Photos courtesy of SHU Athletic Dept.
Freshman QB Dale Fink has started his career firing on all cylindars, having been named the NEC's Rookie of the Week after each of his first two starts.
FAIRFIELD - Even though the countdown to Opening Day has come and gone for the Sacred Heart University football team, the majority of anticipation lies within the mere curiosity stemming from one burning question: Can a freshman quarterback consistently win at the mid-major Division 1-AA collegiate level?
Losing Tyler Arciaga, the most statistically decorated play-caller in SHU history, to graduation allowed for a new face to lead the Pioneer offense. While Arciaga's numbers were impressive, they didn't translate into consistent victories. As a starter, Arciaga was 6-15 overall, and never won more than four games in his two years.
That lack of sucess may actually work in the favor of the newcomer, Dale Fink, a 6-0, 200-pound thoroughbred from Althoff Catholic High in Swansea, IL as he transitions from high school to NCAA D1-AA. Overall expectations of the team are low: The Pioneers, coming off a 2-9 2006 campaign, are expected, at best, to be a sleeper in the NEC.
Not that Fink won't have weapons to work with at wideout. Senior Corey Bundy, who is six touchdowns away from the university's all-time mark, will line up opposite fifth-year senior and three-sport star Joey Henley. Last year, Bundy had six TD receptions and 492 yards receiving, while Henley recorded 262 yards and two trips to the end zone despite nursing a leg injury that has slowed his athletic progress since 2005. Henley is reportedly healthy and Bundy has the potential to rack up as many, if not more, yards than his breakout sophomore year. Sophomore Steve Tedesco, who was featured in Pioneer Magazine's "Who's Next" section, also opened a lot of eyes by catching touchdowns in the final five games of the 2006 season.
In the backfield, senior Jason Payne and junior Evin Jones make up possibly the most talented running corps in the conference now that Central Connecticut's Justice Hairston, who was selected by the New England Patriots in the 2007 NFL draft, is gone. Their presence could also subtract the inevitable pressure Fink will face within the pocket.
Losing their All-American linebacker Jon Corto, who owns a roster spot on the Buffalo Bills, doesn't help matters either.
But it all comes back to Fink, he with the slingshot arm that accounted for 56 touchdowns in his high school career. Fink's ability to manage a game is apparent. But again, the question remains, how long will it take him to transition into a consistent D-1AA college-level player.
Fourth-year head coach Paul Gorham and the offensive coordinators must find a way to limit the amount of turnovers and maximize the touches the proven veterans attain. Without that precious formula, the pain Arciaga undeservedly suffered through will reoccur.
Sacred Heart hasn't had a four-year starting quarterback in recent memory, so breaking Arciaga's records is certainly within reach. However, if those numbers don't translate into victories, should they be celebrated? Probably not, since Arciaga's legacy has already been tabbed as just a pawn in the rebuilding stage of the program.
Fink's first big test will be this weekend vs. 2-0 Iona in New Rochelle, N.Y.
No doubt, Fink will need to produce. Not in two years, not in three years, and not next year. With a schedule as soft as the Pillsbury Doughboy compared to last year's, a hot start will pour water on the questions that burn now that training camp has come to a halt.
And then again, if the first two weeks are any indication, perhaps this whole discussion is moot. The Pioneers may well be sitting on a veritable goldmine of talent. Fink has jumped out of the gate like a greyhound chasing a mechanical rabbit. He has earned two straight NEC Rookie of the Week awards after guiding the Pioneers to lopsided victories over Assumption (41-20) and LaSalle (54-15). Indeed, through the first two games of his collegiate career, Fink has completed 24-of-34 passes for 360 yards, seven touchdowns and no interceptions.
This week comes his first big test as the Pioneers take on the Iona Gaels, in a match-up of undefeated teams NEC teams. And the game will be played on enemy turf, in New Rochelle, N.Y.
Will the new kid on the block be up to the task? Only time will tell. But one thing is certain: Dale Fink has come to SHU to play.