Penacook’s Niyomugabo back in the mix at QB for UNH

  • Ivan Niyomugabo (12) throws the ball during the Blue-White Spring Game at the University of New Hampshire in Durham on April 29, 2017. Niyomugabo, a 2014 Merrimack Valley graduate, moved to wide receiver last season for the Wildcats, but he’s back at quarterback now and one of five players battling for the starting position as UNH goes through its spring practices, which started on Tuesday and will conclude with the Blue-White game on May 4. Elizabeth Frantz / Monitor file

  • Ivan Niyomugabo

  • University of New Hampshire running back Evan Gray carries the ball against Albany last season at Wildcat Stadium in Durham. Gray, who will be a senior in the fall, and the running backs look to be a strength for UNH, which is trying to bounce back from the 4-7 season that snapped the team’s 14-year FCS playoff appearance streak. The Blue-White Game is May 4. Courtesy of UNH Athletics

UNH Insider
Published: 4/2/2019 8:17:25 PM

DURHAM – The University of New Hampshire football team opened spring practice on Tuesday, and the top priority for the Wildcats and coach Sean McDonnell is to find a quarterback to replace the graduated Trevor Knight. McDonnell said the job is wide open and right now there are five candidates, including Merrimack Valley’s Ivan Niyomugabo.

“We’ve got to find out who can lead the team,” McDonnell said. “Got to find out who can run the team and more importantly who can be the most productive player at that position. We’ve got five guys and I think they all bring something to the table.”

Niyomugabo was a four-year starting quarterback at MV and led the Pride to the first playoff appearance in program history as a junior in 2013. He missed most of his senior high school season due to injury, redshirted his first season at UNH and was buried on the depth chart for the next two years. He was moved to wide receiver before the start of last season, but eventually went back to quarterback to provide depth when injuries hit the ’Cats.

Niyomugabo will have 15 spring practices and the annual Blue-White game, scheduled for May 4 at Wildcat Stadium, to impress the New Hampshire coaching staff. He’ll be competing with sophomores Tommy Herion, Stephen Hedberg, redshirt freshman Bret Edwards and grayshirt freshman Max Brosmer.

Herion saw limited playing time with the Wildcats last season and completed 23 of the 52 passes he attempted. Herion arrived at UNH in January of 2018 as a transfer from the University of Iowa where he had walked on. He helped Loyola Academy to a 27-1 record and prep school titles as a junior and senior.

Hedberg played at Phillips Andover after starring at St. Thomas Aquinas in Dover. He passed for 5,000 yards and 80 touchdowns at St. Thomas.

Edwards is a redshirt freshman out of Lowell, Mass., and Central Catholic High School where he passed for 4,736 yards and 54 touchdowns.

Brosmer arrived in Durham in January from Centennial High School in Roswell, Ga. He passed for 31 touchdowns and 3,549 yards as a senior and completed 70 percent of his passes his last two seasons.

“They’re all going to get their shot to show what they can do,” McDonnell said. “I think there’s talent there. Again, as I’ve said over the years, it’s the tea bag thing. You can’t find out how good they are until you put them in the hot water and that’s what we’ve got to do every day here.”

The quarterbacks will be working under Ricky Santos, the team’s new associate head coach and QB coach.

Santos is in his second stint as a UNH assistant coach. He was a standout quarterback for the Wildcats from 2003-2007 and led them to the FCS playoffs four straight seasons, starting a string of tournament appearances that led to a nation-best 14 consecutive years through the 2017 season.

Santos is one of three new assistants to McDonnell, all of whom have UNH or New Hampshire ties.

Defensive tackles coach Kendall Reyes played at Nashua North, at UConn from 2007-11 and then spent five years as a defensive lineman in the National Football League.

Chris Setian was a UNH running back through the 2013 season. He coached running backs for two years at UNH, coached at Brown last season and returned to Durham this offseason.

“Start with Kendall Reyes,” McDonnell said. “We’re excited about him. I think the kid is going to be a good football coach. I think he has a presence about him that our younger guys in the program, especially our D-tackles, gravitate to, magnetize to. I think he’s got it. Then having Ricky and Sets come back, two guys who have coached here, two guys who played here, two guys who were very good at both when they played and coached, I’m really excited about having them back in the program.”

Senior Malik Love has a bunch of experience at receiver, but missed most of last season with injuries.

“If he comes back – and he’s getting healthy again, he’s close – he gives us a guy that we know we can put in the thick of things and not worry about it,” McDonnell said. “He’s played in this conference and caught an awful lot of footballs for us.”

Love caught 59 passes for 520 yards as a redshirt freshman and 70 for 733 yards as a sophomore.

Offensively, the running back position should be a strength.

“You feel pretty good about it,” McDonnell said. “Carlos Washington I thought came on and came on and came on. Evan Gray was playing well and got nicked up a little bit at the end of last season. I think Dylan Laube’s going to give us some depth at that position. Then you have Jackson Housman and Jacob Post, two guys who will get their shot.”

Washington carried 99 times for 582 yards, an average of 5.9 per carry, last season as a redshirt freshman and scored six touchdowns.

Gray, a senior, has rushed for just over 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns in his career, the bulk of that the last two seasons.

Laube is a redshirt freshman and led his Westhampton team to its first Class III championship on Long Island and a 12-0 record as a senior while rushing for 47 touchdowns and 2,680 yards.

The strength of the team’s defense, McDonnell said, is in the secondary.

“We’ve got a bunch of guys back there that I think are really good football players,” McDonnell said. “They’ve got to get better for us to be better. It starts with Pop Lacey and Evan Horn at the safety positions. I think those two guys both are experienced, smart good football players.”

Sophomore Pop Bush is in the running to join Lacey and Horn in the backfield.

“We lost Ricky Ellison (as a grad transfer), so we’ve got to find out if Pop Bush can come in and play there,” McDonnell said. “When he played last year, I thought he did a really good job. He played very well in the Colorado game, did a really nice job in the Rhode Island game when he played.”

The cornerbacks are experienced, too.

“The corner position, you’ve got three guys who have played a lot of football for us in Isaiah Perkins, Prince Smith, Jr. and Alonzo Addae,” McDonnell said. “Out of that thing we’ve got to find a guy who can be a lockdown corner for us, be the guy. The next two guys have to battle and see who can tackle and do those things. We’ve got some work. We did a nice job back there in the secondary last year.”

(Allen Lessels is the UNH Insider and can be reached at Allen.Lessels@unh.edu or on Twitter @UNHInsider)



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