Friday, August 26, 2016

2016 Preview

The Hobart College Statesmen saw their four year streak of Liberty League Conference Championships and NCAA appearances snapped after a somewhat disappointing 7-3 campaign in 2015.

Injuries and a couple of tough breaks caught up with the Statesmen, but they did finish their season on a three game win streak, beating their opponents by a 113-52 margin, including knocking off the eventual LL champions, #25 Saint Lawrence. It should also be noted that Hobart was a missed two point conversion away from winning their fifth straight LL championship.

That momentum, a strong recruiting class and other positive developments for Hobart bode well for this year.

Here's an initial look at the:

Hobart Offense

JR QB and Co-Captain Shane Sweeney overcame injuries last year to lead the LL in passing YPG (221) and efficiency (148.3). He set a Hobart record for six TDs against Rochester in the 2015 season finale. Returning to action is SO QB Adam Wallerstein, who came out of Lakeland (NJ) with a lot of potential (and a cannon of an arm). He'll push Sweeney for playing time and would be a very capable back up otherwise.

The QBs continued success at Hobart will be highly dependent on the OL which seemed to take a step backward, statistically speaking anyway, last season. The Statesmen OL finished sixth in the LL with only 115.2 rushing YPG and 13 rushing TDs. In the passing game they allowed 20 sacks (or two per game on average and a total of -143 yards) which was fifth in the LL, well off prior seasons' protection stats. While this is a point of emphasis going into preseason camp, there's a lot to be optimistic about this fall's OL unit.

SR OL and Co-Captain Nick Testani, one of the anchors of Statesmen "Big Dogs," is effectively the leader of the OL as C. Testani was the only Statesmen offensive player to earn 1st Team All-LL honors, which he'll look to repeat this season (and hopefully have some teammates join him).

Classmate SR OL Justin DiJiulio can play C as well, but he held down RT late in 2015 and may remain in the that spot or move inside to guard for 2016. SR OL and Co-Captain Patrick O'Connell III will likely move inside to LG this year which will help Hobart open gaps on the interior. O'Connell earned 2nd Team All-LL honors for his efforts at LT last season.

Competition for LT and RG will be interesting to watch in camp. I could see Coach Drach moving DiJiulio inside or promote rising JR OL Alex Helm, JR OL Stephen Van Hoesen and/or SO OL Jack Koch into the starting line up depending on the preseason. SO OL John Deveney is also a potential starter at LT given his size, skill and performance in spring ball. Another new player to keep an eye on is Erie Community College transfer JR OL Sean Plunkett. Sean has followed the footsteps of his father Patrick ('81) and Uncle Daniel ('85) in playing football at Hobart. Either way, you can expect to see a solid rotation up front which is good news for the offense.

Hobart will need SO RB Tynard Barfield to step into the feature I-back role with the graduation of Conner Hartigan '16. Barfield showed his explosive quickness several times in 2015. He rushed for 181 yards and four TDs while adding 88 receiving yards and a TD. SR RB Bradley Burns will likely split time with Barfield while steamrolling would be tacklers. Burns rushed for 217 yards and three TDs last season, one which was named by GEICO as the College Football Play of the Year!

There will be a competition to fill the starting FB role held last season by Christopher Holoman '16. Look for Coach Drach to open things up by having more three receiver sets and the FB or HB come in on certain offensive plays or series. Right now the leading candidates for that job include JR FB Dylan Quay and SR FB Sean Bright (a personal favorite given he has my old number, 36).

What Statesmen fans should be really excited about is that Hobart brings back one of the strongest WR corps in the East Region, if not the nation, with players like JR WR Brandon Shed, SR WR Sean Cunningham, and SR WR Jack Pfohl. Shed tied for the most receiving TDs (8) in the LL and led the Statesmen with 700 yards. Pfohl contributed 507 receiving yards and three TDs.  Cunningham, a star on the Hobart NEC Championship lacrosse team, had 204 receiving yards and a TD. Cunningham also added 159 yards as a PR and even scored a special teams TD for the Statesmen in 2015. There are also several incoming FY players that are very fast, dynamic and could compete for playing time as they learn the offense.

