Saturday, August 22, 2015

2015 Preseason Preview

The Hobart College Statesmen are coming off a second Elite 8 and fourth consecutive Liberty League (LL) championship season. The Class of 2015 finished their historic careers with a 41-5 overall mark, multiple All-American, Region and Conference player awards. Although there are big shoes to fill on both sides of the ball, the returning Statesmen have excellent experience from last season’s 12-1 campaign, so expectations remain high in Geneva.

On offense Hobart will need to replace two year starter Patrick Conlan ’15 at QB. The good news is there are several strong candidates who will battle out for the job during preseason camp. SR QB and Co-Captain Parker Thelander has the most experience with the Statesmen’s system, but will be challenged by at least two “young guns” (see my "Arms Race" post from July 8th).

The real key to this year’s squad starts with the OL. While you can’t really replace a player like Ali Marpet ’15 (highest NFL draft pick for a D3 player in history), and an All American like DeAndre’ Smith ’15, the Statesmen return three starters from last year’s squad and have a solid roster of talent to keep whoever wins the QB job upright. SR OL Emilano Acosta filled in at RT when JR OL Patrick O’Connell III went down with an injury and acquitted himself well in the post-season. SR OL Brendan Casey did well in his first season as a full time starter at LG and will be a leader of this group this season. JR OL Nick Testani can play center or guard and that versatility will provide Assistant Coach and OC Jon Drach the opportunity to evaluate several players across the OL.

SR RB and Co-Captain Conner Hartigan established himself as Hobart’s leading rusher, gaining 871 yards and nine TDs in 2014. JR RB Bradley Burns is a viable runner as well, having added 391 rushing yards and three TDs last season. There is some positive buzz on SO RB Joseph Letizia as well (see my post from May 29, 2014 for more on him).

SR FB/HB Christopher Holoman is the leading candidate to take over the FB spot held down the last four seasons by Dominique Ellis ’15. Ellis led the Statesmen with 10 rushing TDs so those touches will need to be absorbed elsewhere. Holoman rushed for 228 yards and three TDs, including a 55 yard highlight reel run against RPI. JR FBs Sean Bright and Mark Marino will also look to gain more playing time in 2015.

The WR corps saw the largest amount of turnover given the graduations of Troy Robinson, Elvin Souffrant, and John Fasano ’15 but I think some of the most exciting and athletic offensive players in 2015 will come from this squad. SR WR Cooper Merrill is the most experienced returning letterman, but look for players like JR WR Jack Pfohl (21 catches for 226 yards) and SO WR Brandon Shed (nine catches for 216 yards and two TDs) to have more opportunities to shine this season.

The TE position is also an open competition with graduation of Mike Berkowitz ’15. SO TE Chris Cyr came on strong late in 2014, catching one TD to go with 120 receiving yards, but there will be several other players vying for the TD passes that Berkowitz hauled in last season (he led the team with six).

On the defensive end, you can’t replace the talent and production of a player like Tyre Coleman ’15. The edge will be an area Hobart opponents will look to test early on in the 2015 season. Fortunately for the Statesmen, they have a roster of about 10 players looking to make a name for themselves. The coaching staff moved SR LB Zach Thornton to DE which makes sense given his size (250 lbs) and nose for the ball (25 tackles including two TFL). JR DE James Hedger will look to keep the starting job he earned last year opposite Coleman where he contributed 32 tackles.

SR DT and Co-Captain Tucker Gumkowski will anchor the defensive line. Troy Johnson ’15 will be missed but there are several candidates to assume that starting job in what will be a key position battle in preseason camp. JR DT Jake Russell and SO DT Zack Robak gained valuable experience on the 2nd team and during the NCAA playoffs. Hobart does like to rotate tackles so whoever doesn’t win the starting job will be a key contributor and it’s likely you’ll see another 2-3 players get opportunities as well.

