WORCESTER — Holy Cross football’s fifth-year seniors were part of coach Bob Chesney’s first full recruiting class at HC, and as Chesney’s dad, Bob Sr., so eloquently extolled to them after the disappointment of Sunday’s FCS playoff selection show, they laid the groundwork for a program that now expects greatness.
The Crusaders captured a share of their record fifth straight Patriot League championship with Lafayette, but the Leopards claimed the PL’s automatic bid to the FCS playoffs based on the head-to-head tiebreaker. HC hoped for an at-large berth and its fifth consecutive postseason appearance, but did not get it.
“The norm is we go to the playoffs,” Chesney said after Monday afternoon’s team meeting. “Not going is not normal, and here we are going home for Thanksgiving.”
The Crusaders gathered to clean out the locker room and take care of some housekeeping items and, 24 hours after the emotional end to the 2023 season, Chesney said they were doing better.
“Everyone is in a decent spot,” Chesney said. “I think everyone is ready to start moving forward.”
Senior quarterback Matthew Sluka, a finalist for the Walter Payton Award as the top offensive player in FCS, was among several HC players to enter the portal as a graduate transfer.
This year, Sluka rushed for 1,247 yards, the third highest single-season total in program history. His 330 rushing yards against Lafayette were a Division 1 record for a quarterback.
“Matt will have multiple major opportunities with major NIL dollars attached to it,” Chesney said. “That’s the type of player he is, as we all know. We’re happy for him.”
Senior offensive lineman Eric Schon and senior cornerback Terrence Spence also entered the transfer portal, as did fifth-year linebacker Jacob Dobbs.
Dobbs, who is a finalist for the Buck Buchanan Award as the FCS national defensive player of the year, has one year of eligibility remaining due to a 2022 medical redshirt.
Fifth-year running back Tyler Purdy and fifth-year punter Patrick Haughney also entered the portal. Neither played as a freshman in 2019.
“They thought long and hard about it, and they’re not done thinking about it,” Chesney said. “They want to see what’s out there. Ultimately, another whole (sixth) year at an undergraduate school is tough to do.”
Chesney anticipates five or six seniors to return for a fifth year in 2024.
“We have some guys that will see what opportunities the portal presents,” Chesney said. “Then they’ll make a decision. They may come back after testing the portal, or they may move on.”
Fifth-year right guard C.J. Hanson and senior wide receiver Jalen Coker expect to have NFL opportunities.
Hanson was part of an outstanding offensive line, and Coker set HC single-season and career records for touchdown receptions, and all-time receiving yards.
As Chesney said Sunday, next year’s Crusaders will be a different team, “but you turn over a new page,” he said. “You have to move forward.”
Junior quarterback Joe Pesansky showed great poise and promise in the two games he started in place of Sluka this fall, and junior running back Jordan Fuller also entered the HC record book. Numerous freshmen gained experience due to injuries.
Holy Cross finished 7-4, 5-1 in the Patriot League. Its other FCS loss was to Harvard. The Crimson shared the Ivy League title with Yale, which HC beat handily early in the season, and Dartmouth. The Crusaders fell to both of their FBS opponents, Boston College and Army, by three points.
One more out-of-league win likely would have been enough to secure an at-large playoff spot.
“One hundred percent,” Chesney said.
In Dobbs’ final game at Fitton Field last Saturday, a win over Georgetown, he set the Patriot League all-time record for total tackles. Five years earlier, Dobbs’ interception helped HC beat the Hoyas to capture the PL title and begin their championship run.
“That kind of started the whole thing,” Chesney said. “To think about what (the fifth-year class) did from then until now. They helped build this team, from recruiting to on-field performance to engagement in the community to academics. Everything they did uplifted the program.”
Earlier this week, reports mentioned Chesney as a potential candidate for the open Syracuse job.
His future, he said Monday, “it’s at HC still. These guys are great. I’m proud to go to work every day.”
—Contact Jennifer Toland at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on X, formerly known as Twitter, @JenTolandTG.