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A line of granite for UNH’s offense

  • UNH offensive lineman Seamus O'Neill

    UNH offensive lineman Seamus O'Neill

  • UNH offensive lineman Seamus O'Neill

    UNH offensive lineman Seamus O'Neill

  • UNH offensive lineman Seamus O'Neill
  • UNH offensive lineman Seamus O'Neill

DURHAM – There’s a trendy feel on the University of New Hampshire offensive line these days. The Wildcats protecting the quarterback and opening holes for the running backs are going local.

Left tackle Seamus O’Neill, a senior captain and three-year starter, is from Manchester. Senior Sean Ryan, who is projected to start at left guard next to O’Neill, is from Londonderry. Redshirt freshmen Andrew Lauderdale (Concord) and Alexander Morrill (Lebanon) and true freshmen Jake Kennedy (Amherst) and Will McInerny (Bedford), who are all scholarship players, hope to maintain the Granite State trend in the trenches in the future.

“It’s pretty cool to see all the New Hampshire kids, that means a lot around here,” Ryan said. “It’s one of those things that helps with our cohesion on the line.”

There’s no question O’Neill (6-foot-4, 281 pounds) is the leader of the group. The Manchester Central grad was selected All-Colonial Athletic Association First Team last year after starting all 12 games at left tackle for an offense that ranked second in the CAA in points (34.1 per game) and yards (451.5 per game). He was named to The Sports Network FCS Preseason All-America Third Team heading into this season.

“He’s a motivator and a great leader out there,” Ryan said. “And when he’s on the field, he does everything right. He’s got all that experience and he’s just rolling with it.”

As one of UNH’s tri-captains, along with safety Manny Asam and running back Chris Setian, O’Neill is a leader for the entire team, a role he takes seriously. But that role gets amplified among the young offensive linemen, especially those with local ties.

“All the young freshmen, they’re looking up to everyone, looking for guidance, and so Sean Ryan and I are just trying to show them the ropes with the way we act on the field and the way we act in the locker room,” O’Neill said. “So helping them through this whole practice process and this whole maturing process, it’s nice, especially when you know where they’re from and you hear a background story and you hear about them in the news.”

Ryan (6-2, 301) has never been a starter, but he does have experience. He played in 11 games last year as a backup and saw action in six games in both his sophomore and his redshirt freshman year.

“Sean, he’s one of those guys who’s going to give everything he’s got on every play. He works extremely hard on the field, in the weight room and on the practice field,” O’Neill said. “And when he was in the games last year, when he got thrown in the mix, it wasn’t a drop-off … when you put him in there it flows just the way it did with the starters, so that’s reassuring.”

While there’s little doubt Morrill (6-2, 299), Kennedy (6-3, 285) and McInerny (6-7, 290) will stay on the offensive line, that’s not the case with Lauderdale (6-6, 259). The Trinity High product came in as a tight end, moved to tackle during the spring, and is now back at tight end. But where he ends up playing his first snaps as a Wildcat is still up for debate.

“We’re trying to figure out where Andrew fits the best right now and right now we feel comfortable putting him at tight end for some depth,” UNH Coach Sean McDonnell said. “Andrew had a great spring at both tight end and tackle, and what I mean by great is he got bigger, he got stronger, he understands the system, he was tough enough to do what he had to do, and there’s some encouraging things about that.”

While there is a high concentration of in-state players in UNH’s offensive trenches, that’s not the only place they’re located. Bedford’s Andy Vailas led UNH in total offense last year (2,007 yards) and is once again fighting for the starting quarterback job. Franklin’s Matt Kaplan led all defensive linemen with 47 tackles last season as a sophomore. Hampton’s Mike MacArthur is about to start his fourth season as the team’s placekicker and third as the full-time punter. Senior Jimmy Vailas (Bedford) played in the first seven games on the defensive line before getting injured.

Other New Hampshire players on the roster include receiver Mike Kelly (Merrimack), safety Ryan Lynch (Atkinson), running back Jim Earley (Hopkinton), defensive back Nick Marino (Hudson), linebacker Harry Theodhosi (Londonderry), defensive lineman Ricky Holt (Portsmouth) and receiver Tim Farina (Portsmouth).

“As I told the team, I scoured the state for all the talent you can find here,” McDonnell said. “But what we’re finding out is that there’s good football in the state of New Hampshire.”

That’s something the local players already knew, but they’re glad they get a chance to prove it on their home turf.

“It’s pretty cool because a lot of people, especially the kids from Jersey, are like, ‘Oh, New Hampshire high school football is good?’ and then they see all these guys,” O’Neill said. “It kind of puts us on the map a little bit, kind of gives us a little trash talk in the locker room. It’s pretty fun.”

(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3371 or tosullivan@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @timosullivan20.)

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