Aug. 31, 2009
There won't be any sneaking up on the opposition this season for the Johns Hopkins football team. One year after surpassing all prognostications and expectations with an 8-3 record, the Blue Jays take on the role of the hunted instead of the hunter. With preseason national rankings from The Sporting News (18th) and Lindy's (24th) and the top spot in the Centennial Conference's Preseason Poll, Johns Hopkins enters the season with a target planted firmly on its back.
Leading the Blue Jays into the season for the 20th consecutive year is Jim Margraff, the all-time winningest coach in school history. Margraff, whose first win of the 2009 season will give him exactly twice as many wins as any other coach in school history, may just have the talent on hand to handle such lofty expectations. Consider:
Every player who scored an offensive touchdown last season - 34 in all - returns.
Players who accounted for 4,122 of the team's 4,158 yards of total offense in 2008 are back.
The top three tacklers from the defensive line return after combining for 120 tackles last season.
The second line of defense in JHU's 4-4-3 defensive alignment returns three starters and might be the most athletic group in school history.
Below is a position-by-position breakdown of the team with key returning personnel included.
Sophomores Hewitt Tomlin and Tyler Porco combined to start all 11 games last season and senior Michael Murray returns with starting experience as well.
Tomlin got the starting nod in nine games and set a JHU and Centennial Conference freshman record with 1,847 yards passing. He also tossed nine touchdowns and nearly led the Blue Jays to a stunning upset of fifth-ranked Muhlenberg when he threw for 387 yards and a pair of scores. With a receiving corps returning nearly intact and a running game that will take away some of the pressure, he could emerge as one of the top young quarterbacks in the nation.
Porco actually earned the start in the season-opener a year ago before suffering an injury that sidelined him for several weeks. He returned to play in four games and got the start in the ECAC Southeast Championship game against Catholic after Tomlin went down with an injury in the last regular season game of the year. Porco is dangerous as a passer or runner and teams with Tomlin to give the Blue Jays an exciting young combination at quarterback.
While Tomlin and Porco provide the youthful energy, Murray can be called on for an experienced veteran presence. He ranks among the school's career leaders in completions (186), passing yards (1,952) and 200-yard games (5) and could finish among the top 10 in all three categories.
Any discussion about the Blue Jays this season is likely to start with senior running back Andrew Kase, who enters his final season with the all-time school rushing record already in his pocket.
Kase rushed for a school-record 1,635 yards and added a record 17 touchdowns last season. He earned First Team All-Centennial and All-ECAC honors and finished eighth in the nation in rushing yards per game (148.6).
Kase's 2,954 are already the most in school history, as are his 16 career 100-yard games. He owns more than 10 school records and has added a burst of speed in the off-season to complement his bruising running style.
As if the return of Kase weren't enough, Margraff and the coaching staff are very excited about the potential of sophomore Lyndon O'Connor, who finished third on the team with 143 yards rushing last season. O'Connor averaged 7.9 yards per carry a year ago and flashed some of his boundless potential with a 69-yard touchdown run in a 36-34 win over Dickinson. His ability to take some of the load off Kase will make the Blue Jay offense even more dynamic as he is the lightning to Kase's thunder. Sophomore Nick Fazio also figures into the plans at running back after totaling 155 yards and one touchdown a year ago.
One of the two starters lost on offense came in the backfield as senior Jay Adams steps into the starting fullback spot. Despite not starting, Adams brings a wealth of game experience as he led the team with 14 special teams tackles last season.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
How young were the Johns Hopkins receivers last season? The Blue Jays return their top four receivers from a year ago and still none of them are seniors.
Junior Tucker Michels, a Second Team All-Centennial selection last season, headlines the returnees as he led the team with 63 receptions for 682 yards and four touchdowns a year ago. His 63 receptions last season are the sixth-highest single-season total in school history and most ever by a JHU sophomore. He provides a good target (6-2 / 205) and should only continue to grow in the offense as the young quarterbacks develop.
If Michels is branded as the Blue Jay receiver who moves the chains, then sophomore Sam Wernick provides the home run threat. Wernick posted 37 receptions for 663 yards (17.9 ypr) and four touchdowns as a freshman last season. He burned fifth-ranked Muhlenberg for touchdown receptions of 91 and 81 yards and added a 60-yard touchdown reception in a win at Ursinus. He is a threat to go all the way every time he catches the ball and compares favorably to Brian Wolcott, a standout wide receiver for the Blue Jays from 2001-04.
