The Wildcats are one of the premier FCS programs, advancing to the NCAA Division I FCS playoffs for the last six seasons. They finished the 2009 campaign 10-3, and were the only team to beat eventual national champion Villanova, a 28-24 win on October 10 of last year. The Wildcats are led by head coach Sean McDonnell, who enters his 12th season with a career winning record of 80-52.
New Hampshire had one All-American last season (Scott Sicko), and another eight all-conference selections. The Wildcats also boast a streak of five seasons with one win over a FBS opponent. Last season, they knocked off Ball State 23-16. In the previous four seasons, they claimed wins over Rutgers, Northwestern, Marshall and Army.
WHAT THEY RETURN
The Wildcats have been noted for offense in recent years. In 2009, they averaged 138.5 yards on the ground, and 201.9 yards through the air. Senior quarterback R.J. Toman is back, after throwing for 2,181 yards and 15 touchdowns last season. Toman is a dual-threat quarterback, after finishing second on the team with 110 rushing attempts. The Wildcats must replace leading rusher Chad Kackert, who rushed for 780 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. They must also replace their top two receivers from a year ago. Sicko, who signed a rookie free agent contract with the Dallas Cowboys, led the team with 57 receptions for 725 yards and nine touchdowns. J.T. Wright also graduated after catching 40 passes for 437 yards.
New Hampshire returns a solid nucleus on defense, starting with a pair of defensive linemen. Steve Young anchors the defensive line. He finished with 39 tackles (16 solo, 23 assisted) last season. Six of those tackles were for a loss. Joining Young on the line is Brian McNally. McNally finished with 29 tackles, 12 of them solo. He also had four sacks and 6.5 tackles for a loss.
The Wildcats have a playmaking linebacker in Devon Jackson. Jackson racked up 98 tackles, including 44 solo stops. He had nine tackles for a loss, three sacks, two passes broken up, a forced fumble and a safety. Completing the defense is Dino Vasso in the secondary. Vasso made 76 stops last year, and picked off five passes, including two that were returned for scores.
New Hampshire has two assistants with Pitt ties. Former defensive lineman Joe Conlin (1998-2001) was a three-year starter for the Panthers. Conlin graduated in 2002, and enters his seventh year as an assistant with the Wildcats. He played his high school ball at Greensburg Central Catholic, and is instrumental in recruiting several former western Pennsylvania standouts to New Hampshire. Sean McGowan, who also enters his seventh year on the staff, is the Wildcats defensive coordinator. He was a graduate assistant at Pitt for three seasons.
Former Upper St. Clair quarterback Alex Park is a true freshman at New Hampshire this year. Park threw for 2,780 yards in his two years as a starter, and scored a total of 30 touchdowns. He was an all-conference selection at Upper St. Clair as a senior. Park's younger brother, Ian Park, will be one of the top offensive line targets for 2012.
Defensive back Tyler Sargent was a three-sport athlete at Fairview High School. Sargent rushed for over 2,000 yards and 32 touchdowns as a senior at Fairview, and also had six career interceptions on defense. He was a second-team all-state selection as a senior.
Former West Allegheny offensive lineman Tim Johnson was a three-time all-conference selection, and last played at Heinz Field, helping the Indians to a WPIAL championship last season.
Jim Giansante, a high school teammate of Lucas Nix and Brock DeCicco at Thomas Jefferson, is a freshman wide receiver. Giansante was recruited a little by Pitt as a senior, and was a three-year starter for the Jaguars. He caught 53 passes for 1,234 yards and 14 touchdowns as a senior. Thomas Jefferson went 42-2 during his career, with two state championships.
Tight end Chris Jeannot is a former standout at Moon. Jeannot also played AAU basketball with Pitt receiver Jonathan Baldwin. After redshirting in his freshman year, Jeannot has become a more integral part of the Wildcats offense. Jeannot caught 11 passes for 129 yards with two touchdowns last year, and also caught two touchdowns in his redshirt freshman year.
Former Chartiers Valley offensive lineman Cory Rekasie is a freshman defensive lineman. He was a four-year starter for the Colts, and was named the Big 7 defensive player of the year in 2009.