TDs. Redshirt freshman Michael Million and senior blocking back Anthony Brunetti help form a strong backfield. Kamron Palmer, Shane Hubbard, Chris McGrane and Sean Binckes are the receivers. Tyler Heuer has switched from quarterback to tight end.
Defensively, Collins likes what he has seen from Dan Belfiore, David Sumter, Kenny Scotland, Jesse Agbotse, Anthony DeNunzio and Manny Dopazo. "We're going to be more physical this year,'' Collins said. "We have a chip on our shoulder from the disappointment of last year and we're going to come in with a sense of urgency and physicality this year.''
USMMA seeks winning season
After finishing the last two seasons with records of 5-5 and 4-4, the Mariners are trying for a winning record. Coach Mike Toop, in his 10th season (30-58), is concerned about depth. ``Some younger kids who have not played will have to grow up fast and contribute if we expect to do what we did the last two seasons and improve,'' he said.
The top returning player is junior quarterback Matt McDaniels, who rushed for 1,047 yards with 10 touchdowns last season. Senior RB Colin Hinchey and sophomore RB Josh Woodburn also return. The offensive line appears strong with OG Jake Margery and C Anthony Gonzales.
On defense, the returning starters are Cody Fields, Andrew Hendrix, Andrew Harmon, Patrick Keyes and Skyler Stone Jr.
``The program has made strides and we hope to continue on that path,'' Toop said. ``The first three games will tell us where we are very quickly before we get into league play.''
LIU Post Schedule
Sept. 6 East Stroudsburg, 1 p.m.
Sept. 13 New Haven, 1 p.m.
Sept. 20 at Merrimack, 1 p.m.
Sept. 27 at Assumption, 1 p.m.
Oct. 4 at Pace, noon
Oct. 11 Stonehill, 1 p.m.
Oct. 18 Saint Anselm, 1 p.m.
Oct. 25 American International, 1 p.m.
Nov. 1 at Southern Connecticut State, noon
Nov. 8 Bentley, noon
USMMA Football Schedule
Sept. 6 at Apprentice, 1 p.m.
Sept. 13 at Coast Guard, 2:30 p.m.
Sept. 20 Maritime, 1 p.m.
Sept. 27 at Hobart, 1 p.m.
Oct. 4 Rensselaer, 1 p.m.
Oct. 11 Rochester, 2 p.m.
Oct. 18 Springfield, 2 p.m.
Oct. 25 WPI, 4 p.m.
Nov. 8 at Union, noon
Nov. 15 St. Lawrence, noon