During the past two seasons, the football team gave its fans a late thrill with strong season-ending finishes, but what do the team’s chances look like this season?

“I think we’re back in the [Ivy League title] mix,” says seventh-year coach Phil Estes, “but we’ve got to get off to a good start.” In 2002, Brown limped through an 0–5 start in the Ivies. The team came out of the gate slowly last year, too, opening with a 1–4 run, including 0–2 in the league.

Estes’s squad, which returns eight starters on offense and six on defense, opens this season with a nonleague game against Albany at the Brown stadium on September 18, followed the next weekend by the Ivy opener against visiting Harvard, a contest that could tell us a lot about the direction of the Bears’ season.

Brown has lost four straight Ivy openers to the Crimson. “If we contend,” Estes says, “it will be because we will have gotten off to a good start. I just believe that teams can gain confidence with each game and actually play better than they really are.”

Estes, who signed a contract extension in the off-season, is buoyed by the return of All-Ivy tailback Nick Hartigan ’06, who rushed for a school-record 1,498 yards last fall, fourth-best in Ivy history, and of the entire offensive line that helped make Hartigan’s record-setting year possible. But a few unexpected personnel losses gave Estes reason for concern as the Bears headed to preseason camp. All-Ivy wide receiver Lonnie Hill ’06, who last season caught a team-high seventy-six balls and snared five touchdown passes, including a league-record-tying four in a win over Yale, will sit out the 2004 season for academic reasons. Jason Ching ’06, a native of Honolulu who was to be Brown’s top returning cornerback, has opted for warm weather year-round by transferring to the University of San Diego. And sadly, offensive tackle and tricaptain Lawrence Rubida ’04 won’t be returning either. A second-team All-Ivy pick in 2002 who missed all of last year with a knee injury, he was diagnosed last spring with cancer and began receiving aggressive chemotherapy treatments over the summer.

Two of the most notable graduation losses were of hard-hitting inside linebacker Andrew Gallagher ’04 and Kyle Slager ’04, a two-year starter at quarterback. Four QBs went into spring camp intent on taking over Slager’s starting role, and Anthony Vita ’07, a six-foot, three-inch 200-pounder from West Babylon, New York, who played for the junior varsity squad last year, emerged as the top candidate.“He had a great spring,” Estes says. “He stepped ahead of the rest of the guys with his decision-making skills.” In the annual Brown-White Spring game, Vita connected on eleven of twenty passes for 128 yards and ran for a fifty-yard TD in Brown’s 21–6 win.

Whoever ends up as the starting quarterback, he will spend fall Saturdays getting the ball to Hartigan, whose 149.8 yards-per-game rushing average was tops in Division 1-AA last year. “We will find a lot of different ways to get the ball to Nick,” says Estes. “He’s a very productive runner when the ball is in his hands.” Meanwhile, Estes is hoping that Jarret Schreck ’06, who last year caught forty-two passes, including four for TDs, and averaged a team-high 12.5 yards per catch, and promising second-year man Tom Balestracci ’07 can step up and fill the void Hill’s absence has created.

On defense, Estes is pleased with his all-junior front four of James Frazier ’06, Pat Curran ’06, Greg Burlin ’06, and Steven Storrs ‘06, who together helped the Bears finish second in the Ivies in total defense a year ago by yielding 369.2 yards per game. Outside linebacker and tricaptain Anjel Gutierrez ’05 or promising inside backers Dan Doublin ’05 and Zack DeOssie ’07 will try to assume Gallagher’s hard-hitting role in the middle. In the secondary, Estes acknowledges, “it hurts quite a bit to lose our premier corner [Ching],” but Gavin Logan ’07, coming off a solid freshman year, will step into Ching’s spot and try to lessen the loss, while Jamie Gasparella ’06, whose sixty-four tackles a year ago was third-best on the team, returns at the other corner. Craig Young ’05, second on the team last year with eighty-four tackles, is also back.

“We went into the last two years with a talent level probably not where it should have been,” Estes says. “But we think we’ve recruited so well in the last couple years that this team will have much more of a physical presence. Their mental attitude is that they think they’re a much better team and can contend with anyone.”