BANGOR, Maine - Following one of the most successful seasons in the program's history last year, the Husson University football team will enter the 2018 season looking to capture the program's fourth Eastern Collegiate Football Conference Championship (ECFC) in the last five years, and make a third-straight appearance in the NCAA Division III playoffs.
After capturing ECFC titles in 2014 and 2016, Husson's run of success continued last fall, as the program captured back-to-back ECFC championships for the first time in program history becoming the first team in ECFC history to repeat as the league champion. The Eagles went a perfect 7-0 in ECFC play for the third time in the last four seasons, a feat that no league member has ever accomplished before and finished the regular season with a 9-1 overall mark for the second straight season with a 42-14 victory over Mount Ida College in the final matchup between the two schools on November 11. As Mount Ida announced in the Spring of 2018, they would be closing their doors for good. The Mustangs were the only team the Eagles played in every year since the program was reestablished after a 58-year hiatus in 2002 and first completed in 2003.
After the senior day victory over the Mustangs, the Eagles then went on to make program history with its 23-21 victory over #19/#20 Springfield College Pride in the first round of the NCAA Division III playoffs on November 18, marking the program's first win in three appearances and the its first ever win over a ranked opponent. The Eagles however bowed out of the NCAA Division III playoffs with a 37-15 loss to #5/#7 Delaware Valley (DelVal) University Aggies in the second round on November 25. With the loss to DelVal, the Eagles finished their 15th year anniversary season with double-digit wins for the first time in program history with a 10-2 overall mark.
Husson finished the season ranked No. 3 in New England in the final Grinold Chapter New England Division III Poll for the second straight season, and for the first time in program history, Husson University broke into the national rankings. The Eagles, who entered the AFCA Poll at No. 31 in the final regular season edition on November 13, climbed ten spots to No. 21 and was unranked in the final D3Football.com regular season edition, jumped up to a tie for No. 25 with Franklin. The final AFCA and d3football.com rankings represent the highest in program history and marked the first time that a team from the ECFC was ranked in the top 25 in both polls. The team's final NCAA East regional ranking of No. 6 also represented a program best. It was third time in program history that the team has been ranked by the NCAA.
However, after graduating seven offensive and five defensive starters from last year's team, a number of new faces will take centerstage for the Eagles in 2018.
The Eagles, picked to finish first in the ECFC in 2018, are slated to return 66 letterwinners from last year's team, including four offensive and six defensive starters, with a 50-person freshman class helping to bolster an already talented roster. Among the returners are senior and AP Little All-American, All-Region, and All-ECFC First Team cornerback and kick returner Quan Soyini, All-ECFC First Team selections in senior quarterback Cory Brandon and linebacker Elvin Suazo, All-ECFC Second Team and American College Football Network (ACFN) Freshman All-American sophomore defensive end Frank Curran, All-ECFC First Team and ACFN) Freshman All-American sophomore left tackle Jacob Cameron, All-ECFC First Team and All-Region senior left guard Brad Weston, All-ECFC Second Team senior defensive tackle Tarik Smith, and All-ECFC Second Team junior kicker Devin Pickett.
With a different look to the squad than last year, the Husson coaching staff hopes the Eagles' talent will become evident as the group gains experience on the field.
The Eagles featured one of the most dynamic offenses in Division III last season, leading the ECFC and ranking 28th in the nation with 37.6 points per game, while ranking first in the conference and 59th in Division III with 423.5 yards per contest.
As the Eagles work to build their offensive identity, it is no secret that success and leadership will have to come from the signal-caller position as senior tri-captain Cory Brandon has played in 32 games during the past three seasons, while starting the last 25 games. Brandon (12 games, 157-for-251, 1,924 yards, 16 TDs) is coming off a junior season where earned his second straight All-ECFC First Team selection and surpassed Joe Seccareccia '16 as the program's all-time passing touchdown and passes completed leader and David Chase '06 for the most passing yards in program history.
Junior David Morrison (six games, 10-for-17, 91 yards) and freshman Frank Veino will provide the depth behind Brandon.