The Statesmen boast one of the best LB corps in the East, if not the nation. Key returning players include SR LBs and Co-Captains Jacob Stanley and Trayvon Toney. These two super Statesmen tallied a combined almost 190 tackles between the two of them. JR OLB Marcus Jemison earned D3football.com Preseason All-America honors and will look to improve upon his 71 tackle and nine and a half sack 2014 campaign. Nolan Toran’s ’15 production will be missed but players like JR OLB Michael Harper (38 tackles, three TFL and one sack) seems poised to fill that spot after a strong 2014 season. Harper can rotate in as a FS too if needed.

Speaking of the defensive backfield, 1st team All LL DB Fajri Jackson ’15 will need to be replaced but the vast majority of the defensive secondary returns intact and with a solid amount of experience. SO CB Gabriel Smith returns after missing the 2014 season and JR CB Todd Collier is looking to continue his success from 2014 which landed him 2nd team All LL honors. Also in the mix will be SO DBs Tommy D’Antonio and Christian Apicella who played very well during the playoffs in relief of injured JR FS Matt Cragg who is back to full strength and ready for another strong year at safety.

The special teams unit returns with both PKs from last year. JR PK Sean Kirsche and SO PK Will McCool combined for six FGs and 42 PATs last season. Kirsche typically handled kickoffs averaging 56.3 YPKO. SR QB and Co-Captain Parker Thelander averaged over 34 net yards as a punter, earning a 2nd All LL special teams award.

Since 1992 Hobart has opened each season against Dickinson College of the Centennial Conference. They will do so again this fall in Carlisle, PA. One potential challenge to the Statesmen in 2015 is that six of their regular season games will be on the road. 

The home opener is September 12 against former OC Kevin DeWall ‘00’s Endicott College Gulls. Week 3 has a NCAA First Round Playoff rematch against defending Empire 8 Champions the Ithaca College Bombers at Butterfield Stadium. 

Week 4 marks the opening of LL play against the Mariners of the US Merchant Marine Academy. Hobart will return for homecoming in Geneva against an improved WPI squad on October 3. The Statesmen will hit the road again in Week 6 to take on the Pride of Springfield College. After four road trips in the first six weeks of the season, Hobart will get a well deserved bye in Week 7

Week 8 has conference rivals RPI Engineers returning to Boswell Field. Week 9 has the Statesmen lining up against rival Union College in Schenectady on Halloween. Week 10 will be circled on most all Hobart football fans (and national pollsters’) calendar as a potential LL Championship rematch against Saint Lawrence University at Boswell Field looms large. The final week of the regular season will once again pit the Statesmen against the University of Rochester in the annual Centennial Cup trophy game.

With kickoff only two weeks away, it's time to get ready for some football! Thanks again for reading and go Bart!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Preseason Camp Opens, Marpet Debuts vs. Vikings

The Hobart College Statesmen had a big Saturday.

In Geneva, NY the 2015 team checked in for preseason camp and the start of what fans and alums hope will be another historic season.

A few hundred miles to the northwest, Ali Marpet '15 had his NFL debut in a preseason game against the Minnesota Vikings. Although the Bucs came up short on the scoreboard, 26-16, Tampa Bay showed promise and Ali played pretty much the entire 2nd and 3rd quarters, even getting a "shout out" from broadcaster Chris Meyers.

Ali made key blocks on both of Tampa Bay's rushing TDs and otherwise held his own against the Vikings DL.

In case you missed it, I posted a few photos on @ITHuddLLe like this one:


Otherwise work by the Hobart Coaching staff will begin in earnest this morning. 

A few interesting things to consider across D3FB and the LL:

MIT HC Chad Martinovich (Hobart '94 & @ChadMartinovich) has his team getting ready for two "Engineer Bowls" with WPI and RPI on their OOC schedule. The MIT Engineers won the NEFC title last season so how they fare against the LL Engineering schools will be an interesting gauge on how competitive the LL will be in 2015.

