“R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me.”
That single phrase, immortalized by the legendary Aretha Franklin, can be answered with one simple word by the St. John’s football team. Everything.
A program that has struggled to gain respect on its own campus is looking to make a statement as they rejoin the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference.
The Red Storm, coming off a dismal 1-9 campaign a year ago in the Northeast Conference, returns to the MAAC for a second stint after being one of the original members when the league started in 1993.
St. John’s ended their relationship with the MAAC following the 1998 season, with hopes of joining a conference that allowed the distribution of scholarships.
Following one season as an independent, the NEC invited St. John’s to become their newest member.
However, after just a couple of seasons in the conference, St. John’s would not afford the program enough scholarships to remain competitive, leaving them no choice but to return to the MAAC.
“It is a very convoluted situation,” Head Coach Bob Ricca said. “Since we gave up on giving scholarships, it was a no-brainer to leave a conference in which teams gave 30 scholarships.”
“They [the administration] are taking a step to make the program better,” senior co-captain Matt May said, “whether it is the right decision, I don’t know.”
Even though the MAAC does not allow football scholarships, it does permit certain financial aid options for their programs. Unfortunately, St. John’s has not developed a way in which they can take advantage of this situation.
“In the MAAC, schools find creative ways in which to fund their football players,” Ricca said. “We are trying to work with the financial aid office and find ways at St. John’s that will allow us to further fund our team.”
While the Red Storm remains uncertain about where the program is headed, they are confident that they can be a competitive team in their conference.
St. John’s is one of the youngest teams in the league, with only four seniors garnering starting spots and a roster that includes 28 freshmen. However, the team feels that this is not necessarily a negative.
“Freshmen will make mistakes out there,” Ricca said, “but they also do a lot of good things because they are aggressive.”
“It has been a really easy job teaching the young guys because they have worked real hard from day one,” junior co-captain Bobby Rosenberg said.
With inconsistency at quarterback, running backs Mark Murphy and Matt McGuire will carry much of the offensive load.
“With a solid offensive line and two good backs we are willing to accept the challenges of a run-dominated offense,” McGuire said. “But at the same time I feel this team is capable of putting up numbers in the air.”
That responsibility will rest on the shoulders of junior tailback turned quarterback Matt Millheiser and senior wideouts May, Vernon Manuel and Anthony Muniz.
In limited action last season, Millheiser threw for three scores and amassed 127 yards on 33 percent passing to go along with May’s team-leading 60 receptions.
Ricca has gone to an option style of offense to better suit the ability of his quarterback.
However, he would still like to see more production from that position, whether it is from Millheiser or his two young guns, Joe Micco or Mike Farrell.
“We certainly need more consistency from that position this season,” Ricca said. “The young guys still have a lot of potential. But somebody needs to step up and take control of the position.”
On the defensive side of the ball the Red Storm is led by Rosenberg, junior cornerback Mike DeVore and junior defensive end Chinedu “Chi Chi” Momah. The defensive unit is coming off a season in which they only allowed fewer than 28 points twice.
“Intensity and attitude have been the biggest changes this year,” Rosenberg said. “Everybody is looking to work hard and get better.”
However, this team feels that if they come out strong and gain confidence early in the season only good things can happen.
St. John’s is looking for a strong pass rush from their solid defensive line including Momah and tackle Alex Otero to go along with their revamped secondary.
This team clearly feels they can improve on the results, or lack thereof, from last year.
“We need to just take one week at a time,” Rosenberg said. “We can’t look back or look too far ahead.”
“Our expectations are high even though we are a young team,” McGuire said. “Everybody is predicting we will finish last, but I think we can give the league a real run.”
Ricca has assembled a young and eager team that hopes to surprise people as the season goes on. He realizes that they are playing at a disadvantage nearly each and every week.
“I want this team to come out this season each and every week with a total commitment to themselves and the program,” Ricca said. “If they do that, we will be happy with whatever the results are.”