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April 13, 2014

Banaszak pleased with spring, eager for August

When John Banaszak moved down the hall into the head coach's office at Robert Morris, he knew the program inside and out.

He also knew some of the challenges he would face as he worked through his first offseason, spring camp, training camp and season as the program's second head coach. His Colonials are young - just eight listed seniors - and learning a new offense. He overhauled the team's conditioning program and hired two new coaches.

Despite some of the obstacles, Banaszak came away from his first spring as head coach pretty pleased with the progress.

"I'm really pleased with how spring went. I think when you're putting in an entirely new offense, you're going to do some good things and you're going to do some things that you need to continue to work on," Banaszak said following Saturday's spring game. "I hope they're excited about this. I think it shows, and I think they are. We've had some very good practices that are lively and we've made it that way with the Oklahoma drills and Tulsa drills. We want them to get excited about the game of football."

Banaszak was especially pleased with the defense's progress in camp despite limited numbers. Graduation and suspensions sapped the defense's depth until freshmen reinforcements arrive in August, but the defense held its own for much of camp and throughout Saturday's spring game.

"When you take a look at what we did defensively, we had a limited number of defensive guys out there and I thought the conditioning part of it was right where we need to be," Banaszak said. "We'll have more bodies in training camp, but the conditioning is going to be even more important then."

The conditioning was a point of emphasis for Banaszak, and that's included new practice elements designed to keep the team conditioned.

"I'm a big believer that if you're a well-conditioned football team, that's one thing I can control," he said. "We're going to be conditioned, there's no question about that. I think our kids got that message loud and clear."

What also has Bananaszak excited is the team's relative youth. While veteran leadership can be key, he feels a number of potential key contributors who emerged during spring ball still haven't reached their potential.

"Nic Lamica is going to be a heck of a football player. Max Onyenwe is going to be a heck of a football player. But they're only freshmen," Banaszak said. "They know what they're doing and we're trying to eliminate the mistakes that they make."

In many respects, spring was just a prelude. The real excitement - and the real challenges - for Banaszak's first year will come in August. That includes the progression of the new offense, from an offensive line that will have two new starters to an open battle for playing time at receiver and running back.

Oh, and there's also the headliner that appears every so often at training camps across the country: A quarterback battle. With the new offense installed, Banaszak opened up competition everywhere, and that includes quarterback.

"We have five quarterbacks who are pretty talented kids. That's going to be an interesting battle come July 31. There is a quarterback battle going on," Banaszak said. "Quickly, come August, we'll have to make that decision. But I think we're okay right now. I'm happy with all five of them."

ColonialsCorner publisher Andrew Chiappazzi can be reached at achiappazzi@yahoo.com.



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