A year ago, Hopkins football enjoyed one of their most successful seasons in program history. The Blue Jays hosted a NCAA tournament game, a reward for their undefeated regular season (10-1 overall). But the Blue Jays lost several players from their Centennial Conference title team, including two of the most prolific offensive players in program and conference history in quarterback Hewitt Tomlin and wide receiver Sam Wernick, so no one would have blamed 2012’s version for any early season struggles.
However, over the first two weeks of the season, it has been more of what Blue Jay fans have come to expect. Hopkins raced to a 2-0 start, trouncing Randolph Macon in the home-opener, 36-13, and Susquehanna this past weekend, 34-7. With the wins, the Jays extended their regular season winning streak to 16 games and their Centennial Conference winning streak to 14 games.
Before classes had even begun, the season started off with a bang, albeit an unusual one for the Jays who hosted Randolph Macon in front of a sizeable crowd at Homewood Field. In recent years, Hopkins’ offense has excelled through the air in large part due to Tomlin and Wernick, but their graduation caused Head coach Jim Margraff’s team to adapt to their personnel.
And adapt they did.
The Blue Jays racked up 344 yards on the ground en route to their 36-13 rout, shocking NCAA Division III football experts around the country; many picked against the Jays, most notably on D3football.com. The ground game was evenly spread between seniors Jonathan Rigaud (97 yards, two touchdowns) and Scott Barletta (one TD), junior JD Abbott (123 yards, a career-high), and freshman Brandon Cherry (70 yards, one TD).
The Blue Jays had no time to rest on their laurels, however, as Hopkins matched-up with Centennial Conference foe Susquehanna at Lopardo Stadium this past weekend. The Jays once again dominated in all facets of the game, racking up another four rushing touchdowns while their aerial attack also came into its own in the second half.
New starting quarterback junior Robbie Matey, who admittedly has large shoes to fill after the loss of Tomlin, was the epitome of the term ‘game manager’. Despite only 84 total pass attempts in his first two seasons with the Blue Jays, the Orlando, FL native connected on 19-of-29 passes in the game for 231 yards including a 46-yard strike to junior wide-out Bob D’Orazio.
D’Orazio had his own coming out party in the game, catching five passes for 122 yards and the aforementioned touchdown. D’Orazio was quick to credit the team’s rigorous practices for his and his teammates’ fast start to the year.
“[The biggest key has been ] preparation,” D’Orazio said. “Our hard work throughout the summer, which continued through the preseason and the first two weeks, was a big part of our early success.”
Not to be lost in the hype of scoring 70 points over the first two games, the team’s defense has been extraordinary, holding their opponents to just 10 points and 167.5 yards per game. Leading the way for the Blue Jay linebacking core has been senior tri-captain Adam Schweyer, junior Andy Lachur, and sophomore Hani Annabi.
Annabi was brilliant in the opener, earning Centennial Conference Defensive Player of the Week for Week One, accounting for ten total tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, a sack and a forced fumble.
Schweyer leads the team in tackles in the early going, coming off a stellar junior campaign, as well as leading the defensive squad in tackles for a loss. Laychur is tied for the team lead in sacks with monster defensive lineman Joe Ditrolio, a junior, with three through the first two games.
Despite losing what he termed “one of the best senior classes in school history”, Coach Margraff is confident in his young squad and has been impressed with their hard work and determination. It is no accident that the young replacements are more than ready to play.
“It has always been our philosophy to play as many players as possible as long as they are productive,” Margraff said. “So we are fortunate to return a lot of players who have experience in game-pressure situations, so it’s really not surprising to me that we have guys ready to step up and make the most of their opportunities.”
What could determine how far the Blue Jays go this season may be the play of Matey. Though it may seem like a great deal of pressure, Margraff has not lost any sleep over Matey’s new role.
“One of Robbie’s strengths is that he doesn’t feel pressure,” Margraff stated. “We feel that we are still finding our identity on offense, but we like the direction we are going.”
To help the transition of Matey from apprentice to leader of the offense will be an extremely talented core of wide receivers, led by senior Scott Cremens, preseason All-American junior Daniel Wodicka, and D’Orazio.
“The wide receiver core works hard every day,” D’Orazio said. “Timing is a big part of our passing game, so it’s imperative we give 100% effort on every play.”
The Blue Jays’ potent running game should also help to lighten the load for the offense, which has the pleasure of running behind some of the best offensive linemen in not only the conference, but the entire country.
Another pre-season All-American, offensive tackle Armand Jenifer, a junior, leads an incredibly talented offensive line that plans on battering its way through Centennial Conference and NCAA oppositions this season.
The Blue Jays will resume play this Saturday afternoon as they take on the Greyhounds of Moravian at 2 PM at Homewood Field. Coach Margraff will capture his 150th career victory with a win.