Back for More: Confident Big Green Hits the Field for Spring Practice

Dartmouth College football assistant Mike Bruno bellows at players practicing special teams coverage Tuesday. The Big Green held the first day of spring drills on Memorial Field. Valley News - Tris Wykes

Dartmouth College football assistant Mike Bruno bellows at players practicing special teams coverage Tuesday. The Big Green held the first day of spring drills on Memorial Field. Valley News - Tris Wykes Purchase photo reprints »

Hanover — The last time we saw the Dartmouth College football team, its members were delighting in an upset of visiting Princeton during snow-globe conditions. As monstrous flakes fell on Memorial Field, the Big Green knocked the Tigers into a share of the Ivy League title and served notice that it planned to be a 2014 title contender.

Tuesday brought the first of 12 spring practices on the same surface, and with it leaden skies and gusts of wind. The vision of four months ago hasn’t changed for the veteran team, however, and coach Buddy Teevens said his troops are ready to pick up where they left off.

“There’s good carry over and they’ve been working hard,” said Teevens, whose team brings back eight offensive starters and six on defense. “Football is important in these guys’ lives. They’re always watching film and working hard in the weight room. There’s a lot of energy and enthusiasm and competition. We have a lot of guys coming back who have played a lot of football.”

Question marks include running back, where workhorse Dominick Pierre is set to graduate and the next two players on the depth chart, sophomores Kyle Bramble and Brian Grove, aren’t participating at full speed because of injuries. Bramble underwent December knee surgery and Grove is rehabilitating a wounded shoulder.

“It could be almost a blessing, because it’s going to force (reserves Jacob Siwicki and Abrm McQuarters) to really learn what we’re doing,” Teevens said. “Siwicki is powerful and McQuarters has good vision.”

There’s a void at tight end, where freshman Blake Orvis is a candidate to replace outgoing senior Cole Marcoux. The placekicking game might have cost Dartmouth the Ivy title last season, so Teevens has a pair of freshmen coming in to compete with junior Riley Lyons and freshman Alex Gakenheimer. Teevens is bullish on the latter, who has bulked up over the winter and showed some real pop Tuesday.

“It’s going to be scratch and claw out there,” Teevens said with a smile.

Bramble gained 337 yards and scored two touchdowns last fall, but his season ended early when he tore a knee ligament against Princeton. He was taken off the field before many fans had settled into their seats, and had to watch the storybook ending from an upstairs window in Floren Varsity House.

Tuesday, however, Bramble ran around the field under the gaze of the team’s trainers, then strapped on a ice pack and watched the rest of the drills.

“I knew I’d hurt my knee seriously, because I went to cut on it and (the joint) just slid sideways,” he said.

Bramble said a surgeon in his home state of Indiana performed a less-than-common operation to repair his knee. A portion of the patella tendon in one joint was taken out and used to fix the anterior cruciate ligament in the other. The sophomore was left with matching scars on the front of each knee, but the hope is that using that procedure will result in a quicker recovery.

Tuesday marked the return of numerous players from injuries suffered last year. Starting cornerback Chai Reece, a junior who tore a knee ligament during 2013 spring practice, is back, as is freshman receiver Jon Marc Carrier, who suffered a nasty concussion during the Harvard game. Junior Ryan McManus, another concussion casualty, was back running pass routes and sophomore linebacker Will McNamara and junior safety Steve Dazzo, both of whom suffered ankle injuries at Brown, were fit once again.

Creeping into that category is freshman quarterback Jonathan DiBiaso, the Massachusetts prep career leader in touchdowns and passing yards, who sat out last fall after surgery on his throwing elbow. A southpaw from suburban Boston and the son of a longtime high school football coach, DiBiaso is limited in the number of throws he can make during practice, but it’s better than serving as a student manager last fall.

“That kind of stunk,” he said. “Snapping the ball and getting water and stuff. I’ve got to condition my arm and build up strength again, but I’ve put a lot of time into therapy, so hopefully, eventually, I’ll get there.”

DiBiaso said he’s permitted to warm up and then let loose with “60 or 70” passes during a workout. He added he’s planning to stay on campus this summer, land a part-time job and dedicate himself to informal workouts with Dartmouth’s receivers and sessions in the weight room.

“It’s been almost two years since he’s played football, and the biggest thing for him is frustration and how he deals with the arm not being perfect yet,” Teevens said. “When I saw him throw a month ago, I wasn’t sure he’d play at all this spring, but he threw more than I expected today and I was impressed by what I saw. He’s got to keep a positive outlook.”

Also coming to light Tuesday were a few position switches. Former basketball captain Jvonte Brooks, who spent last spring and fall at tight end, is now a slot receiver.

“He’s still learning but he made a couple of nice catches today,” Teevens said of the 6-foot-4, 225-pound Californian. “He’s big enough that you can’t play through him and people want to get out of the way once he catches the ball.”

An intriguing shift is sophomore Bennett Goff moving from linebacker to nickel back. At 6-2 and 210 pounds, the Wisconsin native could be a punishing player at a position that often leads Dartmouth in tackles. Goff has been sidelined his first two seasons in Hanover by shoulder and foot injuries, but he was once a touted recruit.

“He runs well, so we thought moving him back might take away some of the impact on his shoulders,” Teevens said, noting that outgoing starter Mike Banaciski was also once troubled by shoulder problems but made it through the last two campaigns relatively healthy.

Also on the move are sophomore K.J. Booze, from cornerback to receiver, and junior Will Konstant, from defensive back to linebacker.

Notes: Starting linebacker Eric Wickham watched practice on crutches after undergoing what Teevens described as minor knee surgery last month. The coach is hopeful No. 42 can return to action by the end of spring practice. … Freshman receiver Joseph Cook’s 6-5, 190-pound physique startled some upon his arrival at Dartmouth last fall. However, strength and conditioning coach Dave Jenkerson said the Southern Californian has put on 15 pounds of muscle and plans to gain another five before the fall season. … Dartmouth opens 2014 play by hosting Central Connecticut at 7 p.m. on Sept. 20. The Blue Devils were 4-8 last fall, losing their final three games. CCSU will conduct 15 practices this spring under first-year coach Pete Rossomando, who was previously at Division II University of New Haven (Conn.).

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