The oldest private military college in the United States has housed some classified information over the years, but the best-kept small college football secret in the region might be walking around the Norwich University campus right now.
Grant Willard is a 6-foot-5, 220-pound freshman quarterback from Jupiter, Florida, with a big-time arm. Nobody has seen him yet. He broke his jaw in preseason camp and won’t be unveiled until next year.
Matt Dunn will be at the controls Saturday for the Cadets when they take on WPI in Worcester, Massachusetts.
Dunn has given Norwich’s offense an infusion of energy since taking over early in the season. He and Willard will be in a quarterback competition come August.
“Those kids won’t shy away from it,” Norwich coach Mark Murnyack said of the looming preseason battle. “And they will support each other.”
First things first: Norwich will be trying to win its last football game of the season when the ball goes in the air at noon Saturday at WPI.
An hour later, Castleton University plays its final game at home against Alfred State in a battle of 1-8 teams.
Tufts comes to Middlebury for another finale. The kickoff there is set for 12:30 p.m.
Murnyack and Castleton coach Tony Volpone see importance in winning the final game as a springboard to the offseason.
“I think it is important to end the season on a positive note for recruiting and for the offseason,” Volpone said.
A victory would allow the Cadets to finish the campaign with a 4-6 record, a nice step in the building process after last year’s one-win season.
WPI comes into the game at 5-4 and the Engineers have won their final two games. Two weeks ago they handed MIT its only loss.
“We are better. We have been in every NEWMAC (New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference) game,” Murnyack said. “We have played better since our bye.”
The Cadets are 2-2 since the bye week and the defense has been a major piece of the success. It allowed seven points in a win at Maine Maritime and then shut out Catholic. Last week in the 20-0 loss to MIT, the defense only gave up 13 of the points.
A centerpiece of the unit has been defensive back Brasean Stewart. He has a team-high 53 tackles, a fumble recovery, has forced a fumble, has an interception and has broken up five passes.
“I think he is a star in our league, one of those players you get every once in a while,” Murnyack said.
Freshman nose guard Avantae Salomon, lineman Tavares Ward and defensive back Chris Ward have been other key parts of this unit that has hit its stride down the stretch.
WPI’s Sean McAllen has been one of the region’s top running backs during his career but has not had his best season.
“He’s banged up. He’s not himself,” Murnyack said.
That said, he knows McAllen could be getting healthier and the Cadets are preparing for him to be at his best.
Castleton will be trying to slow down Alfred State’s Ronnie Clark, who rushed for 207 yards in last week’s win over Anna Maria.
“We’ve got to stop him and force them to do things they aren’t comfortable doing,” Volpone said.
The Pioneers will use Clark in different formations including the Wildcat.
Volpone is high on this year’s freshman class, calling it the best one his staff has brought to campus. He is hopeful it will be the cornerstone of some successful years ahead.
One of the brightest spots is the offensive line, where freshmen have made up the bulk of the unit throughout the season. Emerging as the leader is freshman Tucker Gaudette from BFA-St. Albans.
“He has shown great development. He is playing left tackle, which is hard enough if you aren’t a freshman,” Volpone said.
The other freshmen in that line like Thomas Donovan, Nate Hunt and Joe Stimpfel, have more than lived up to expectations.
They are the future, but on Saturday afternoon, the future is now. Like the Cadets, the Spartans want very much to go into the offseason on a high.
It is also an opportunity for Castleton fans to say farewell to the seniors including Moe Harris, one of the most decorated players in the 10-year history of Castleton football. Harris is the program’s all-time leader in rushing yards and last week became the leader in career all-purpose yards with 5,555.
QUICK KICKS: Burr and Burton Academy graduate Griff Stalcup played for Bowdoin last week in the first night game at Bowdoin’s Whittier Field. The Polar Bears might be turning the lights on more often. They defeated Bates 31-14 to end a 24-game losing streak. ... Dartmouth takes its 7-1 record to Cornell for a 1:30 p.m. kickoff Saturday. ... Nate Cosgrove, the honorary member of the Castleton football team afflicted with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, will lead the Spartans onto the field Saturday. The Spartans are 5-1 in games where Nate has led them onto the field over the years. ... Middlebury can finish 6-3 by beating 6-2 Tufts on Saturday. It is a chance for the Panthers to send the seniors out with a win at home. Those seniors include Middlebury Union High graduate Bobby Ritter, the team’s lone Vermonter. Ritter, a defensive back, is fourth on the team in tackles with 41.