KINGS POINT -- U.S. Merchant Marine Academy football coach Mike Toop has two goals for his team this season and it centers around finishing:
He wants his team to finish off games better and have the Mariners finish with their first winning season in eight years.
"We need to have a winning record," said Toop, whose team finished at 4-6 last season.
The Mariners, who haven't registered a season above the .500 mark since 2003, played more than their share of close encounters last year.
"We could have finished better," he said, adding that the Mariners lost four games that went down to the last possession in 2010. "It was tough."
Toop, a 1977 USMMA graduate, is hopeful of seeing his team improve this season, thanks to an attack that averaged 24.5 points a game last year. Four of his five starting offensive linemen return as do eight starters on the platoon.
"Hopefully, that will translate well for us," he said of his experienced front line.
That line will be blocking for several key veterans, including junior fullback John-Leon Gosselin (Nashua, N.H.), who led the Mariners in rushing with 874 yards and an impressive 5.5 per carry average and 10 touchdowns, junior running back Alex Coviello (Cape Coral, Fla.), who returned two kickoffs for TDs, and senior wide receiver Michael Mitchell (Mt. Pleasant, N.C.), who led the team with 20 receptions.
Toop said his biggest concern was finding a starting quarterback. He was learning toward junior Stephen Sasso (Phoenix, Ariz.), a back-up the last two seasons, as his No. 1 man. Sasso threw one pass last season, a 37-yard completion.
It is the other side of the ball and line where Toop has more concerns, even if there are seven returning defensive starters. Kings Point allowed 28.0 points per game and 229.8 yards per game on the ground.
"We have to try to be more consistent defensively," he said.
Senior linebacker Kevin Stapf (Port Pierce, Fla.), an All-Liberty Conference selection last year, senior nose tackle Edward Logan (Philadelphia, Pa.), a three-year starter, and senior corner back Jake Harrison (Weymouth, Mass.) are expected to provide some much-needed experience.
"We have strong senior leadership, which is a plus for us," Toop said.
Kings Point opens its season against Johns Hopkins University at Captain Tomb Field at Brooks Stadium at 2 p.m. Saturday. It is Parents Weekend and Plebe Acceptance day as well.
Johns Hopkins (8-3, 6-2), which shared last year's Centennial Conference championship and was picked to win the conference crown this year, is a first-time opponent for Kings Point.
The Blue Jays were ranked 20th in the nation in The Sporting News pre-season poll. They return eight offensive starters and nine from the defensive side.
"They're loaded," Toop said.
Johns Hopkins is led by senior quarterback Hewitt Tomlin, who passed for a school-record 3,309 yards and 24 TDS last season. His favorite target, senior wide receiver Sam Wernick (68 receptions, 1,265 yards and 17 TDs) is back.
"We'll find out real fast how good we are," Toop said.
After playing non-conference foes Coast Guard (Sept. 10 at home) and SUNY-Maritime (Sept. 17 away), the Mariners will begin their Liberty Conference schedule at St. Lawrence on Sept. 24. They will host Springfield in a non-conference encounter on Oct. 1, before taking on Liberty opponents WPI (away on Oct. 8), the University of Rochester (home on Oct. 15), Hobart (away on Oct. 22), Union (home on Nov. 5) and RPI (away on Nov. 12).