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May 05. 2013 8:15PM

Allen Lessels' UNH Notebook: Thus far, A's for the Wildcats' football 'D'


Hayden Knudson tackles Harold Spears during the annual spring UNH football game, on Saturday in Durham. (Thomas Roy/Union Leader)

DURHAM -- JULLIAN TURNER. Hayden Knudson. Casey DeAndrade. DeVaughn Chollette.

Note the names.

Chances are, followers of University of New Hampshire football will be hearing them quite often in the fall and for several falls to come.

They are among the young defensive players who UNH coaches are counting on to help retool their defense heading into the 2013 season.

Early returns have been impressive, including in Saturday's Blue-White game that brought an end to spring practice.

Head coach Sean McDonnell was especially pleased with his first-team defense, which gave up little to the offense on Saturday. The defense came up with half a dozen turnovers, including one on special teams.

Defensive coordinator John Lyons was happy, too.

"I've been real pleased with how hard the guys have been playing," Lyons said. "They've been running round, been making some plays, coming up with some turnovers. It kind of feeds off itself. It's a good way to end up for us."

UNH finished 8-4 last year and the defense had its moments - it was second in the Colonial Athletic Association in turnovers created - but it also had its rough times, particularly in a couple of late-season games.

Long-time starters at linebacker, Matt Evans and Alan Buzbee, were both very productive and leave big holes to fill.

Chollette is a linebacker and Turner a defensive lineman. Knudson and DeAndrade are defensive backs.

Knudson played some last fall as a true freshman and Turner played as a redshirt. DeAndrade and Chollette both will be redshirt freshmen, playing for the first time in the fall.

The defense has been a point of emphasis.

"In order for us to get to the next level in the playoffs - we have a great offense, one of the best in the nation - we need to bring our defense along and become one of the better defenses in the nation," said Jimmy Vailas, a senior defensive lineman out of Bedford and Kimball Union Academy in Meriden.

The Wildcats have tweaked theirs, Lyons said.

"The biggest thing is, we've kind of simplified some of the things we're doing but at the same time it gives us a lot of flexibility," Lyons said. "I think that the kids really seem to like it. There's a little less thinking involved. We're really trying to do everything we can to get them playing fast and not thinking, 'Am I going here, going there?'"

Knudson had a nice interception on Saturday and Chollette, DeAndrade and Turner all received awards from McDonnell in a postgame reception for being most improved at their position.

Vailas was among a number of regulars who did not suit up on Saturday. He's recovering from a neck injury and said he will be ready to go for fall camp in August.

In a pregame ceremony, he was honored with the third Todd Walker Teammate Award. Vailas was best friends with Walker, a UNH wide receiver who was killed in March of 2011 while protecting a friend during an attempted robbery.

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THE FOOTBALL PROGRAM will run its annual clinics at four high schools around the state in early June. They will be held at Dover on June 4, Manchester Memorial on June 5, Londonderry on June 6 and Nashua South on June 10. The sessions begin at 5 p.m.

The fee is $15 per person and players should wear workout clothes and cleats with no helmets or shoulder pads. There will be a one-hour offensive session and a one-hour defensive session, followed by a 7-on-7 passing game for the skill players and one-on-one session for the offensive and defensive linemen.

More information is available from Bob Callahan at 502-1349.

______

BRETT PESCE, a regular and solid contributor to UNH's hockey defense this past season, is highly rated among North American skaters ranked by the Central Scouting Bureau heading into the NHL entry draft late next month.

Pesce, 6-foot-3 and 175 pounds, is rated at No. 40 among North American skaters and is first among players who are already in college. Most of the players on the list have been playing juniors and are not yet in college.

One of the youngest players in Division I last year, Pesce turned 18 on Nov. 15. He had a goal and five assists for UNH and was a plus-6 in plus-minus statistics.
______
THREE of the five men's basketball recruits coming to UNH for next fall are from Texas.

Jacoby Armstrong, a 6-foot-6 forward, and Jaleen Smith a 6-foot-4 point guard, recently signed national letters of intent to accept UNH scholarships, joining Daniel Jackson, a 6-foot point guard, who signed last November.

The other newcomers are 6-foot-6 forward John Edwards out of Charlotte, N.C., and Brewster Academy in Wolfeboro, and Williams Gabriel, 6-foot-8 out of Lagos, Nigeria, by way of Huntington Prep in West Virginia.

Coach Bill Herrion is excited about the depth and athleticism the recruits add to the UNH frontcourt.

The Wildcats, he said, borrowed an idea from the University of Hartford in recruiting Texas.

The Hawks had five Texans, three sophomores and two freshmen, on their roster this past season. "It's such a big state and it gets overlooked some," Herrion said "There's not as much competition in recruiting. There are a lot of players with fewer scholarships available. If some of these guys were up here in the Northeast in prep schools or high schools, I'm not sure we get them."

Frank Okeke, a Wildcat who will be a sophomore next season, is also from Texas.

Chris Orozco, a UNH freshman with Okeke this past season and a high-scoring recruit out of Tenafly, N.J., has decided to leave the program and is transferring, Herrion said.

alessels@unionleader.com


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