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Bright Future on Dartmouth Gridiron

Quarterback Alex Park is one of numerous, experienced players slated to return for the Big Green next season.

Valley News - Tris Wykes

Quarterback Alex Park is one of numerous, experienced players slated to return for the Big Green next season. Valley News - Tris Wykes Purchase photo reprints »

Hanover — However the Dartmouth College football team concludes its season this afternoon at Princeton, one thing’s for sure: the Big Green looks to be loaded next fall.

Barring unforeseen academic or physical casualties, Dartmouth will bring back its top quarterbacks, running backs, linebackers, cornerbacks and defensive tackles. The only real standout who will have definitely exhausted his eligibility is big-play receiver Michael Reilly. Free safety Garrett Waggoner, another stalwart, plans to petition the Ivy League for a fifth season of eligibility based on previous injury, but it’s unknown if he’ll receive it and that judgement could be months away.

A victory over the Tigers today would leave Dartmouth 6-4 for the second time in three years, following a 5-5 campaign last season. It would also mark a second consecutive campaign during which the Big Green posted a winning record in league competition, something that hasn’t happened since the 1996-97 seasons. Eighth-year coach Buddy Teevens said advances in facilities, strength training and fundraising have all been factors in a turnaround since his program went 0-10 in 2008.

“Dartmouth is now a place (football prospects) are aggressively looking at to go to school, as opposed to when I first came in and we were begging kids to come,” Teevens said. “We’ve had nine, 10, 11 freshmen who have played significantly this season and having that type of experience is going to be hugely beneficial next fall.

“It’s coming. We’re not there yet and we wish we had won some more close games this year, but our guys are going out with the confidence that they can compete to win.”

Here’s a positional breakdown of whom the Big Green will likely bring back next season:

Quarterback: Sophomore Alex Park began the season as the starter and is clearly an upgrade over his recent predecessors. However, the upside is tremendous on freshman Dalyn Williams, who started the last two games after Park hurt a shoulder. Williams could wind up as Ivy League Rookie of the Year, and if he keeps progressing, he is Dartmouth’s future under center. Park, who’s a team player and who would give the Big Green a valuable backup, doesn’t look like he can match No. 10 in dynamic running ability and high-percentage passing.

Running back: Dominick Pierre is no Nick Schwieger, the school’s career rushing leader and a 2012 graduate. But the big back is strong enough and fast enough to be one of the Ivies’ best. Slippery freshman Brian Grove has displayed promise, although he needs to get stronger, and classmate Kyle Bramble has shown power in JV games.

Tight end: Serviceable seniors Justin Foley and Mitch Aprahamian will be gone, but junior Dean Bakes might be better than their combined efforts this fall. He has big-play ability and is 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds.

Receiver: Reilly’s departure will sting, but sophomore Ryan McManus might be Dartmouth’s most-improved player this fall. He’s not as much of a deep threat as Reilly, but he’s more consistent and still makes acrobatic catches. The likes of freshman Victor Williams, sophomores Charlie Storey, Bo Patterson and Kirby Schoenthaler and junior Robbie Anthony give Dartmouth good depth, but the coaches would like to see at least one of them really blossom. The bet here is it’s Williams.

Offensive line: Center seems set with sophomore A.J. Dillione having filled in nicely for senior Rob Bathe because of injury this season. Sophomore tackle Scotty Whitmore has been a fixture and classmate and guard Sean Ronan has also played a lot. Guard Pat Lahey and tackle John Scheve are scheduled to graduate, but the unit as a whole has underachieved at times this season and young blood may mean an improvement.

Linebacker: Juniors Bronson Green and Michael Runger and sophomore Eric Wickham all return, along with promising talent such as sophomore run-stuffer Tyler Stout and freshmen Will McNamara, Zach Slafsky and Bennet Goff. Starting junior rover Mike Banaciski is a warrior, but it’s always a question of how long his oft-injured shoulders will hold up.

Defensive back: Freshman corner Vernon Harris has played in every game on one side and sophomore Chai Reece has done so on the other side, with impressive results. Sophomore Andrew Donahue, out with a knee injury this fall, played often as a freshman and should fill Waggoner’s slot if the senior doesn’t receive an extra year of eligibility. Sophomore strong safety Steve Dazzo is a star in the making.

Defensive line: Dartmouth could use some significant upgrades here. Senior ends Teddy Reed, Mick Davis and John Golio have been average and the playing time given to freshmen tackles A.J. Zuttah and Cody Fulleton speaks to a dearth of veteran talent at that position. The Big Green needs a formidable pass rusher and hopes it has one in freshman end Sawyer Whalen, a 6-foot-4, 225-pound Washington native who was injured this fall.

Park, who spent a year redshirting at the University of New Hampshire, said he’s looking forward to the 2013 season, which will be his third in Hanover.

“I really like the core we have now,” the quarterback said. “Our coaching staff has done a great job recruiting guys who fit our system and will sacrifice for it. We’re going to miss the (seniors) but we have to make sure we just reload and not rebuild. We’re excited for Saturday’s game and the years to come.”

Notes: Princeton (5-4, 4-2) was 1-9 each of the two previous years and was picked to finish last in the Ivies again this season. The Tigers can claim a share of the Ancient Eight crown today with a defeat of Dartmouth and a Cornell upset of Pennsylvania. Only one team picked eighth has ever finished second (Yale, in 1998), and no team picked to finish last has ever finished first. … Dartmouth senior running back Greg Patton could petition the Ivy League for an extra year of eligibility because of a past injury, but said he will instead graduate with his class and attend law school. … Reserve defensive back and special-teams contributor A.J. Dettorre will miss today’s game with a ruptured spleen suffered last week against Brown. … Dartmouth players started taking final exams yesterday and will continue to do so for several days. Teevens planned to delay the departure of one of the teams’ buses to New Jersey yesterday so that players with tests later in the day could hop on board. … Teevens said only three Dartmouth players have suffered concussions this season. Reducing contact during practices with that goal in mind has been a point of emphasis for the program. … Among the high school player who have indicated they have accepted offers to play at Dartmouth next year is Danny McManus, younger brother of former Big Green receiver Tim McManus and current receiver Ryan McManus. Another likely to join him is defensive back Lucas Bavaro, son of former NFL star tight end Mark Bavaro. He picked Dartmouth over Colgate. … Senior linebacker Garrett Wymore received the unofficial, yet much-coveted “Hard Nose Award” from the football training staff after Thursday’s practice. It’s given to the player who has shown the most toughness in overcoming injury during his four years. “I’ve always striven to have a hard nose and a soft heart,” Wymore said during a tongue-in-cheek speech to his assembled teammates.

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com or 603-727-3227.