Seniors Ben Hummer, Kurtis Leonard and Jepthe Soulouque along with Head Coach Mark Murnyack discuss the Cadets' goals for 2016.
NORTHFIELD, Vt. - Boasting one of the largest rosters in recent memory, the Norwich University football program will look to blend its seasoned returning corps with many fresh faces in the quest for an eighth-straight postseason appearance in 2016. The defending Eastern Collegiate Football Conference (ECFC) champions, all eyes are on Norwich in the quest for its fourth league title since 2009.
With around 70 newcomers in camp this August, Head Coach Mark Murnyack and his staff are looking to replace 15 graduating seniors from last year's ECFC championship squad. Fortunately, the Cadets enter the 120th season of football in Northfield, Vt. with strong veteran leadership that stems from a triumvirate of captains, seniors Benjamin Hummer (Annapolis, Md.), Kurtis Leonard (Greenland, N.H.) and Jepthe Soulouque (Everett, Mass.).
Murnyack's charges have posted an impressive 34-20 overall record over the past five seasons under his tutelage. Since joining the ECFC prior to the 2009 season, Norwich has accumulated 39 victories in 47 league games and will look to win back-to-back championships for the first time in 2016.
Maintaining what has proven to be a well-rounded offensive attack will be important for Norwich in the upcoming year. The team returns its Most Valuable Player, Pierre Noel (Manchester, N.H.), who also secured ECFC First Team All-Conference merits after posting four touchdowns while racking up 712 receiving yards. His mark of 55 receptions in one season stands as the second-best single year mark in team history.
Quoted as the "foundation for what we do as a team offensively" by Murnyack, the offensive line possesses a wealth of experience as ECFC All-Conference selections Marc Fils-Aime (Everett, Mass.) and Leonard will continue to provide protection for Norwich's offensive weapons. Peter Kinahan (Stamford, Conn.), another returner on the offensive line, joined Fils-Aime and Leonard in allowing the Norwich offense to throw for 1,908 yards (sixth-most all-time) and rush for 524 total yards (10th-most all-time).
Junior Philippe Bazinet (Otterburn Park, Quebec, Canada), a recipient of the Most Improved Player award a season ago, is poised to maintain his starting position as the team's quarterback. In his first season of action, Bazinet threw for 1,848 yards and eight touchdowns. Completing well over half of his passes, his 55.1% completion percentage is the highest of any Norwich quarterback since Ed Meehan '55 (55.26%) in 1952.
On defense, Norwich retains the services of several All-Conference players, including linebacker Jake Apthorpe (Honeoye Falls, N.Y.) and defensive back Austin Roberts (East Bridgewater, Mass.). Apthorpe ranked second in the conference with 6.5 sacks while the team registered seven interceptions to rank within the nation's top-40 programs. Additionally, the defensive corps would limit ECFC opponents to only 150.7 yards per game on the ground, second in the league.
Special teams will remain a point of strength for the Cadets as senior Wesley Medeiros (Gilford, N.H.) will assume kicking and punting duties once again. Converting 12-of-16 field goals, including a 47-yard make against WPI in 2015, Medeiros added 23 extra points and went on to secure ECFC Special Teams Player of the Year – he needs only six field goals in 2016 to capture the team's all-time career record of 36.
With preseason wrapping up in the coming weeks, the Cadets will turn their attention away from the practice field and toward its non-conference schedule that covers the first three games of the year. A strong out-of-league slate of contests assists the team in preparing for conference play and, hopefully, an NCAA Division III Tournament game in late November.
A challenging schedule of games lies ahead for the Cadets, who will begin the year with long-time rival Rensselaer on Saturday, Sept. 3 for a 1 p.m. showdown at Sabine Field.