Holy Cross football ranks No. 4 in HERO Sports’ FCS Preseason Top 25.
The Crusaders lost 42-21 at South Dakota State in the 2022 FCS quarterfinals in a game that was 21-21 entering the fourth quarter. They finished the season 12-1 overall.
Here’s a look at this year’s Holy Cross squad.
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Returning 2022 All-Conference Players (10)
QB Matthew Sluka
WR Jalen Coker
OL C.J. Hanson
OL Luke Newman
OL Eric Schon
RS Justin Shorter
CB Devin Haskins
RB Jordan Fuller
TE Sean Morris
P Patrick Haughney
Players In 2023 FCS Positional Rankings (7)
Transfer Portal Movement
Transfers Lost To The FBS (3)
Jack Coulson (WR) to Kent State
Walter Reynolds (DB) to Ohio
Ayir Asante (WR) to Wyoming
Transfers Lost To The FCS (1)
Jake Reichwein (DL) to Villanova
Transfers Coming In From The FCS (1)
Jon Wood (DB), Sacred Heart
Transfers Coming In From The FBS (1)
Caron McNair (OL), Old Dominion
Holy Cross returns eight starters on an offense that ranked No. 8 in FCS scoring, averaging 37.4 points per game.
It all starts with quarterback Matthew Sluka, one of the best signal-callers in the subdivision. Sluka took a giant step forward as a passer from 2021 to 2022 while still utilizing his elite running ability. He totaled 2,489 passing yards, 26 touchdowns, and four interceptions last season while having a team-high 1,234 rushing yards and 11 scores. Against SDSU, he ran 26 times for 213 yards and a TD and threw for 125 yards.
Holy Cross wants to have a physical offense, and its offensive line returns four starters. Luke Newman (6’5″ 301 lbs), Eric Schon (6’3″ 311 lbs), and C.J. Hanson (6’6″ 305 lbs) were First Team All-Patriot League selections last year. Pat McMurtrie (6’6″ 294 lbs) also returns, a 2021 All-Conference Second Team performer who missed most of 2022 due to injury.
The Crusaders do lose 1,000-yard rusher Peter Oliver. But Second Team All-Conference RB Jordan Fuller is back after rushing for 536 yards and a team-leading 13 TDs. Fuller is a punishing runner at 6’0″ and 229 lbs.
Sluka led the team with 203 rush attempts. Finding depth at RB will be key because even though Sluka’s legs are the most dangerous part of Holy Cross’ offense, keeping him healthy is paramount in the team reaching its high expectations. Tyler Purdy is a prime candidate to get more carries behind Fuller. He has 503 career rushing yards.
Holy Cross has strong weapons on the outside to complement its run game. First Team All-Conference selection Jalen Coker returns after leading the team with 50 receptions for 912 yards and 11 TDs. Last year’s No. 3 WR Justin Shorter is also back. He had 32 catches for 431 yards and four TDs. Tight end Sean Morris is a two-time All-Patriot League Second Team selection in the last two seasons mostly for his blocking, but he can be a pass-catching threat too and has 219 career receiving yards.
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Holy Cross has six starters back on defense. Last year, the unit allowed 21.5 points per game to rank No. 22 in the FCS. Its rushing defense was just in the Top 20, allowing 119.6 yards per game.
The Crusaders do have big holes to fill on the defensive line and at safety.
Dillon Springer will man the middle of the d-line at 6’2″ 279 lbs. New starting experience will be around him. But a lot of talent is behind the DL at linebacker.
That LB unit is highlighted by the return of Jacob Dobbs, who played in only four games last fall before an injury and was granted an extra season for 2023. Dobbs (6’0″ 237 lbs) was a top-tier FCS linebacker in 2021, totaling 137 tackles, 17.5 TFLs, and 9.5 sacks.
His return is huge for a defense that loses its top three tacklers from 2022. Dante Bolden and Frankie Monte will be alongside Dobbs with starting experience.
Holy Cross has size and plenty of experience at cornerback. Devin Haskins is one of the top returning corners in the FCS. He’s 6-foot-3, a three-year starter, and a two-time All-Conference performer. Terrence Spence locks down the other CB spot at 6-foot-2. He tallied eight pass breakups in 2022.
Of Holy Cross’ 10 returning 2022 All-Patriot League players, only one is on the defensive side of the ball (Haskins). Add in Dobbs, and it’s two.
The Crusaders have national title aspirations in 2022. With four straight playoff appearances that include a five-point loss to CAA co-champ Villanova in the 2021 second round and battling eventual national champs SDSU tougher than anyone in the 2022 bracket, those title aspirations are warranted for a group of seniors who have been major contributors for multiple seasons. There are very few questions about the offense. But the defense will need to build more depth to compete deeper into the playoffs, and some new names have to step up.
9/2 vs Merrimack
9/9 at Boston College
9/16 at Yale
9/23 vs Colgate
9/30 vs Harvard
10/7 at Bucknell
10/21 vs Lafayette
10/28 at Fordham
11/4 at Lehigh
11/11 at Army
11/18 vs Georgetown
Bold indicates Patriot League games