Gardner Named Seventh Stonehill Football Head Coach in Program’s Varsity Era

Skyhawks promote assistant head coach/defensive coordinator to lead program

EASTON, Mass. (June 9, 2016) – Stonehill College has named Eli Gardner as its seventh head football coach in the program's varsity era. The announcement was made today by Dean O'Keefe '94, director of athletics at the College.

"I am thrilled Coach Gardner has accepted the opportunity to lead our football program and build upon the culture of academic and athletic excellence he has helped create in his seven years at Stonehill," said O'Keefe. "This position attracted a large number of quality applicants from across the country, and the search process confirmed Eli is one of the brightest young minds in collegiate football who is ready to serve our institution as head coach. I am confident his work as a teacher and mentor for our student-athletes will provide them not only the skills to compete on the field, but the knowledge and experience to contribute to our community and succeed in their chosen path after graduation."

Gardner takes over after serving seven seasons on former head coach Robert Talley's coaching staff. The Gridiron Club of Greater Boston's 2015 Division II Assistant Coach of the Year, Gardner completed his second season as assistant head coach last fall, having served as the Skyhawks Defensive Coordinator for five seasons. He has served as positional coach for the defensive backs and linebackers over his time on the Stonehill sideline as well.

"It is my honor and privilege to become the next head football coach at Stonehill College," said Gardner. "I would like to thank Fr. John Denning (Stonehill President), Pauline Dobrowski (Vice President for Student Affairs), Dean O'Keefe and Robert Talley for their confidence and faith in allowing me this tremendous opportunity. I would also like to thank my wife, Stephanie, for allowing me to chase my passion and being relentlessly supportive throughout this process and beyond."

Gardner, who joined Stonehill prior to the 2009 season as special teams coordinator and linebackers coach, has transformed the Stonehill defense into one of the premier units in not just the Northeast-10 Conference, but within all of Division II since taking over as defensive coordinator during the 2011 season. He directed a Stonehill defense which ranked second in the NE-10 and 11th nationally in Division II for total defense last season, allowing just 279.2 yards per game, and second in the Conference for passing defense (17th nationally) at 158.5 yards per game. The Skyhawks led the NE-10 (23rd) in rushing defense (120.6 yds/gm) and ranked fourth (34th) for scoring defense (20.9 ppg). The defense also ranked eighth nationally for first down defense (14.4 allowed per game) and 15th for third down conversion defense (30.6%).   

15 Stonehill defensive players have earned All-Northeast-10 Conference honors in Gardner's five seasons as defensive coordinator, with four also collecting All-Super Region 1 accolades and Jareed Gaines, '13, and Brian Harrington, '15 earning All-America status. Harrington had a record-breaking season for the Skyhawks in 2013 and was a finalist for the inaugural Cliff Harris Award for the top small college defensive player in the country, while also earning the Joseph P. Zabilski Defensive Player of the Year Award from the Gridiron Club of Greater Boston.

Stonehill ranked in the top ten nationally in Division II for total defense (6th) in 2014, allowing an NE-10 low 284 yards per game, and rushing defense (10th), yielding a Conference low 94.7 yards per game. He helped guide the Skyhawks to a share of the 2013 Northeast-10 regular season championship for the first time in program history as the team posted its first winning season (8-3, 8-1 NE-10) since 1996. In addition to his sideline duties, Gardner has been Stonehill's lead recruiter in his home state of New Jersey, while also gaining valuable ties in Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York and Maine. He also initiated and ran the football program's social media marketing and promotions campaigns, coordinated the annual Stonehill Football Alumni Golf Outing and Winter Social.

"Stonehill has created an environment that truly allows for students and student-athletes alike to develop morally, socially, intellectually and spiritually," said Gardner. "I am beyond excited to remain a part of this community and build a program that will continue to be a source of pride. Our young men will serve as true ambassadors of the College, helping to create a program of distinction."

Gardner, a Milford, New Jersey native, spent one year as defensive line coach and video coordinator at Western New England University, his alma mater, prior to joining the coaching staff at Stonehill in 2009. He is a 2008 graduate of Western New England, having earned his Master's Degree in Athletic Administration from Endicott College in 2014.

Stonehill finished 2015 with its second winning season over the past three years, posting a 7-4 record overall, including 5-4 in NE-10 play to finish fourth in the Conference standings. The Skyhawks will open their 2016 season when it hosts perennial Super Region 1 power Bloomsburg (Pa.) University for a non-conference matchup at W.B. Mason Stadium on Friday, September 2, at 6 p.m. 

More Quotes on Gardner: 

"I am so happy for Eli, the football program and the entire Stonehill community with this announcement. Eli has been working towards this day since he first arrived on campus and he has earned and deserves this opportunity. He has a passion for the football program and the College, and a deep understanding of the culture. His leadership position as defensive coordinator will serve him well as in steps into a new role. His intensity, focus and attention to detail will elevate this program to new heights."

– Robert Talley, former Stonehill head coach

"I couldn't be more excited for Eli as he takes over as head football coach at Stonehill College. He is a great coach that cares about his craft and the student-athletes that he mentors. Skyhawk football has a bright future ahead with Eli at the helm."

– Keith Emery, head coach Western New England University

With 20 intercollegiate sports, Stonehill boasts one of the top athletic and academic programs in the country. In addition to finishing in the top three of the Northeast-10 Conference Presidents' Cup standings for overall athletic performance 12 straight years, the Skyhawks have received the NCAA Division II Presidents' Award for Academic Achievement each of the first five years of the program's existence of honoring institutions with an Academic Success Rate (ASR) of 90-percent or better. Stonehill has earned a 96% Academic Success Ranking (ASR) by the NCAA two straight years, which considers the academic success rate of the institution based on the graduation rate of student-athletes, good for fifth among all NCAA Division II institutions, with 12 Skyhawk teams receiving a perfect rating of 100%. In addition, the Skyhawks are ranked third in the National Collegiate Scouting Association (NCSA) Power Rankings for Division II used to assess the academic and athletic standards of all NCAA and NAIA athletic programs. Stonehill has also been selected as the host of the 2016 NCAA Division II Field Hockey Championships at W.B. Mason Stadium.

For the latest on Stonehill Athletics, follow the Skyhawks via social media on Twitter and Facebook. Fans can also download the Stonehill Skyhawks "Front Row" mobile app, powered by PrestoSports, on iTunes and the Android Market.

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