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State of Sports: Three burning questions surrounding UNH football

Mar. 29—Spring practice kicked off for the University of New Hampshire football team Wednesday morning. The Wildcats have spring 15 workouts scheduled, concluding with the team's Blue/White game on Friday, April 26 (7 p.m.).

Spring practice began with plenty of uncertainty. Here are three questions the Wildcats need to answer as they prepare for the 2024 season:

1. Who will be the starting quarterback?

QB Max Brosmer could have returned to UNH, but opted to transfer to the University of Minnesota, where he was recently named a team captain. The three returning QBs — Matt Festa, Barry Kleinpeter and Matt Vezza — have very little game experience.

UNH also added senior Seth Morgan, who transferred from Division II Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, and is the most experienced QB on the roster. Morgan spent the first two years of his collegiate career at Virginia Military Institute, where he was named the Southern Conference Freshman of the Year. He completed 239 of 364 passes for 2,970 yards and 24 touchdowns with 11 interceptions for Shepherd last season.

"This is the biggest thing we need to get sorted out," UNH coach Rick Santos said following Wednesday's practice. "I think it's a true open QB competition.

"Right now Matt Vezza, Seth Morgan and Barry Kleinpeter are splitting reps with the (first-team offense) and rotating around, and then Matt Festa is someone with a ton of talent who just isn't quite there yet.

"Vezza's your typical dual-threat guy. He can really hurt you with his legs. For him, it's just that he's still a freshman and hasn't had many reps, hasn't had many opportunities. With Brosmer last year he took almost every single practice rep. He needed that to feel super confident going into a game, so there weren't many reps to go around.

"Kleinpeter is really athletic. Whether he's the starter or not, I think we need to craft some things around him with the QB run stuff. He's a true spread quarterback, so I'm certainly not going to count him out.

"Morgan is athletic enough where he can get out of trouble, he can escape, but he's more of a pocket-type passer. His best attribute is his ability to throw to people open. He doesn't have an absolute cannon, but his arm is certainly strong enough.

"For a guy who was coming in for one year, we felt like he had to have a certain level of maturity. The goal was to get someone who had played a lot at the college level and he checked that box."

Santos said he's in no rush to make a decision.

"I would imagine this thing bleeds into fall camp unless there's somebody completely head and shoulders above," he said. "I'm not against naming the starter after (spring) camp so that person knows and understands the leadership aspect going into summer, but if it's like I think it's going to be, which is pretty close, we'll probably need more than 15 practices."

2. Who steps into the starting running back role now that Dylan Laube has departed?

Laube led all FCS players in all-purpose yards last season (209.5 per game), when he had 749 yards rushing, 699 receiving yards and 18 touchdowns. He led the Wildcats in nine statistics in 2023: rushing attempts, rushing yards, rushing TDs, receptions, receiving yards, TD receptions, kickoff return yards, kickoff return average and punt return yards.

More than one player will have to replace that production, but it starts with the running back in UNH's one-back offense. That will likely be Isaac Seide, Myles Thomason or some combination of both.

"I really like what we have in Isaac Seide and Myles Thomason," Santos said. "I look at those guys right now as 1A and 1B. I don't think one of them is ahead of the other guy. I think we have two bona fide starters right there.

"Isaac is the one guy I thought had the skill set to be an every-down back last year, but obviously what we had with Dylan we wanted him on the field as long as he could go. When we went into some of the two-back stuff, the reason Myles would play more was probably his ability to catch passes out of the backfield. He has some of that stuff that Dylan has in terms of his elusiveness, really good hands, great route-running ability. ... I think both of those guys have a legit shot."

Thomason had 48 carries for 215 yards (4.5 per carry) and a touchdown last season, when he also caught 12 passes for 103 yards and a TD. Seide carried the ball 28 times for 125 yards (4.4) during the 2023 season.

Santos said UNH could still bring in a transfer at the running back position.

3. Who will play cornerback opposite Noah Stansbury?

Randall Harris graduated and Santos said the plan is to move Stansbury into Harris' spot as the boundary corner. Jonathan Collins, Caleb Mead and Gavin Urda are among those competing to play field corner, the spot Stansbury filled last season.

"I'd say right now that's our biggest question on defense," Santos said. "I actually really like the two freshmen we have as well, Tavian Williams and Sean Webb."

Brendan Tighe (weak safety), Zedane Williams (strike) and Wande Owens (free safety) are experienced players who could round out the secondary. Owens, a graduate student, was Yale's lone captain last season.

"(Owens has) acclimated himself really quickly," Santos said. "Very smart, cerebral guy. He's picked up our scheme quickly and that free safety has to be the quarterback of the defense. He has to communicate. He has to be vocal. Right now he's the Day 1 starter."

rbrown@unionleader.com