Former OC and now Endicott College HC Kevin DeWall '00 also has scheduled a LL double header, travelling to Hobart and Saint Lawrence in Weeks 2 & 3. These games, plus a tough Week 1 match up vs. perennial NEFC power Framingham State means Coach is receiving a "baptism by fire" to open the 2015 season!

Speaking of the Saints, Saint Lawrence opens on Friday, Sept 4 against newly minted Empire 8 school Morrisville State. Some think the Mustangs could surprise some teams in the E8, even make a playoff run this season based on an athletic QB and solid roster, so this is a huge opener for both schools.

Another opener Hobart fans should and will track is the Ithaca-Union game on September 5th. The Statesmen have a big rematch with the Bombers in Week 3 of the regular season so make sure to keep an eye on the box score of this one. 

Union can only go up from their 2014 campaign and with SO QB Dante Cioffi taking over as a full time starter along with the return of GS WR Kyle Reynolds (who led the LL in receiving), there is more optimism in Schenectady than in prior seasons. As a LL fan, I'd really like to see them get a couple of OOC wins to start the season.

Other Week 1 games of interest include Rowan vs. #12 Widener and #19 St. John Fischer at #23 Thomas More. 

Lastly, I'll put in a plug for D3football.com's annual preseason online magazine, Kickoff. It's an inexpensive and great way to get all the news, special features, rankings and stories on the upcoming 2015 season. You can sign up here. I ordered mine last week and understand it'll be published on August 25th.

Thanks for reading and next week I'll post my preseason Hobart preview. Go 'Bart!

Monday, August 10, 2015

Top Stories Heading Into Preseason Camp

The 2015 Hobart College Statesmen will check in for preseason training camp this Saturday, August 15th in Geneva, NY. Expectations are high but some pollsters can't ignore the fact that the Class of 2015 graduated some of the best players in Hobart and D3 football history.

The Statesmen will have some big shoes to fill but the goal of another Liberty League title and NCAA Championship run is still the same. A few "stories" that come to mind for me as a fan and alum are listed below:

1. The Drach / David Era Begins - While player graduations certainly are at the top of everyone's mind, the 2015 Hobart season can also be defined by how newly minted Offensive and Defensive Coordinators Jon Drach and Kory David assume their roles and put their stamps on the Statesmen program. Coach Drach is certainly not "new", having coached on the staff for 8 seasons, but this is a great opportunity for the former Western Michigan QB to take over the reigns from Coach Kevin DeWall '00 who will be back in Geneva on September 13, but this time as the HC of the Endicott College Gulls (MA).

Some fans may expect Coach Drach's offensive style to be more pass than run oriented but WMU ran a similar offensive system as Coach DeWall's. Still, with a loaded QB roster and talented, young WRs and TEs, it will be tempting for Hobart to "air it out" especially as a retooled offensive line comes together.

I'm particularly interested to see how players like SO WR Brandon Shed, JR WR Jack Pfohl and SO TEs Chris Cyr and Zach Withers evolve into potential starters, if not top offensive weapons.

On defense, Coach David inherits a more veteran unit that includes arguably the best inside and outside LB corps in the nation. SR LB Trayvon Toney has been overlooked for All-American honors in my opinion and is poised for a big season.

The one question I have on defense is how the line will fare. Although I don't anticipate changes to the Statesmen's 4x4 front, it would be interesting if Coach implemented strategies like 3-5-3 given the LB strength of this team. The 3-5-3 doesn't necessarily make sense for Hobart during conference play given the large number of option teams in the Liberty League. Outside of LL play however, this scheme could be very useful against playoff caliber teams like Wesley who like to spread the field.

Regardless of whether Coach David keeps the status quo or implements new strategies, SR DL and Co-Captain Tucker Gumkowski will be looked at to lead the way for Hobart on the defensive front.