Juniors D.J. Hartigan and Dan Crowley also return after emerging last season. Hartigan finished with 23 receptions for 200 yards and one touchdown a year ago, while Crowley made the seamless transition from quarterback to receiver late in camp last summer and could be poised for a breakout campaign. He averaged 17.5 yards on his 11 receptions and is a matchup nightmare for opposing defenses as he carries 210 pounds on his 6-4 frame.
Seniors Sean Hennessey and David Rokeach combined for 18 receptions for 171 yards and two touchdowns last season and both are in line to take on expanded roles this season.
Junior Brian Hopkins returns as the starter at tight end after grabbing six passes for 50 yards and one touchdown last season. Four of his 11 career receptions have gone for touchdowns and his role in the passing game should grow with the experience gained at the quarterback position last season.
Four starters return on the offensive line and the group is equally adept at pass blocking and run blocking. A trio of seniors return to anchor the unit, while a sophomore center is back after starting 10 games as a freshman. Only one guard position is open and that spot will likely be filled by one of two juniors locked in a battle for the spot.
Senior tackle Mike Stoffel, a two-time All-Centennial pick and a preseason All-American, returns for his third season as a starter at tackle and is the latest in a long line of highly decorated Blue Jay linemen. Stoffel, who also earned ESPN The Magazine Academic All-District honors a year ago, has started 25 consecutive games and is generally regarded as the top returning offensive lineman in the Centennial Conference.
Senior captain Tim Miller made a successful return to the lineup last season after missing the last several games in 2007 with an injury. He earned Second Team All-Centennial honors a year ago and has 24 career starts to his credit.
The third of the three seniors returning is Anthony Catanzano, who mans the tackle spot opposite Stoffel. Catanzano emerged last season as a force on the line as he started all 11 games and was instrumental in the paving the way for an offense that averaged over 180 yards rushing and 190 yards passing.
Sophomore Doug Drummond took advantage of an injury to JHU's returning starter at center as he entered the starting lineup in the second game and never gave up the spot. His efforts in the middle were exceptional, especially considering there were times the Blue Jays had freshmen lined up at center, quarterback and running back. He has added 10 pounds to his frame and should be a fixture at center for the next three years.
The battle to fill the shoes of departed guard Scott Goldsmith is between juniors Ryan Lino and John Zetterstrom. Regardless of who emerges as the starter, the other will serve as the primary backup at both guard positions and should see plenty of playing time.
Senior John Fox could start for several teams in the Centennial Conference. He will serve as the top backup to Stoffel and Catanzano at the tackle spots after gaining valuable experience a year ago.
The by-product of a system that utilizes a heavy rotation is an experienced group of returning players along the defensive line. In fact, the Blue Jays return seven of their top eight defensive linemen from a year ago and another who missed last season with an injury, but should find a prominent role in the rotation.
The Blue Jays could go five deep on the interior as seniors Steve Levinson and James Medaglio are joined by juniors Devin Collins, Brian Pascal and Kevin Parrish.
Levinson grabbed Second Team All-Centennial and First Team ESPN The Magazine Academic All-District honors a year ago after posting a career-high 30 tackles, while Medaglio added 15 tackles. Their ability to control the middle helped the Blue Jays allow just 114.8 yards per game on the ground last season.
Collins played in all 11 games last year and posted 22 tackles, including 4.0 for losses, while Pascal notched 14 tackles in 11 games. Parrish returns after missing the entire 2008 season. He was in position to contend for a starting spot a year ago and his return only bolsters an already deep group.
At defensive end, the Blue Jays go four deep with a nice mixture of youth and experience.
Senior co-captain Glenn Rocca returns after posting a career-high 50 tackles, including 4.5 for losses and 3.5 sacks, while classmate Ryan Rasner notched 40 tackles a year ago. Both are in line to hold down starting spots at defensive end. Rocca's 50 tackles ranked fourth on the team, while Rasner's 40 stops were the most among all players who started fewer than six games (he earned a pair of starts and played extensively in all 11 games).
A pair of sophomores - Brian Peters and Dan Keenan - round out the returning players who figure prominently at defensive end. Peters played in eight games and posted seven tackles, while Keenan saw time in five games. Both figure to play a more significant role this season.
The Blue Jays utilize a pair of linebackers inside and refer to their outside linebackers as strong safeties in their 4-4-3 alignment. Regardless of how they are branded, the group offers a nice blend of experience and athleticism and could develop into one of the top play-making groups in recent history.