Adding to the headaches opposing DCs will have is Hobart's athletic TE corps. JR TE Zach Withers came on strong in 2015 and was rewarded with a 2nd Team All-LL award for his efforts. Withers hauled in 10 passes for 137 yards and four TDs. New to the position will be SO TE Matt Woods who converted from QB. He's a big target at 6'6"and should fill out from his current 217 lbs frame.

Overall the offensive unit looks poised to have a very big year if the team stays healthy.

Now let's switch sides and take a look at the:

Hobart Defense

The Statesmen return most of their defensive corps from 2015. Hobart dominated most of the LL defensive stats behind the strong play of this unit. The Statesmen were first in total (245.8 YPG),  rushing (116.3) and passing (129.5) defense. They were a close second in scoring defense, allowing 17.7 PPG.

The biggest shoes to fill will be at ILB as both Trayvon Toney and Jacob Stanley '16 have graduated. Still, Hobart has several strong young LBs that will look to play bigger roles in 2016. SO LB Almamy Conde showed a good deal of promise as a FY player and reportedly had a strong spring.

SR OLB and Co-Captain Marcus Jemison is back after an award winning JR campaign and he was once again named a preseason All-American. Opposite Jemison will likely be SR OLB Michael Harper. Other players like JR LB Will Hoffer and SO LB Kai Brandford will also compete for time.

The good news for the LB corps is that the majority of the DL returns intact. Tucker Gumkowski's '16 production at DT will need to be replaced, but key players like SR DT Jake Russell, SR DE and Co-Captain James Hedger are all back. Adding to the depth of this unit includes SO DE A.J. McFarlane, SO DE Albert Smith, SO DT Sean Moore and JR DT Zackary Robak.

Also back is the entire defensive secondary (which finished 2015 ranked 2nd in the entire nation in pass defense), led by SR FS and Co-Captain Matt Cragg. SR CB Todd Collier and JR CB Tommy D'Antonio return as does JR DB Gabriel Smith and JR DB Daryl Scales. Offensive teams will be hard pressed to complete many passes against this veteran unit and hopefully last season's interception total (8) will be higher in 2016.

Last, but not least, we have:

Special Teams

SR PK Sean Kirshe returns for his final year and he'll compete once again with JR PK Will McCool for kickoff, PAT and FG duties. Kirshe went five for seven with a long of 37 yards in FGs last season, while adding 26 extra points (out of 30 attempts).

JR PK Rio Schmidt stepped in to take over punting duties in 2015 and finished 3rd in the LL with a 35.9 net punting average.

I have to add the kicking unit is probably the most geographically diverse one in quite some time. Kirshe was originally from FL, now resides in KY and Schmidt is from TX. McCool is sort of the "Average Joe" in this group since he's "only" from PA.

Prognosis:

Overall this Statesmen squad will be a favorite to recapture the LL title (they were picked first in the LL Coach's Poll yesterday) and accompanying NCAA berth. The Saint Lawrence Saints return the majority of their key players so another collision course between these rivals has been set and will happen in early November.

Otherwise, Hobart has a challenging OOC schedule, including a long road trip to the Boston area to test the team in September. The Saturday night home opener against Ithaca will also a great way to open the "Boz" on Homecoming and Family Weekend.

What's also interesting is that 2016 will have a different feel given a new season opener / opponent in Brockport (the Statesmen and the Golden Eagles' last game was in 1982) and LL rival games have flip flopped from prior seasons, e.g., the Union and RPI games which have typically been in late October for several years will now happen at the end of September and early October like they were in the mid-00's.

Needless to say expectations will be high in Geneva and elsewhere regarding this squad. Here's hoping the Hobart College Football team has a great (and healthy) 2016 run!

Thanks for reading and go 'Bart!

Monday, August 22, 2016

Preseason Camp is Underway!

The Hobart College Statesmen arrived into training camp and preparing for the 2016 season. OL Coach Green "leaked" these new but throwback helmets that the team will sport for this season over the last weekend. I had the pleasure of speaking with Coach Cragg and the LL coaches as part of D3football.com's preseason "Kickoff" college football annual preview which is coming out tomorrow, August 23rd.

I'll have a more in depth preview of the Statesmen in the next few days, and make sure to keep an eye out or subscribe to the "In the HuddLLe" podcast which goes live on Wednesday, August 31.

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



Monday, August 1, 2016

Jemison Earns D3football.com Preseason All-American Honors

Today D3football.com announced their 2016 Preseason All-American team. The list of players recognized can be found here.