2. The Trenches - A big reason for Statesmen's recent run of success has a lot to do with the fact that it seems like every year Hobart has at least one All-American OL player (or more). The ability of Hobart to line up and dictate the run game (and barely allow any sacks or TFL) to their opponents is a big reason the Statesmen have won 41 of their last 46 contests.

While there are a couple of experienced players returning, there will be at least three open jobs going into preseason camp the OL men will be competing to earn. The success of this group will be a big indicator on the chances of the same for Hobart's season.

3. Staying Dry - a new, no tolerance policy will be implemented this fall per Coach Cragg and the adoption and discipline required to maintain it will be critical. I have faith in the Captains and team but this is a lot of ask 18-22 year old student athletes. While I don't think it'll be an issue, time will tell how certain players adapt and accept this rule. It's certainly a bold step in the commitment and dedication required to push Hobart to the next level in pursuit of a National Championship.

I plan to release a more detailed look at the roster in the coming weeks and there are plans for an eighth season of "In The HuddLLe" (www.inthehuddlle.com). Our preseason special, including an interview with a Hobart SR captain, will likely air on or around September 1st.

In the meantime, thanks for reading and go 'Bart!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Roster Update, Hobart Heritage, Jemison Named Preseason All American, Preseason Camp Updates & Other News

The 16th ranked Hobart College Statesmen released their 2015 roster and it seems like the success of the 2014 campaign did not go unnoticed. A large FY class as well as several interesting transfers from D3 to FCS level programs will report to preseason camp in just a couple of weeks.

The updated roster can be found here.

A look at the Class of 2019 is below (hometowns provided as listed):

#2 RB Tynard Barfield RB (Baltimore, MD)
#4 RB Joseph Barrocas (Miami, FL)
#12 CB Kiande Phillips CB (Orlando, FL)
#14 DB Sam Wheeler
#16 QB Anthony Pino
#18 QB Matt Woods (Latham, NY)
#21 WR Jake Henzes (Clarks Summit, PA)
#22 LB Bobbie Lewis (NY)
#27 FS Max Charlton (Burnt Hills, NY)
#30 LB Kiyon Brandford 
#31 CB CJ Boleware (Bronx, NY)
#32 TE Nick Forti (Enterprise, AL)
#42 CB Matt Morgante 
#45 LB Brandan Kahari (Lynn, MA)
#48 LB Aaron Louis (Stoneham, MA)
#49 LB Josh Ammon (Aldie, VA)
#50 LB Bryce Gioia (Hyde Park, NY)
#57 DE Joe DeGrood (Orchard Park, NY)
#58 DT AJ McFarlane
#65 DT Sean Moore (Bohemia, NY)
#68 OL Jonathan Koch (NYC)
#69 OL Micah Holloway
#70 OL John Deveney
#74 OL Will Eddy
#75 OL Chris Stedry
#76 OL Andrew Chait
#77 OL Patrick Cino (Holmdel, NJ)
#78 OL Nathan Webster (Corning, NY)
#79 OL Nick Marasco (Queensbury, NY)
#84 WR Malyk Daley-Pinkard (Geneva, NY)
#85 WR Brendan McCloskey
#90 DE Albert Smith
#91 DE Elijah Auringer
#93 PK Will Warne (Vancouver, WA)

These 34 student athletes make an impressive recruiting class, one that is focusing on key areas of future need (OL, RB and DL).

Bolstering this impressive FY class is a group of SO's that are either returning to the program or have transferred in from other schools, including:

#1 CB Gabe Smith (2013 D3football.com All American ST and All East DB)
#3 QB Shane Sweeney (via SUNY Albany)
#12 QB Tom Sydeski (via Stonehill College)
#96 PK Rio Schmidt (via Colby College)

Needless to say there is no shortage of incoming talent to push the upperclassmen and retuning lettermen in preseason camp.