The biggest hole the team will need to fill will be at running back, following the loss of John Smith (340 rushes, 2,242 yards, 31 TDs), a four-year starter and one of the best backs in NCAA Division III history and the best in New England intercollegiate history. With the absent the Smith and the Eagles number two and three rushers from the year ago, the Eagles will have a number of possibilities to attempt to fill the void.
Sophomores Miece Loureiro, Frederick Walker and Jordan Marcano are among the team's returning options at running back. They combined to carry for the ball for 25 times for 221 yards and a touchdown in 2017.
Freshman Shawn Noel, Jr. and Solomon Hassen will provide additional depth to the Eagle running game.
The Eagles deepest and most experienced unit on offense is their receiving corps, which will return seven players who caught one pass last season.
The team's top returning receiver is senior Kyle Gaudet, who finished second on the squad with 32 receptions, 453 yards and four touchdowns last year, including a seven reception, 151-yard game at Gallaudet. Also joining Gaudet, who caught a pass from Brandon last year are fellow seniors Ty Bassett (four receptions, 53 yards, one TD), and Max Troiano (one reception, ten yards) and junior Quintarian Brown (eight receptions, 138 yards, one TD).
Sophomore tight end Aidan Hogan added eight receptions for 72 yards and two touchdowns, while sophomore Patrick Cullen (one reception, ten yards), who played wide receiver last season, switches to tight end in 2018, each will look to fill the void left behind by 2017 All-ECFC First Team selection DJ Allen, who left Husson as the school's leader in every category among Eagle tight ends, including receptions (66), yards (595), games played (37) and ranked second in touchdowns (six).
Sophomores Gaston Gunnberg-Querat, Corey Moore, and Tyler Halls, a transfer from Western New England University, could all factor into the receiving game in 2018 as well.
The offensive line was another strength for the Eagles in 2017, allowing just 1.33 sacks per game. And while the team will be losing the three starters on the of the line, HU will return their whole left side in 2018, who are regard as the best in the conference and one of the best in New England, and have a number of experienced options capable of filling the gaps.
All-American sophomore left tackle Jacob Cameron and All-Region senior left guard Brad Weston each started all 12 games last season and will aim to anchor the line once again in 2018. Senior center Dominic Boulrisse, junior right tackle David Bednarz, a transfer from Fitchburg State University, and junior right guard Colin Spence will look to make a smooth transition to starter in 2018.
Looking to expand their roles in the upcoming season will be senior Efran Nouel, junior Jordan Davis, and sophomore Aidan Asher.
HU's defense also ranked at the top of the ECFC in a number of areas last year, leading all league teams with 245.0 yards allowed per game (8th in DIII) and 14.2 points allowed per contest (18th in DIII and the lowest in program history). The Eagles featured the top rushing defense in the league as well, allowing just 101.8 yards on the ground (31st in DIII), while the team's 143.3 passing yards allowed per game were 14th in Division III and second in the ECFC. HU also ranked first in the conference in 3rd down conversion pct. defense (0.293), interceptions (19), team passing efficiency defense (96.90), defensive touchdowns (3), and turnovers gained (31).
Despite graduating a number of key players from last year's defense, the Eagles will be returning a group of experienced players, including five starters from the 2017 squad.
The defensive line looks to be the strength of the Eagles' defense in 2018, with All-American sophomore Frank Curran returning at defensive end and senior Tarik Smith and junior Lionel Guillaume returning to anchor the middle of the line. Curran finished his rookie season sixth on the team with 41 tackles (12 for loss), while also totaling four sacks, one pass breakup, and one interception. T. Smith tallied 48 tackles (ten for loss, 5.5 sacks), a pass breakup and a forced fumble, while Guillaume registered 14 total tackles and forced two fumbles.
Junior defensive end Anthony Bednarz, a transfer from Fitchburg State University, will receive the another starting nod on the line that was left behind with the graduation of Austin Odd.
Senior John Chen and sophomore Josh Hoy will provide experience to the unit, while freshman David Redmond and Brandon Rivers will aim to breakthrough into the lineup in 2018 as well.