SR Co-Captain and OLB Marcus Jemison earned a 2nd Team nod. Saint Lawrence University's SR DL Chyron Brown-Wallace was the only other player from the Liberty League who earned a Preseason All-American award as 1st team DL.

Other mentions of note included SR RB Dan Andrews of Brockport (Hobart's Week 1 opponent) earning a 1st team award and Saint John Fisher SR CB Alex Mortillaro also earning a 1st team recognition.

In other news, I've recently been asked by D3football.com to write the preseason preview for the LL this year, so if you haven't looked into getting the Kickoff 2016 subscription I hope you will.

As always, thanks for reading and go 'Bart!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Hobart Receives Votes in D3Football.com Preseason Top 25 Poll

Today D3Football.com released it's 2016 Preseason Top 25. A link to the poll can be found here.

Hobart earned 41 votes which is pretty high praise for a squad that went 7-3 last season. Especially considering that #25 Delaware Valley came in with 63 votes. The Statesmen were picked ahead of LL rivals Saint Lawrence (28) and RPI (13). They also earned more votes than nearby E8 rival Saint John Fisher who tallied 29 votes.

This ranking shows the voters acknowledge Hobart's potential, now all the team needs to do is go out and win to prove it.

Thanks for reading and go 'Bart!

Monday, July 4, 2016

The Best 20 Games of the Last 20 Years - Part IV (1-5)

I hope you've enjoyed this recap of the best games from the last 20 seasons (and Happy 240th Birthday to the USA!)

The Top 5 best Hobart College Football games from the last 20 years are listed below:

#5
Hobart 23 Cortland 22 (11/19/05) - This first round NCAA playoff game between local rivals was one of the best matchups of the playoffs this year. There were five lead changes and the Statesmen needed a missed 44 yard FG and a last ditch defensive stand at the Hobart 35 yard line to hang on for what many consider the Statesmen's first major playoff win (i.e., one over a team outside of New England). Hobart called and completed four WR or PK trick pass plays in the fourth quarter of the game which certainly added to the excitement.

#4
Hobart 29 SLU 27 (11/8/14) - This game was for the LL Championship and it certainly lived up to it's billing. There were six lead changes in this exciting contest and ultimately it came down to then FY PK Will McCool converting a 39 FG with 1:03 remaining and the Saints simply running out of time at the Hobart 17 yard line to give the Statesmen their fourth consecutive LL title. While you could argue this game be rated higher, a couple of factors should be considered. Hobart was undefeated and ranked near the Top 10 going into the contest and thus the favorite. Also, if not for five Statesmen turnovers, it wouldn't have been close. Some of the credit has to go to the Saints for causing these, but a couple were just bad mistakes by Hobart that should have been avoided. Either way, this was only the first act in what ended up being a historic 2014 season.

#3
Hobart 33 Union 27 OT (11/6/04) - Hobart and Union have had some epic battles over the years but this one was probably the best. The Statesmen trailed by eight points early in the third quarter until QB Shawn Mizro gave Hobart its first lead of the game after connecting on consecutive third quarter TD passes to WR Dan Suozzi. Union regained the lead in the fourth and it would require a fourth and 10 fake punt and run by Suozzi from the Hobart one yard line to keep the Statesmen in the game!

PK Eric Ampuja would tie the game on a 29 yard FG to cap the 17 play, 84 yard drive. Defensive stands by both squads forced OT. The Hobart defense would stop Union RB Tom Arcidiacono on a fourth down from the Statesmen one yard line. Mizro would only need two pass plays to give Hobart the LL title when he found WR Rick Pinero from 14 yards out for the winning TD!

#2
Hobart 22 Ithaca 15 (11/22/14) - Hobart hosted the Empire 8 Champions in what will go down as an all time classic. The Bombers defense gave the Statesmen offense fits in the first half but the Hobart defense held Ithaca to a TD and two FGs to only be down 12-0 at the half. RB Alex Furtado finally got the Statesmen on the board with a one yard TD run with 5:27 to go in the third quarter. Another Bomber FG would follow but QB Patrick Conlan would tie the game on the ensuing drive with a two yard TD run.