Speaking of the roster, you may notice that certain players have similar numbers and/or returning starters have new ones. The main reason for this is a decision by the Football Program to return previously retired jerseys / numbers of HOF players back into retirement. Four jerseys / numbers had been "retired" by the Statesmen over it's 120+ history including:

#24 RB Mark Perkins '69
#33 RB Merle Gulick '30
#43 RB Don Aleksiewicz '73
#44 RB Rich Kowalski '76

The decade of the 1970's was a "golden age" for Hobart Football and a number of the alumni from that era raised concerns over the use of the retired jerseys in recent seasons. Although HC Mike Cragg did clear the initial reinstatement of the jerseys / numbers with each of the HOF players' respective families given the expanding roster over the past several seasons, it appears that going forward the Statesmen Athletics team will return these numbers back to the HOF.

Three Statesmen teams from this decade (1972-74) are recognized by the HOF as "Teams of Distinction", earning a record of 22-3-1 over that three year span. Coached by the late George Davis (see this story on Coach Davis and his life and contributions to Hobart College), these teams have some of the most active alumni and supporters of Hobart Football. You can join them every first home opener of the football season. I did last year and really enjoyed getting to know these great Statesmen, hearing and seeing (via 8mm film from the archives) the great stories and games from this era.

In the present day, the last recognition of this post will be to JR LB Marcus Jemison. In 2014 Jemison earned unanimous first team All-LL and D3football.com third All Eastern team selections. This preseason Jemison once again was cited by D3football.com as a second team All-American at LB.

A link to the All-American team can be seen here.

Finally, Hobart will open up their preseason camp on August 15th. 

I'll be back later this week to further analyze the recruiting class, among other news.

Thanks for reading and go 'Bart!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Connetquot's Sean Moore Commits to Statesmen

Sports Newsday (Long Island, NY) reports that Connetquot HS SR DL Sean Moore (Bohemia, NY) will attend and play football at Hobart College. A two time All State player (tough to do at any level of HSFB), Moore shows a knack for stuffing gaps and causing turnovers. He also played OG and could be looked as a FB/HB depending on how the coaching staff decides to utilize him.

He's stocky at 6'1 260 lbs, but certainly has the first step and technique to be a successful D3FB player for the Statesmen. While not likely to see significant varsity time as a FY, Moore seems to have the skill set that could get him playing time in future seasons.

His highlight reel can be seen here.

Please join me in welcoming Sean into the Hobart Football family!

Thanks for reading and go 'Bart!


Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Sweet 16 (Sort Of)

Yesterday the Hobart College Football program received two #16 rankings in the annual D3football.com and Sporting News Top 25 preseason polls. A link to the HWS SID announcement of this news can be found here.

My initial reaction to this ranking was mostly positive. I had been texting with my "In The HuddLLe" co-host, friend and Top 25 pollster Frank Rossi on Monday and we both predicted the Statesmen would end up in the 15-17 range. What's interesting to note is that after the 12-1 run and Elite 8 appearance in the 2012 season Hobart came into the 2013 preseason ranked 7th in the D3football.com poll.

The difference with 2015 is probably due to the fact that pollsters noted the following:

- Both offensive and defensive coordinators moving on;
- Losses to graduation of a large number of key players including two all time D3FB greats in Ali Marpet and Tyre Coleman;
- Only four returning offensive starters (albeit several reserves had significant PT throughout 2014);
- Only four home games; and
- Anything past the Top 6 or 7 is usually a total crap shoot (thus regional and other biases come into play causing broad ranges of where teams can sit and how the averages / points work out)

While the above is certainly plausible, it's mostly speculation on my part. The fact that Saint Lawrence returns a lot of the same players from the 2014 team that almost took the Liberty League (LL) crown away from the Statesmen is also in the back of the pollsters minds too. What they probably forget is that SLU game had five turnovers (not all forced) which certainly kept the Saints in the game. Without a couple of those, Hobart still wins that game, but likely by 7-14+ points.