The heart of the defense for the Eagles will be its linebackers, in particular senior tri-captain inside linebacker Elvin Suazo, who earned All-ECFC First Team selection last season after leading the team in tackles with 87, including eight for a loss. Suazo also added a pair of forced fumbles and recoveries and 5.5 sacks.
Sophomore Derek Barden saw time in a reserve role last season, and will emerge as the other starter at inside linebacker this coming season. Barden finished his rookie campaign with 21 tackles (2.5 for loss), two sacks, and one blocked kick.
Junior Matthew Montford, sophomore Kaleb Caron and freshman Tyreek Bromley could all see time on the field at inside linebacker as well in 2018.
Led by returning All-American senior tri-captain cornerback Quan Soyini, a 2018 Preseason All-American selection by Lindy's Sports and College Football America, the Eagles' defensive backfield will likely feature a mix of experienced returners and first-year players in 2018.
Soyini, who garnered All-ECFC first team honors as a cornerback and a kick returner, recorded 40 tackles (3.0 for loss), 1.5 sacks, 14 pass breakups and nine interceptions in 2017. He also became Husson's all-time interceptions leader with his game ending pick in the program's first-ever postseason victory over Springfield and then broke Adam Scott's 14-year old single-season interceptions record of eight in the Eagles loss to Delaware Valley.
Also slated to return at cornerback are sophomore De'Wayne Smith, who registered 20 tackles (one for loss) and a pair of interceptions during his freshman campaign and junior Nick Alvarez, who notched seven tackles year ago. At safety, junior Jordan Ayer, played in six games last season, while senior Antonio Rocha started nine games last year, recording 34 tackles and an interception. Junior Marcell Mitchell, who appeared in two games off the bench and notched three tackles (one for loss) and a sack, and junior Zach Connolly, could also factor into the rotation at safety this year.
Jake Dobos, who started at safety for the Eagles last season, will move over to rover to fill the void left by All-American Jean Gabriel departure. Dobos registered 35 tackles (2.5 for loss), an interception and five pass breakups, while junior Jackson Leonard will provide depth at the position.
Freshman Ace Curry could see playing time in the Eagle defensive backfield in 2018.
With the majority of the key players from the unit returning this season, the Eagles should once again be strong across the board on special teams. Junior Devin Pickett will likely assume the team's placekicking duties for the second-straight season. Last season Pickett, became the first placekicker in program history to earn All-ECFC honors, connected on 58-of-60 extra point attempts in route to rewriting the kicking portion of the Husson football record as he broke the single-season records for extra points made and attempts and points scored by kicking (61), while converting his last 30 extra points attempts, the longest such streak in program history. Junior Michael Popolizio returns as the Eagles punter in 2018, while Dominic Boulrisse will serve as the team's long snapper for the second straight season and freshman Dawson Stevens will be handle the kickoff duties.
Quan Soyini will also be a factor in the punt return game, after averaging 13.6 yards per return with one touchdown in 24 returns. Both Quintarian Brown (27.2 yards per kick return) and Ty Bassett (32.7 yards per kick return) will once again be featured on kick returns in 2018.
The Eagles are slated to open the 2018 campaign on September 1st with a road contest against Union College. The contest, which will be the second straight season the Eagles and Dutchman after open up their season against each other. The Eagles won last season's opener 20-7.
From there, the Eagles will turn their attention to the two future Commonwealth Coast Football opponents, as they head down I-95 to Biddeford to face the Nor'Easters of the University of New England in their first ever home varsity game on September 8 before putting the program's 14 game home winning streak on the line, the following Saturday versus Western New England University Golden Bears.
The Eagles will begin their final ECFC conference slate at SUNY Maritime on September 19th, before returning home to host Dean under the Winkin Sports Complex nights on Friday, October 5th. From there, the Eagles will travel to the State of New York for the third time this season to take on the Pioneers of Alfred State College on October 13th.
HU will celebrate Homecoming Weekend on October 20th against Anna Maria, and will then travel to Castleton for the final matchup between the two longtime rivals before playing the final ECFC game at home vs. Gallaudet. Husson will conclude the regular season on the road against Plymouth State. The contest, which will be the first matchup between to the two schools in 13 years and first at Plymouth since the 2004 season.