---- — By Anthony Mitchell
For The Daily Item
SELINSGROVE -- Steve Briggs knows a thing or two about having to replace strong production due to graduation.
Losing mainstays on both sides of the ball is not a new concept for the Susquehanna head football coach, which may explain his relaxed demeanor following spring practice as the Crusaders prepare for the 2013 season.
Despite losing players such as Mike Ritter and Connor McGrath offensively and Ken Schetroma and Jalon Scott defensively, the Crusaders have a stable of players to compensate for those departures.
After a 6-4 season last year, the Crusaders will look to continue their momentum as players move into starting roles. The Crusaders battled injuries for much of the 2012 season, leading to experience for the players that are in line to start this season.
Linebacker Adrian Bernard will return for his junior season after bursting onto the scene last year, leading the team with 98 tackles including 13.5 tackles for loss.
"He's one of our leaders on the defense," Briggs said. "Adrian is a special kid here. We don't get a lot of guys that are probably better than Division III. He's big. He's strong. He's fast. He's aggressive. He's got to be our leader on defense and I think he's going to be."
In the secondary, the Crusaders will look to a group led by Cody Miller at cornerback to fill the shoes left vacant by Scott, an All-American and four-year starter.
Denzell Walker and Ryan Lopes appear to be two early candidates to replace Selinsgrove grad Mike Ritter at receiver. Walker was the second leading receiver last season behind Ritter, finishing with 13 catches for 217 yards and two scores. Lopes, a Lewisburg grad, caught 10 passes for 95 yards.
After seeing significant time as a backup to McGrath, Tim Wade will look to shine in the backfield for the Crusaders. Wade is coming off of a freshman season, where he tallied 343 yards on 84 carries and two TDs.
At quarterback, the competition will largely be between Taylor Kolmer and Mark Rosenbaum. Kolmer was pressed into service last season after starting the season as the fourth-string signal-caller due to injuries. Kolmer grabbed the reins of the offense midway through the third week of the season during a game at Dickinson and did not look back, guiding the Crusaders to a winning record, finishing 5-2 as a starter. Kolmer finished the season with 11 touchdowns and four interceptions.
Rosenbaum suffered a season-ending injury in the second game after beginning the season as the starter.
"Wade really did a nice job (in practice)," said Briggs, who was quick to praise Wade's lateral movement.
"(Wade's) got the quickest feet of probably anyone we've had in the last five years," Briggs said.
Briggs said that in a Division III football spring practice, full contact practices are not allowed, meaning players do not wear pads and field equipment cannot be used and there is a limit of 15 practices. Despite the restrictions, Briggs expressed pleasure with the progress that his players made during spring practice.
"It was still good where we can install offenses. We got a lot of work done. We looked at some different things offensively, installed some new things in some facets defensively," he said.
Briggs said the team is where it should be at this point in the offseason.
The coach said that the Crusaders will look to replace four-year starter Schetroma, a Southern Columbia grad, with another local product in Selinsgrove grad Jon Trego, who will switch to the defensive side of the ball along with Quinton Gierlatowicz. Briggs added that Jared Minori will make a switch from linebacker to defensive end this season to add speed to the defensive line.
"I think we're in a pretty good spot," Briggs said. "We're optimistic."