Regardless, the ranking in and of itself is a sign of respect that Statesmen program has solidified itself in the upper echelon of D3FB. Only one other East Region team made it in the Top 25 above Hobart (#5 Wesley is typically regarded as a "South Region" team by the NCAA even though DE isn't exactly VA) which is saying something. That said it's also a sign of some skepticism on another Elite 8 (or better) run which I'm sure the team will use to motivate themselves in the upcoming season.

Either way, the bull's eye is once again on Hobart as four time defending LL champions. Preseason camp is about 30 days away now so the summer will once again give way to the weight of great hopes and expectations by fans, alums, players and coaches soon enough.

More recruiting news coming soon, thanks for reading and go 'Bart!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

2015 Hobart QB Competition Will Be An "Arms Race"

The Hobart College Statesmen Football team has had many memorable offensive generals over the past 20 seasons including greats like Greg Helmer '97, Dan Birdsall '01, Craig Swanson '04, Shawn Mizro '07, Nick Strang '13 and most recently Patrick Conlan '15, who finished his career with a 22-2 record as starting QB.

This fall a handful of Statesmen will look to etch their names in the record books by competing for arguably the most difficult position on the field. Thanks to the coaching and recruiting prowess of HC Mike Cragg and OC Jon Drach the open starting QB job for Hobart will be one of the most talked about competitions of camp, if not the East Region.

SR Co-Captain Parker Thelander has patiently waited for this opportunity while being one of the best special teams players in the Liberty League (LL). He knows the playbook and his experience, leadership and understanding of the offense certainly puts him in prime position going into preseason camp.

Most D3FB programs would be happy (and lucky) to have three young men like these coming back. What makes Hobart, now a consistent Top 10-15 program in the nation an exception, is it's ability to attract other top student athletes from upper division programs. In this case a couple of interesting developments in the off-season have added intrigue to the Statesmen "Arms Race" namely:

SO QB Thomas Sydeski decided to return to Upstate NY and transferred to Hobart after attending Stonehill College (D2) outside of Boston, MA the last two years. A Brockport, NY native, Tom reminds me of Nick Strang '13 based on his build (6'5" 215 lbs) and ability to make plays.

Sydeski led Brockport HS to a 16-2 record over his JR and SR seasons, setting school records for passing yards (4,018) and TDs (48) over that time period. He earned All County and Player of the Year honors for his accomplishments. You can check out his HS highlights here.

Sydeski appeared in five games for Stonehill at QB in 2014 after effectively red-shirting his FY. You can see from the Sky Hawks highlights Sydeski has a strong arm which helped him average 233.2 YPG which speaks for itself. The one area Tom will need to work to improve upon is lowering his turnover ratio. He had a couple of rough outings at Stonehill where he threw for three and four interceptions, respectively, against the University of New Haven and So. CT State.

The other big news coming out of the Finger Lakes happened last week when former SUNY-Albany and now SO QB Shane Sweeney decided to "come home" and transfer to Hobart. A Geneva, NY native, Sweeney was heavily recruited by Hobart but took a football scholarship opportunity with the Great Danes program after graduating from GHS in 2013. He lit up the scoreboard for the Panthers his SR season passing for 2,005 yards and leading the team to several Section V accolades.

Apparently after a coaching change at Albany left Sweeney caught in transition he contacted Coach Cragg. A link to the Finger Lakes Times report and Coach's comments on the story can be found here. A few highlights of Sweeney's work at Albany can be seen here.

All in all it's a very exciting time to be a Hobart Football fan.

While certainly a running team "at heart," this amount of QB power combined with a talented receiver corp that includes players like SR WR Cooper Merrill, JR WR Jack Pfohl, JR WR Sean Cunningham (who played with Sweeney at GHS) and SO WR Brandon Shed, to name just a few, makes Hobart a legitimate threat to call a few "air strikes" on opposing defensive secondaries this fall.

Thanks for reading and go 'Bart!