The 2012 USMMA football season kicks-off Saturday as the Mariners head to Pennsylvania for their season opener against the Crusaders. Head Coach Mike Toop enters his eighth season at the helm of the Merchant Marine football program and will look to guide the Mariners to a bounce back year after a 3-7 campaign in 2011. Check out what Coach Toop had to say about preseason camp, some of his players, and the match-up with Susquehanna in our sit-down interview with the head coach of the Mariners here:
Setting the Scene... The Mariners open the 2012 season on the road, taking on the Susquehanna Crusaders of the Centennial Conference. However, the two institutions have become very familiar with each other as they share primary affiliation in the Landmark Conference. USMMA was picked tied for seventh in the 2012 Liberty League Preseason Coaches' Poll, coming off a 3-7 campaign last fall. The Mariners posted a 2-4 mark in the league in 2011, good for a fifth place tie. The Crusaders finished last year 6-4 overall as well as a 5-4 in league play. They were tabbed fifth in the ten-team Centennial Conference in the Preseason Coaches' Poll.
Series History... USMMA leads the all-time series with the Crusaders, 2-1, including a win in the last match-up between the two programs, 24-8, in 2009. In that game the Mariners scored the first 24 points before the Crusaders were able to get on the board. The surge was capped by a then-freshman Alex Coviello (Cape Coral, FL) 14-yard scamper into the end zone. Merchant Marine was also victorious in the first-ever meeting between the two sides, a 37-32 triumph in 2007.
Mariner Openers... Merchant Marine is 29-37-1 in season openers as they begin their 68th season in 2012. The Mariners are 3-5 in openers since joining the Liberty League in 2004. USMMA is 3-4 in their season debuts under current head coach Mike Toop. This will be the first time since 2009 that Merchant Marine begins this season on the road; the Mariners won that contest, 38-14, against Gallaudet.
- The Mariners option offense propelled them into leading the Liberty League in rushing in 2011 as well as ranking 20th in the NCAA.
- Jacob Margrey (Baldwinsville, NY) was USMMA's lone representative on the All-Liberty League team in 2011. However, the sophomore offensive lineman earned that honor as a freshman in the trenches.
- The Crusaders' defense is led by lineman Ken Schetroma, who was named a Preseason Defensive All-American by USA College Football, Inc.
- John-Leon Gosselin (Nashua, NH) paced the Mariners in yardage from scrimmage last season. The senior running back racked up 1,023 total yards in 2011.
- Junior Tyler Washington (Chatham, NY) is the top returner for the USMMA defense. The defensive back totaled 77 tackles, included 55 solo stops, and a pair of interceptions.
Around the Liberty League... Six of the conference's eight teams will kick-off the 2012 season on Saturday while RPI and Rochester will take to the field for the first time next weekend. Defending league champion and preseason favorite Hobart received votes in the first national poll of 2012 and will start the season at home against Dickinson. The circuit's newest member, Springfield, will play its first game as a member of the Liberty League at home versus Bridgewater State.
Up Next... Next up for the Mariners will be the most anticipated game of the season as they square-off with rival Coast Guard for the Secretaries' Cup in New London, CT. USMMA won the celebrated contest at home last year, 35-28, and leads the all-time series with the Bears, 27-13.