The teams would battle back and forth until Conlan found the end zone from one yard out with only 13 seconds left in the game! Conlan went three of four on the drive with the big play being a 33 yard strike to TE Chris Cyr for a first down at the Bombers 12 yard line. QB Parker Thelander completed a big pass to WR Jack Phofl to keep the drive alive as Conlan battled a sore shoulder. Although not an OT game, this was one of the most exciting and competitive games of the playoffs this year.

#1
Hobart 24 Johns Hopkins 21 - Although they were the higher seed, not many gave Hobart their pick to beat the #7 ranked Blue Jays, who were Champions of the Centennial Conference. The Statesmen had early leads of 10 and nine points, but JHU always fought back and it was only a slim 16-14 Hobart edge at the half. Hopkins would take their first lead of the game when QB Braden Anderson found WR Quinn Donaldson from 28 yards out with 14:33 left in regulation. The ensuing Hobart drive stalled at the JHU 47 yard line and things didn't look good for the Statesmen. The Blue Jays drove down to the Hobart three yard line and went to go for the kill.

On first down DE Tyre Coleman stuffed Hopkins RB Stuart Walters for a five yard loss. On second down, Anderson was stripped of the ball and DL Jake Russell recovered the fumble to give Hobart one last chance! Conlan made the most of the opportunity going an amazing seven for seven on the drive, covering 10 plays and 88 yards. The drive culminated in what was the game winning 14 yard TD pass to WR John Fasano.

Still, it wasn't over just yet. Hopkins had 1:26 and ultimately drove to the Hobart eight yard line where they called timeout with 24 seconds left. A would be TD to Donaldson was called back due to a push off and on the next play LB Jacob Stanley intercepted Anderson resulting in the eruption of the Statesmen sideline onto the field. After regaining their composure, the Statesmen took to the victory formation and held on to win, 24-21. The defeat of Hopkins was the highest ranked in Hobart Football history and done so in as dramatic a fashion you'll ever see in a college, or any, football game.

Well, that's a wrap.

I'll probably take off the rest of the summer until we get close to preseason camp opening in mid-August.

Thanks for reading and go 'Bart!

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Best 20 Games of the Last 20 Years - Part III (6-10)

After an interesting 11-20, we crack the Top 10 this week.

Now as I stated at the start of this ranking, not all of the best games in the last 20 years were wins. In fact, some of them were losses that showed how far the Hobart Statesmen had come as a program. Three of those games start off the Top 10, dating back to 2005, but for #10 we'll start in 2006:

#10
Hobart 18 Rowan 20 (11/8/06) - The Profs were once tabbed the "Beast of the East" given their many playoff runs back then. The Statesmen were road underdogs in this first round playoff game but they went toe to toe with Rowan the entire contest. The Statesmen were easily dispatched in the 2004 playoffs by a score of 14-45 by the Profs, so many assumed this rematch would be more of the same. To the contrary, Hobart actually led with under a minute to go in the game but the Profs were able to convert a FG with nine seconds remaining to hang on to win. While disappointing, this game showed that Hobart could have beaten the "Beast".

#9
Hobart 14 Delaware Valley 21 (11/26/05) - The last time Hobart faced the MAC champs in the second round of the NCAA playoffs, they lost decisively. This game was a different story. The score was deadlocked at 0-0 until the fourth quarter when Del Val broke the stalemate and took a 14-0 lead. To the Statesmen's credit they battled back, scoring two quick TDs to tie the game with 4:51 remaining. Del Val would retake the lead with 1:30 left, but QB Shawn Mizro would rally the Statesmen and drive Hobart to the Aggies 19 yard line with 15 seconds remaining. A couple of close calls in the end zone meant that the Statesmen came up short, but it took a desperate effort by the Del Val defense to hang on and win this hard fought game.

#8
Hobart 28 Wesley 35 (11/19/11) - A lot of Hobart fans were upset by drawing #7 Wesley in this first round NCAA matchup. Saint John Fisher, who the Statesmen destroyed in September, arguably got a better draw and seed in this tourney. To Hobart's credit, they came to play, with backup QB Kelly Olney leading the way. If the Statesmen only had a reliable place kicker they would have won this game as they were stuffed on fourth and goal three times by the Wolverine defense. While it counted as a loss, the Statesmen's play in this game served notice to the nation that Hobart was in for a big season in 2012.

