-Written by Sports Information Director Procter Smith
When Salisbury hosted the quarterfinal round of the NEPSAC Division 1 Basketball Championships on February 28, it is doubtful that any of the fans packing the Flood Center that afternoon supposed it would be 224 days before the next interscholastic competition on the Hilltop. Varsity tryouts for spring teams had begun two days earlier. Basketball MVP Brandon Roughley '20 was looking forward to spending his last high school season playing baseball for the first time in four years and the last time in his life before turning attention to a college hoops career. Fellow basketball captain Seth Gelwarg was getting ready to captain the tennis team, thus completing an extraordinary hat-trick by captaining three varsity sports. And already there was lively halftime conversation about the lacrosse team’s prospects for returning to the National Championship Game in Washington for a third consecutive year.
Over the next two weeks, of course, even as the hockey team was securing Salisbury’s sixth New England title, the clock expired for athletic competition nation-wide, then, with the cancellation of the Summer Olympics, world-wide.
This week, however, Athletic Director Tim Sinclair ’91 announced that Salisbury had been cleared to re-start its interscholastic program with a football game this weekend against Cheshire Academy. Pending final clearance for both teams after COVID-19 testing, the kickoff on Wachtmeister Field is scheduled for 2:30 Saturday afternoon. While action on the field promises to be reassuringly familiar, the fan area will provide the community with its first look at the fan-experience in the year of the pandemic. Six-foot social distancing will be observed by attendees, both in the stands and along the fences. Does it go without saying that face masks will be de rigueur? Cheshire will not be busing fans to the game. Players’ families will have to content themselves with livestream of the game, provided by video coordinator Ian Johnson and his student-cameramen. Anyway, sure beats cardboard cutouts in the seats – though, come to think of it, king-size cardboard effigies of Salisbury athletes have been a fixture at varsity games for years. It would be no surprise – yet tinged with irony – if such figures of Knights-in-shoulder-pads were held aloft by fans at the upcoming game.
Head Coach Chris Phelps returns a number of players who were fan-favorites last fall. Topping that list are two seniors from Ottawa, Ontario: All-New England tailback Fabrice Mukendi ’21, who will also start at outside linebacker, and two-way star Scott Fulton ’21 at tight end and defensive end. “Scott has the skill-set to be flexed as wide receiver, too,” states Phelps, “and a number of Patriot League schools have already tenured offers.”
Another key returner is 295-pound Erik Bockisch ’21 of Bullenkuhlen, Germany, a Villanova-commit who will also be counted on for his skills on both sides of the ball. Bockisch – who, along with Fulton, will serve as one of the team’s captains – found his way to Salisbury through Gridiron Imports, a company run by former Knight head coach Chris Adamson and Bjorn Werner ’10, an All-American at Florida State and a first-round draft pick of the Indianapolis Colts. Bockisch succeeds fellow German Vincent Sprenger ’20 as one of three team captains, alongside Fulton and Clark Stephens ’21 of Bronxville, New York.
Stephens is back at full strength after an injury-shortened ’19 season and ready to take the helm at quarterback. He drew raves from Phelps in a recent conversation. “Clark had an outstanding pre-season,” Phelps enthused, “and has a big arm!” Charlie Wilcox ’21, another returning player, comes from Fairfield, Connecticut, and gives Phelps an inside-linebacker tandem, along with post-grad Brendan Cassamajor of Bridgewater, Massachusetts, “that could be one of the best duos we’ve had.” Phelps adds that both “are very physical and athletic.” Wilcox will also see action on offense at fullback. Another important two-way star who made some big plays last season is Sean Hunt ’21 of Hamilton, New York. Hunt, who will line up at wide receiver and free safety, draws praise from Phelps for his “high football intelligence.”
Phelps also has an infusion of new talent that he expects to make an immediate impact. The team will benefit from the talents of Eli Stobaugh ’23, a lacrosse recruit from Palmetto, Florida, who crosses over to the gridiron to provide insurance at quarterback. Stobaugh, whom Phelps terms “an outstanding athlete,” will also see action at linebacker. Another lax player who is putting on the pads this fall is PG Giovanni Procaccani from Dover, Delaware. Procaccani will give Mukendi some backfield relief and patrol the cornerback area on defense. “Giovanni is extremely athletic,” Phelps adds, “and can be used as a slot receiver, too.”
The aforementioned Cassamajor, also a PG, starred at tailback for Boston College H.S. but is expected to man the fullback position for the Knights. “He may run the ball from a one-back formation,” Phelps notes. PG Elizjah Lewis – like Procaccani a Delaware (Smyrna) recruit – will give the offense yet another dangerous weapon. “Elizjah has huge hands and great vertical playmaking skills,” Phelps enthuses. Lewis, who will also play cornerback, has committed to Sacred Heart. Phelps brought in PG Damon Barnes from New York City for his defensive prowess but expects him to contribute offensively as well. “Damon has great hands and football intelligence,” Phelps shares. Barnes has attracted the attention of several Ivy League colleges.
Joining Bockisch, a right guard, on the offensive line is a cadre of newcomers, including a trio of fellow 295-pounders: left tackle James Glamos ’22 from Baldwinsville, New York; left guard Michael Born ’23 from Elmshorn, Germany; and right tackle Steve Kondas ’21 from Fairport, New York. Center Kenny Reedy, a PG from Savannah, Georgia - comparatively svelte at 280 pounds – completes the o-line. “They’re a big starting group,” Phelps acknowledges of a quintet that checks in at 6’4” and 292 on average. Not surprisingly, all will be expected to contribute defensively as well. Veterans Robert Castro-Terrio ’22 (New York, NY), Ryan Wilson ’22 (New York, NY), and Pierce Bowlin ’23 (Baton Rouge, LA) will provide additional depth on offense as will Bowlin’s brother Strader ’23 in his first year on the Hilltop.
Defensively, Phelps is also counting on returner Douglas Forbes ’22 (New York, NY) to play a bigger role this season. “Doug worked hard over the off-season,” Phelps states approvingly, “and is contending for the starting role at defensive end.” Newcomer Damon Barnes, a PG from Newark, New Jersey, will line up at both outside linebacker and safety. Phelps gives Barnes high marks for his versatility in playing two defensive positions, his high football intelligence, and his ability to make big hits.
Taking over the kicking game – punts, kick-offs, PATs, and field goals – will be PG Finn Lindsay (Chevy Chase, MD). Phelps will use Hunt, Lewis, Mukendi, and Procaccini to return opponents’ punts and kick-offs. “They’re a dynamic group!” Phelps relates with evident relish.
“Getting the team ready during COVID has, of course, been a challenge,” Phelps, who is entering his eleventh season at the Salisbury helm, goes on to say. “Being in pods of eight [for the first two-to-three weeks] didn’t allow us to do group-related work. We were unable to do quarterback-center exchanges, for example, until pods were combined, and we were not allowed to hand the ball off for two weeks. Football has always been a game of putting small pieces – roles – together to execute complicated schemes,” Phelps explains. “Not being able to put roles together has slowed the overall process. While it has been difficult,” he acknowledges, “we are thankful for the opportunity to play and the thoughtfulness in keeping our players safe.”