RINDGE — There is a new team in Division II.
The Franklin Pierce football team is entering week one of the team’s inaugural season in the Northeast-10 Conference — after playing its first six seasons in the Collegiate Sprint Football League, and last year as a transition season — and is set to kick off Saturday with a new coach, a new roster, a new stadium and a new atmosphere around the program.
The Ravens host Wesley College Saturday at noon at the newly-renovated Sodexo Field in Rindge.
The move to Division II came with upgrades to the field, the press box and even team uniforms. But no change was as significant as the shaping of the team itself.
First-year head coach Russell Gaskamp — who was hired in December — brought in an entirely new coaching staff, with the exceptions of Taylor Ewen (defensive coordinator) and Larry Dace (wide receivers), both of whom coached in the team’s transition year. In addition, there was heavy emphasis on recruiting in order to build up the team which had just 30 players in its final year in the sprint league (2017).
The new roster has been released on fpuravens.com, and it includes 71 players, with only nine players being upperclassmen. The rest of the roster is made up entirely of freshmen.
Gaskamp said in a previous interview that he wants the team to build this year, and has seen great strides in his players being able to grasp the playbook installations that he and his staff have put in place this fall.
“The kids are working really hard and it’s a fun group of guys to be around,” Gaskamp said. “I think they’re going to be great representatives of the school and the athletic department at FPU.”
While the Ravens are just getting started, their head coach has an extensive background, both as a player and a coach.
Gaskamp played offensive line at the University of Texas from 1994-98, helping pave the way for eventual Heisman winner Ricky Williams in 1998.
Gaskamp made assistant coaching stops at Division I Sam Houston State (2003-04) and Division II schools Texas A&M University-Commerce (2005), Southwestern Oklahoma State (2006-08) and Angelo State University (2009-2011). His first head coaching job came at Oklahoma Panhandle State, where he went 35-38 in seven years.
“The idea of starting a football team basically from scratch, I really think is every coach’s dream,” said Gaskamp. “It’s a very cool and unique situation that we are in. When I visited [Franklin Pierce Athletic Director] Rachel Burleson originally about the job and the vision we talked about for this team over the next few years and the commitment Franklin Pierce was going to make to football, it sounded like an outstanding opportunity.”
The team currently has two quarterbacks on the roster, however there are two converted quarterbacks who are projected to play at wide receiver. The wide receivers and defensive backs each account for 14 players respectively listed at each position.
Gaskamp is a big proponent of solidifying the trenches, and he will have his team’s focus on being solid at offensive line, and stout at the point of attack on the defensive side as well.
“Obviously, we are a very young football team, so we really try to get in a lot of situational work,” Gaskamp said. “Myself and the coaching staff want to teach them the finer points of how to win football games. I’m super, super pleased with what we’ve seen so far.”
Among the players to watch this season will be placekicker Morgan Smith — a freshman out of South Glens Falls, N.Y., and one of the few female players in the college football landscape.
The Ravens will play Wesley and Curry College to start the year before taking on Pace University in the school’s first Northeast-10 Conference game. Homecoming and family weekend will take place that same day on Saturday, Sept. 21. After settling into Division II play with the team’s first three games at Sodexo, the Ravens will travel to Assumption and Southern Connecticut State.
Gaskamp’s squad follows that up with a two-game homestand against Stonehill and Saint Anselm. Franklin Pierce will then end the season with three of its last four being on the road with the schedule as follows: at American International, at New Haven, vs. Bentley and at Merrimack.
Tickets for single games can be purchased online or at the field for $10. Seniors and children 12-18 can get in for $5, while children under 12 are free. Season passes can be purchased for $50, and again at half the price ($25) for seniors and those between the ages of 12 and 18.