Senior co-captain Colin Wixted returns for his final season and is making the move to strong safety after playing inside for his first three years. There, he twice earned Second Team All-Centennial honors and finished second on the team with 66 tackles last season. The move to the outside should allow defensive coordinator Bob Chesney to free him up to use his speed to make plays.
Wixted will likely be joined in the starting lineup on the second line of defense by a trio of sophomores as Kale Sweeney, Tyler Brown and Ryan Piatek form one of the top young trios in the Centennial Conference.
Sweeney will hold down the other strong safety spot and is coming off a freshman year that saw him total 49 tackles, including 6.0 for loss and 4.0 sacks. He also tied for second on the team with six pass breakups.
Brown is making the move from the outside to the inside this season and, if last season wan an indicator, he'll make more than his fair share of big plays. Brown totaled 32 tackles, 5.5 tackles for losses, 2.0 sacks, two forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and a pair of pass breakups. His knack for finding the ball should come in handy and his ability to bring pressure from the inside will add an element the Blue Jays haven't had in several years.
Piatek was off to a great start in summer camp a year ago before an injury in a preseason scrimmage set him back. He returned to play in five games and posted four tackles. He showed tremendous progress in the spring and teams with Brown to give the Blue Jays an exciting young tandem.
Seniors Devin Hewlett and Peter Giordano return after missing the 2008 season and could be the "X" factors for the Blue Jay defense this season. Hewlett started all 10 games as a sophomore and posted 49 tackles, while Giordano has battled nagging injuries throughout his career. They are the top two reserves at strong safety behind Wixted and Sweeney.
Senior David Fraser, junior Josh Bonetto and sophomore Dylan Meola form the nucleus behind Brown and Piatek at inside linebacker. The trio combined to play in 30 games last season and totaled 24 tackles. With Wixted moving to the outside, all three are in line to play an increased role this season.
A secondary that allowed more than 200 yards per game and 19 touchdown passes a year ago will benefit from the experienced defensive line that should keep the pressure on the opposition up front.
The success of any defense hinges - in large part - on the ability of the cornerbacks to handle a one-on-one matchup. In sophomores Sam Eagleson and Dan Kauffman the Blue Jays have a pair of corners with the talent to do just that.
Eagleson was one-third of a dynamic freshman trio on defense last season (Sweeney/Brown) and should build on a solid rookie campaign. He finished sixth on the team in tackles (44) and tied for second in pass breakups (6) as he played in all 11 games and earned six starts.
The coaches were high on Kauffman throughout the year and he has positioned himself for a starting spot. He has good size (6-1/185) and could be a fixture at corner for the next three years.
Junior Mike Mahon provides flexibility in the secondary as will likely play corner, but can also play safety. He played in eight games with three starts at year ago and totaled 36 tackles, a team-high seven pass breakups and the interception in the end zone at the end of the third overtime that sealed JHU's 39-31 win at Randolph Macon. Figuring in the battle for the starting spot at safety with Mahon are junior Mike Todisco and sophomore Mike Milano. Todisco played in all 11 games and got seven starts at cornerback last season. He posted 32 tackles and three pass breakups and returned a fumble 100 yards for a touchdown in the ECAC Southeast Championship game against Catholic. At safety he gives the Blue Jays another player with one-on-one experience.
Milano played in nine games as a freshman and closed the season on a high note as he posted seven tackles, including one for a loss, against Catholic in the ECAC Playoffs. His ability to handle an increased role this season will be crucial to the success of the secondary.
Jon Salem played in five games with one start at safety a year ago and provides a veteran presence in the secondary as he is the only senior who figures into the mix.
The Blue Jays return their starting place kicker, punter and punt returner and every player who returned more than one kickoff a year ago.
Junior Alex Lachman returns for his third season as JHU's place kicker and is already ranked fourth in career field goals (18) and career points by a kicker (107) in school history. He has hit 18-of-23 field goals in his career and three of his five misses have been from 43 yards or longer. In a league rich with returning kickers, Lachman is among the best.
Junior Max Islinger has steadily improved his punting skills over the last two years. He upped his punting average by nearly two yards to 33.1 yards per attempt last season and dropped 14 of his 60 punts inside the opposition's 20-yard line.
Michels ranks 10th in school history in career punt return yards (233) and also averaged 19.4 yards per kickoff return a year ago. Fazio, Wernick and Hartigan combined to average just under 18 yards per kickoff return a year ago on 23 returns. The Blue Jays averaged just 17.0 yards per return as a team in 2008 - a number Margraff would like to see jump significantly this season.
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