DURHAM, N.H. – No. 14 University of New Hampshire (UNH) football is set to kick off their spring season in two weeks after having the fall slate postponed. The Wildcats will face a six-team schedule consisting of only Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) schools. After watching the departure of a handful of veteran defenders from 2019, head coach Sean McDonnell still thinks his defense can be a threat and will be supplemented by developing offensive talent.

The Wildcat secondary was the top unit for Coach Mac’s program in 2019 led by Prince Smith Jr., Pop Lacey and Isiah Perkins. These three now hand the keys of that defensive backfield to preseason All-American senior Evan Horn. Horn is a player who Coach Mac has described as the best player on this Wildcat team. The All-American will be flanked by fellow safeties, junior Pop Bush and sophomore Max Oxendine. McDonnell gave high praise to both of those players from what he’s seen throughout fall and spring camp.

“You feel really good about those three guys who are running the show back there right now,” he explained.

Horn will be assuming the role of the leader on the defense this year and that’s a job that he says he’s ready to tackle.

“I’m just taking it one day at a time,” said Horn. “Whatever coach needs, I’ll step up and be that guy for him.”

After a season where defense was the clear calling card of the program, Coach Mac is convinced that can still be the case despite the players they’ll be missing last time they took the field. McDonnell noted his confidence in the front-seven on his defense, citing players like senior Elijah Lewis and junior Niko Kvietkus. Other notable players on the veteran defensive front include senior Brian Carter and junior Gunner Gibson. Gibson, Kvietkus and Lewis were among the top-three on the team in terms of tackles for loss in 2019.

Many expect the defense to remain solid, but the real intrigue of this team will be on the other side of the ball. The team said goodbye to players like wide receiver Malik Love and running back Evan Gray, but retained the majority of their young offense.

McDonnell and Horn both remain confident that this offense has grown and will be able to take that next step. They aren’t the only ones to think this as the Wildcats come into 2021 ranked No. 14 in the FCS – higher than any ranking they received in 2019.

“I think it all starts with the quarterback position,” said McDonnell. “I thought Max [Brosmer] did a hell of a job last year coming in as freshman and playing in all the games. He did a good job of putting us in position to win. The biggest thing that we’ve got to do now is as an offense is find out what we’re going to be good at and keep pounding away at it.”

It may not take UNH long to find their strength as they welcome back an offensive line which has been highlighted as a strength of the team by sophomore quarterback Max Brosmer in the past. They also have the luxury of junior Carlos Washington Jr. and sophomore Dylan Laube coming out of the backfield. The running back tandem should play well as Washington is as dangerous as anybody in an open-field, and Laube has the ability to be an effective pass-catching back. Laube ranked second on the team in receiving yards in 2019.

Washington averaged 4.4 yards per rush a season ago while Laube averaged nearly 15 yards per reception.

“I feel really good about Dylan Laube and Carlos Washington Jr. I think they’re as good as any one-two punch in this conference,” explained McDonnell. “I think they’ll give us some explosiveness on the offensive side of the ball.”

The Wildcats will open up the season under the lights of Wildcat Stadium when they play host to UAlbany at 7 p.m. on March 5. They will also host Delaware and Stony Brook. The team will travel to face Villanova, Rhode Island and Maine.

Photo courtesy Cameron Beall/ TNH STAFF: Junior wide receiver Brian Espanet lining up for a play against the Maine Black Bears.