Head Coach Gabby Price previews the 2017 season for the Eagles.
BANGOR, Maine - The Husson University football team finished the 2016 season with a 9-2 record, winning the Eastern Collegiate Football Conference (ECFC) title with a 7-0 conference mark for the second time in the last three years. Now, with 69 players slated to return from last year's championship team, including 10 starters and a large senior class, the Eagles are primed for another strong season in 2017.
Among the team's returners are seven players who earned an all-conference honor from the ECFC. Included in that group are seniors John Smith, the 2016 ECFC Offense Player of the Year, and Luke Washburn, the 2016 ECFC Defensive Player of the Year. Behind last year's success and the high number of returning contributors, the Eagles are primed to earn their first ever back-to-back conference championships and the bids to the NCAA Championship tournament that is associated with it and will be looking for their first-ever postseason victory in program history in their 15th season since the football team was reestablished in 2003 after a 59 year hiatus.
In addition to the large senior class, the Eagles roster will feature 52 newcomers to the roster, one of the largest incoming groups in the program's history.
Last year's campaign was the Eagles' eighth consecutive winning season under head coach Gabby Price - 2016 ECFC Coach of the Year - with the team going 52-26 (good for a .667 winning percentage during the stretch).
The Husson University offense has been one of the most dynamic in the ECFC over the past three seasons. In 2014, the Eagles featured a high-powered rushing attack, with 25 touchdowns coming via the rush, while the 2015 squad saw the offensive game plan switch to a more balance attack as 24 of the 52 offensive touchdowns came via the passing game. Last Season, HU featured a high-octane balanced attack behind one of the most dominate offensive lines in nation coached by the 2016 ECFC Assistant Coach of the Year, Nat Clark.
The Eagle line which was led by senior left tackle Nick Lewis, the 2016 ECFC Offensive Lineman of the Year, and All-ECFC first team selection, senior right tackle Jon Walker with fellow seniors James Osgood (Center), and Seth Batty (Left Guard) and junior right guard Austin Odd helped All-ECFC selections, sophomore quarterback Cory Brandon, junior tailback John Smith, junior tight end DJ Allen and senior wide-outs Deon Wiggins and Kadeem Edge set 21 offensive team single-season records in 2016.
Over the past three seasons, HU has scored 36.0 points per game, including 19 games of 40 or more points during the stretch. The 2016 squad averaged 38.8 points per contest, the 28th-best in Division III during the season and the highest in program history, while the team's 243.8 rushing yards per game were the 24th-highest in Division III during the year, while the passing attack recorded their highest single-season average of passing yards-per-game (220.5) in program history during the campaign.
Brandon will enter his second season as the team's starting quarterback, having already built a legacy as one of the top quarterbacks in the program's history as he became the first QB to throw for 2,000 yards or more, throw 25 or more touchdown passes and the first offensive player to record 2,000 yards or more of total offense in a single-season in his first season at the helm of the Eagle offense. Last season, en-route to earning All-ECFC First Team honors, he set the HU single-season records for passes completed (157), passing yards (2,323), touchdown passes (27), passing completion pct. (59.2), passing efficiency (159.0), average yards-per-attempt (8.8), passing yards-per-game (211.2), total offense yards (2,303, total offense-per-game (209.4) and total offense-per-play (7.86), while breaking or tying five single-game records.
Returning depth behind Brandon is senior Parker Asselin and sophomore David Harrison, a transfer from Westfield State University.
Senior John Smith emerged as one of the top running backs in the nation during his junior campaign in 2016, becoming the first player in program history to rush for over 1,000 yards in a season for the third straight season, finishing with 1,822 and 17 touchdowns. For his efforts, J. Smith he earned his second-straight D3football.com All-East Region selection, becoming the first Eagle player in program history to be named to the team twice. He was tabbed as the ECFC's Offensive Player of the Year for the second-straight season, a first team All-ECFC selection for the third-straight season, and a NEFW All-New England selection for the third-straight season.
Junior Chuck Browne (174 yards), senior Lucas Bickford and sophomore Keyshaun Robinson could also factor into the running game during the 2017 year.
WIDE RECEIVER / TIGHT END
The team's most noticeable loss on offense will be at receiver, where 2016 All-ECFC selections Deon Wiggins and Kadeem Edge who combined to produce 60 receptions, 1,148 receiving yards and 17 receiving touchdowns in 2016. However, the unit will be bolstered by the return of All-ECFC First Team senior tight end DJ Allen (25 receptions, 225 yards, two TDs) and senior slot receiver Robenson Saintard (18 receptions, 298 yards, four TDs). In addition, a pair of underclassman receivers, juniors Kyle Gaudet (16 receptions, 182 yards, two TDs), and Ty Bassett (six receptions, 122 yards, one TD), who all saw extensive time on the field last year will look to see their roles expanded with Wiggins' and Edge's departures.
