Senior captain Jareed Gaines heads a strong list of returning players for the Skyhawks defensive unit. (PHOTO BY Richard Orr)
BY Jim Fenton
The Stonehill College football team ended last season on an upbeat note, winning back-to-back games for the first time.
With 18 returning starters, the Skyhawks are hoping the positive finish will carry over into the 2012 season.
"It's huge,'' said coach Robert Talley of ending a 4-7 season with consecutive victories. "A lot of our guys have the mindset right now that we're 2-0 going into this season.
"Even though it was a disappointing season, it's nice to end with a taste of victory in your mouth. It gives you motivation going into the offseason when we had so many kids coming back, so let's take that and build on that.''
Stonehill, which reported to training camp on Aug. 10, begins the season with a tough task when it hosts Bloomsburg University of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference at W.B. Mason Stadium on Aug. 31 at 6 p.m.
The Huskies are ranked 25th in the American Football Coaches Association Div. 2 preseason poll after going 9-2 a year ago, and they reached the second round of the NCAA tournament in 2010.
"We have a really tough schedule,'' said Talley, now in his sixth season at Stonehill. "Bloomsburg is a great opportunity for us. They're a playoff-caliber team and we'll need to play our butts off.
"Then we've got Southern (Connecticut), so that's two big, physical teams right away. We've prepared over the summer to be bigger, faster and stronger.''
Senior Jermetrius Troy is the Skyhawks top returning rusher from 2011. (PHOTO BY Andrew Katsampes)
Meyer threw for 1,500 yards and 11 touchdowns in seven games last season, but missed four games with a sprained ankle. He returned for the final two games that Stonehill won.
"He played games as a freshman and really came on last year and then got hurt,'' said Talley. "He's definitely a guy who has all the tools. He's a good football player, but he hasn't had that full season yet. We're hoping to keep him healthy and he'll give us a chance to be successful.''
Troy rushed for 734 yards and seven touchdowns while Willis (356 yards) and Johnson (319 yards, four touchdowns) also contributed. Freshman Deontae Ramey-Doe of BC High will also get some playing time.
"There's only one football,'' said Talley, "but I think all four will help this team be successful.''
Wide receiver John Gomes led Stonehill with 49 catches for 668 yards and five TDs while Zaire Reiph (24 receptions, 341 yards) also returns. Kyle Norwood and Nate Robitaille will also contribute at that spot while Danny Oakes made 20 catches at tight end a year ago.
The veteran offensive line features center Chris Bolte, who was an all-conference tackle last season; left tackle Tom Linden; right tackle Matt Lohrey; right guard Andrew Valeri; and newcomer Jeff Egitto.
The Stonehill defense improved as the season went on last fall, and there is plenty of experience.
The entire front seven returns with ends Eric Schneider and Brandon Weiss, who made the all-rookie team; tackles Sean Bresnan and Lucus Brum; and linebackers Raymond Bass, Michael Hogan (61 tackles) and Ryan Hunt.
Safety Jareed Gaines was the team most valuable player a year ago, making 97 tackles with three sacks, and is "a big-time player for us,'' said Talley. Also in the secondary will be Timmy Bennett, Kevin Anderson, James Lanier and Mickey Miela.
"We've got a bunch of guys who have played since they were freshmen, which really helps,'' said Talley. "They've got a really good idea of what we're doing. They played well last year and came up with some turnovers late in the season.''