#7
Hobart 20 RPI 17 (11/8/08) - RPI came into this game undefeated and ranked in the Top 20 behind the high scoring Jimmy Robertson led Engineers offense. The Statesmen defense got Hobart on the board first when LB Justin Hager blocked a RPI punt and LB Ryan Robinson returned it 32 yards for the TD. Hager would block another Engineer kick (this time a FG attempt) as time expired in the first half. Hobart would lose starting QB Rich Doyle to injury mid way through the fourth quarter with the score tied at 10. A relatively unknown QB Doug Vella came off the bench and drove the Statesmen offense to the Engineers red zone. He'd convert three huge first downs until he ultimately found WR Andy Schettine for a one yard score with 6:12 remaining in the game. The drive covered a total of 18 plays, 84 yards and 7:33 off the clock. Robertson would respond however and tied the game with a 50 yard bomb with 2:34 remaining. Vella would drive the team 53 yards in nine plays to set up a game winning 37 yd FG for then FY PK Conor Callahan. The kick split the up rights as time expired giving Hobart the upset victory!

#6
Hobart 35 Wittenberg 10 (11/24/12) - The Statesmen finally broke the second round barrier and punched their ticket to the program's first ever Elite 8 appearance with a dominant win over the NCAC Champs. Although Hobart was the higher seed and host, many picked the 13th ranked Tigers to win this game and some social media posts by Wittenberg on Friday night probably added fuel to the fire for the Statesmen. Although it was 7-3 Hobart at the half, the Statesmen ran away with the game scoring four TDs in the second half. The one-two punch of RBs Steven Webb and Bobby Dougherty combined for 39 carries, 216 yards and two TDs. At the time this was arguably the biggest win in program history.

Next week I'll cover off the Top 5 best games, in my opinion anyway. I'm sure you may already know which ones may be on that list.

Thanks for reading and go 'Bart!

Monday, June 20, 2016

The Best 20 Games of the Last 20 Years - Part II (15-11)

#15
Hobart 25 Bridgewater State 0 (11/18/00) - The Statesmen and Bears were deadlocked at 0-0 until LB Everton McLean returned a Bridgewater State fumble 32 yards for a TD with only 10 seconds remaining in the third quarter. Hobart would then rattle off three more TDs in the fourth to claim the first ever NCAA playoff victory in school history!

#14
Hobart 41 Union 35 2 OT (10/9/10) - There weren't a lot of positives in the 2010 season, but this game saw then back up QB Nick Strang have a record setting day. Strang tied the school record of five TD passes (he added the game winning rushing TD also) and his 498 total yards was a single game record as well. Although Strang would be lost for the remainder of the season due to a bout of mononucleosis, this great game was a sign for good things to come in 2011 and 2012.

#13
Hobart 56 RPI 48 3 OT (9/24/05) - The longest game in Hobart College history was this insane regular season shootout. The Statesmen were ranked #23 at the time and heavily favored but then FY QB Jimmy Robertson of RPI had a great day and showed signs of the type of player he would be over his excellent career. RB Doug Blackowski scored the would be game winner in the first half of the 3OT and then the Statesmen defense took over. They forced four Robertson incompletions to win the game. Both QBs threw for five TDs and the teams combined for over 1,000 yards of total offense.

#12
Hobart 33 Lycoming 15 (11/22/08) - This game was interesting in that Hobart needed two long FGs in their final two games to get into the playoffs. QB Rich Doyle basically played with a separated shoulder to rescue the season with a sloppy 10-7 win against a three win Rochester squad the week before. Doug Vella started that game at QB but got the hook after struggling. It was an entirely different Statesmen team that took the field this Saturday on a snow covered Boswell Field. Hobart dominated the MAC champs and used that momentum to go toe to toe with #1 Mount Union the following week (for the first half anyway).

#11
Hobart 19 SLU 17 (11/7/15) - Hobart needed a last second (and somewhat controversial) WR Cooper Merrill receiving TD to upset the ranked Saint Lawrence Saints. The pass by Merrill was ruled a dual possession which, by rule, goes to the offense. The Saints were favored and hoped to claim their first LL title and playoff berth since 2010 on the Statesmen's home field. Hobart hasn't played the role of spoiler or underdog much in the last 20 years, but this was definitely one of the most memorable times they did.