The unit, which is one of the deepest on the team, also features senior Luis Martinez, juniors Max Troiano and Jackson Cust, and sophomores Quintraian Brown, Anthony Brunelle, Devin Gantt, and Ron Hargrove.
The Eagle offensive line features four seniors and 15 total players who have all seen significant playing time over their careers. Seniors Josh Rivera, Luis Rivera, Briar Bussell and Brandon Darias will help the fill the void that were left by the departures of Seth Batty, Nick Lewis - 2016 ECFC Offensive Lineman of the Year, James Osgood and Jon Walker.
Adding to the team's depth at offensive line will be senior Arty Ryan, juniors Brad Weston, Dominic Boulrisse, Louis LaFache, Efran Nouel, and sophomores Logan Ouellette, Collin Spence.
Husson's defense remained one of the preeminent units in the ECFC and the country in 2016 as the Husson defense led all of Division III by allowing 181.7 yards per game - an average of 3.30 yards per play. The Eagles were the only team in all of college football in 2016 to hold opponents under 200 yards per game.
Husson also led Division III in rushing defense by permitting only 476 yards and eight touchdowns on 394 carries - just 1.60 per carry. The Eagles also put opposing passers on their backs 34 times this fall (3.40 per game), 14th most in Division III and most in the ECFC.
Husson was also stout against the pass, allowing 88 completions on 244 attempts for only 1,341 yards (5.5 per attempt) with 11 touchdowns and 15 interceptions, good enough to lead all of college football with an 84.81 opposing passer rating and ranked third in Division III in passing yards allowed (134.1).
The Eagles also led Division III in third down defense (19.9 percent conversion rate), first down defense (86) and ranked 12th with 8.9 tackles for loss per game.
The Eagle defensive which was led by the junior defensive tackle Luke Washburn - 2016 ECFC Defensive Player of the Year - and All-ECFC selections, senior linebacker Ellis Throckmorton, senior rover Logan Steward, junior cornerback Jean Gabriel, sophomore defensive end Elvin Suazo and sophomore cornerback Quan Soyini set combine to help the defense set 13 defensive team single-season records in 2016.
With seven returning starters, a number of key players coming back from injuries, and a large group of players who saw time on the field last year, the defense will once again look to stay at the top of the ECFC and the nation.
The most experienced group on either side of the ball for the Eagles is the defensive line, which will feature three returning starters, will once again be one of the team's strengths. Emerging as one of the top players at the defensive tackle position in the conference and the nation was Luke Washburn, who named a finalist for the Cliff Harris Award, presented to the nation's top small college defensive player of the year after being named Husson's fourth-straight ECFC's Defensive Player of the Year and a NEFW All-New England selection in 2016. Washburn led all HU players with 12 sacks and 18.5 tackles for a loss during his junior season. Senior Tarik Smith will be back as well, after recording 1.0 sacks last season at the another defensive tackle position.
Other returners who could see time at defensive line include senior Austin Odd, who moves over from the offensive side of play after starting all 11 games last season as the right guard, junior Nate Buchannan, and sophomores Billy Campbell, Jonathan Bravo, Lionel Guillaume, a transfer from Foothill College and freshman Frank Curran, who miss all of the 2016 with an injury.
The Eagles' biggest loss on defense from last year's squad will likely be at linebacker, following the graduation of Ellis Throckmorton, a four time All-ECFC selection, and Alonzo Connor, who turned in fantastic final campaigns, combining for 115 tackles, 29.0 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks, two interceptions and eight quarterback hurries.
Junior Elvin Suazo (40 tackles, 8.5 sacks, 15.5 TFL), an All-ECFC Second Team defensive end in 2016 will be switching positions this season to fill at least one of the spots left open from Throckmorton's and Connor's departure.
Senior Christian Mowrer, junior Evan McAuliffe, and sophomore Zach Connolly, a transfer from Western Connecticut State University will provide additional depth at the position.
Leading one of the best secondaries in the ECFC will be senior rover Jean Gabriel and junior cornerback Quan Soyini. Last season, Gabriel notched 26 tackles, one interception, one sack, three tackles for loss and three pass breakups. Soyini recorded the third most tackles by a defensive back last season with 31 tackles, while adding three interceptions to go with eight pass breakups.
Juniors Jake Dobos and Antonio Rocha are slated to start at the safety positions, with junior Alex Mace and Cody Soucier, and sophomores Jordan Ayer, Isiah Swan and Nick Alvarez all expected to see time in the secondary.
Sophomore Devin Pickett will handle the kicking duties this season, while Ty Bassett will have the opportunity to pull double-duty again at wide receiver and punter, after averaging 34.8 yards per punt last season.
Senior Robenson Saintard and sophomore Quintraian Brown will be among those competing for kickoff duties this year. Quan Soyini is likely to see time as the team's punt returner this season with the departure of Deon Wiggins.