With Springfield College entering this week's game with Union 2-0 and ranked in the top 25, we wanted to catch up with Pride coach Mike Cerasuolo. We spoke to him over the phone for about 10 minutes Wednesday and touched on a number of topics with his team.
Here is an edited version of that conversation.
MassVarsity: Didn't get a chance to talk to you after the season-opening Western New England win. Obviously, that's such a great rivalry it seems like, a great way to open the season, and it seems like they're a great team this year, too. What was that win like for you guys?
MC: I think, like you said, it's a great way to start the season because it's a crosstown rival, and it's become a great game and a great atmosphere for the kids to play in as far as the crowd goes. Over the years, it has developed into a big game for both teams. It seems like generally whoever wins that game has a pretty good season moving forward. So hopefully that holds true. They're a solid, non-conference opponent for us as well, and we try to play as many good opponents as we can because it gets us ready for a very competitive NEWMAC conference.
MV: When you sent me your preview for the season, you mentioned that you had four out of five offensive linemen returning. Given how much you guys run the ball, how important has that been these first two weeks?
MC: It's enabled us to really lean on them because, obviously, a new quarterback and a couple new fullbacks in there, as well. So just being able to call some base dive plays, and then being able to block it up front, and then being able to handle so not too much is being put on the quarterback (Chad Shade of Pittsfield) initially so he can just be athletic, which he is. He is extremely athletic. We're fortunate to have him. But the consistency that they play with, and the continuity that they have, they just work really well with one another, and they've got great relationships as a unit. I think that helps them compete on the field. They're a really solid group of kids. They work really hard. As we tell them all the time, all of them, they're a bunch of "toos": they were too small, too short, not big enough for other teams, but they're perfect for us because of what we do. They do a great job, and they really buy into what we're trying to do as far as a football program and as an institution.
MV: Specifically, center Nick Bainter of East Bridgewater was selected as the NEWMAC Offensive Athlete of the Week. What type of player is he?
MC: Yeah, again, he's very similar to all the guys up front. He's just passionate about the game. Loves to play. Works really hard at it. Watches a lot of film. Asks a lot of questions. Just, again, and I don't want to take away from any of the other kids on the line or on the team because they love the game. At this level, you've got to, because there's not a scholarship hanging over your head, and they don't get all the things that other levels might get. They do it because they love it and because they're passionate about it. They want to be part of something bigger than just themselves on an institution, and Nick is one of those guys. Love coaching him. Love having him on our team, and love being able to watch him perform out there and be successful, as well, because there's not many 5-8, 235-pound centers in the country.
MV: And what about defensive end Nick Giorgio, who was named NEWMAC Defensive Athlete of the Week, and Jakai Whittingham, who was named NEWMAC Special Teams Athlete of the Week? That must feel good, too.
MC: Yeah, Nick Girgio from Cumberland, Rhode Island, he has been just a special player since he's been here. But his freshman year, he was on the scout team and doing an unbelievable job and working his techniques and fundamentals. He was so good we couldn't block him. So a few weeks into his freshman year, we moved him up, and ever since then, he's just taken off. He's extremely coachable, wants to get better every day. Stays after practice. Comes early. Does extra things in the weight room. Again, just a very special player, and a great role model for some of our younger kids to see what it takes, because he was an All-American last year, and obviously he wants more than that. He doesn't just want to be the best at his position on this team. He wants to be the best that he can be, day-in and day-out. He exemplifies that with his work ethic. Those three kids, and Jakai just came back, had to overcome some adversity and whatnot. He was able to battle back from some of those things, and obviously contribute in any way he can. He's pushing to get his way back on the field as wide receiver, as well, but did an excellent job punting the ball for us and getting us out of some bad situations. We needed some big kicks, and he did that. Again, three great kids, and very similar to a lot of kids on the team. We're really happy with the direction we're going in as a program.
MV: You guys are ranked this week. I know it doesn't really ensure anything going forward, but what's it like to be recognized like that for how well you've played so far?
MC: Yeah, the thing we constantly tell our kids is we're not looking back, we're not looking in the future, we're living in the now, and just trying to go 1-0 today. Again, I know everybody says that. I think too too often, it's all that instant gratification and that stuff matters too much to kids. This team, we're trying to get away from that, so everything that we've got to do, we've got to earn. So we've got to earn it again this weekend. We've got to pay the process the entire week. That's another set of meetings coming up here in a little bit, and then practice, and then we have a weight room session afterwards. We have study hall tonight. There's a lot of things to get done before the week is out, before we get another opportunity to earn it. Like I said, these kids don't want it any other way. We're not going to go out there and roll our helmets out because we're Springfield College. Every single week we talk about, you've got to earn it. It starts right after the game, and right up before the game. It's all part of a process we're trying to attend to, day-in and day-out, so that it academically carries over for these kids that show up for a test on Thursday. You've got to put in the time and effort over the course of a week of studying and preparing and reading. It's no different than playing a game of football. Those parallels with the game and their personal lives as well, we try to have them understand that everything is important.
MV: One final thing. What do you know about this week's opponent, Union? Obviously, they're 2-0, so they are a pretty good team. But what do you know about them? What have you seen on film?
MC: Yeah, this has kind of been a renewed rivalry. We played them for years, and two out of the last four years we haven't played them. But up until then, we were playing every year, so it's become a great little rivalry. And they're close, and we were obviously in the same conference with them for a little bit. We didn't play them last year, but we played them the year before, so new faces, but a lot of old faces, as well. They got a new coaching staff a few years back, and Jeff Behrman has done an unbelievable job getting those guys back up and running from where they were a couple years ago to where they are right now. I'm sure he's pretty proud of his team, as well. They're a big physical team, obviously a different style offensively than we are. Most people are, and I think just team-wise, they're a little different style. Like I said, they're very big, they're very physical, they're very fast, and we're aa little bit more undersized. But our kids just run all day, and that's something we kind of pride ourselves on is just that fanatical effort piece of things, and that's what allows us to be able to compete on Saturdays. But they're extremely good. I think their quarterback (Will Bellamy) is second in the nation in completion percentage and quarterback rating. They've got a really good freshman wide receiver (Andre Ross Jr.). They've got some strength on the defensive line, a couple kids that are three, four-year starters, a solid linebacking corps, and two really good corners, as well. This is going to be a great matchup, and like I said, we've got them on the schedule moving forward. So I think it's another good, natural game for us to be playing because of the proximity. We're looking forward to it, our kids, both sides of the ball, our kids will compete, and I know their kids will, as well.