By SHANE COUGHLIN
The Blue Jay football team started the 2015 season strongly after earning the top spot in the Centennial Conference preseason poll for their seventh consecutive year. A scrimmage against Catholic University displayed plenty of reasons to be optimistic for the Jays, who enter the year as defending conference champions.
No score was kept, but the simulation hosted a healthy crowd of fans who got a brief insight into what to expect this year.
Neither team displayed any first game jitters and wasted no time getting into aggressive and competitive football.
“Our coaches look at the scrimmage as another practice and a way for everyone to get better in game-like situations,” senior offensive lineman Rowan Cade said. “I think everyone individually and as a team got better.”
Cade is one of eight starters returning for head coach Jim Margraff’s offense and will anchor the offensive line unit. There will be a huge emphasis on dominating the trenches given the talented depth at the running back position.
Senior Brandon Cherry and junior Stuart Walters headline a backfield that should get plenty of work after rushing for 2,646 yards and 34 touchdowns a year ago, averaging a monstrous 204 yards per game and 4.7 yards per attempt in the process.
“We have a lot of great running backs that know how to make plays,” Cade said regarding the skill group. “As linemen we want to get a good push and be physical up front to let our backs run for a lot of yards.”
Beyond Cherry and Walters, junior Dionisio Roman adds production from a change-of-pace and pass-catching role averaging nine yards per reception out of the backfield to accompany seven rushing touchdowns.
Hopkins does graduate its quarterback in Braden Anderson, who passed for nearly 2,600 yards in 2014 with 25 touchdowns in addition to 528 rushing yards and nine scores on the ground.
The starting job now belongs to the junior dual threat Jonathan Germano who brings mobility and accuracy to the position. Germano averaged 10 rushing yards per attempt last year and looked poised in the pocket against Catholic, swiftly progressing through his reads while eluding pressure and finding running room when he needed to.
His ability to extend plays will help get the ball into the hands of his playmakers on the outside, with both juniors Bradley Munday and Quinn Donaldson returning at the receiver position after each posting 800 yard seasons.
The speedy Munday looked in mid-season form already, burning a Catholic corner for a back of the end zone touchdown, while making impressively quick cuts out of a few designed screen plays. Donaldson will provide a red zone presence after securing 10 touchdown passes last season while averaging 16 yards per reception.
On the other side of the ball, the Jays remain menacing on defense with first team All-Conference senior linebacker Keith Corliss returning to patrol the middle of the field after leading the team in tackles with 81. The secondary also returns senior Brady Watts, junior Jack Toner and senior Curtis Antrum to keep pressure on opposing receivers after holding opponents to a meager five yard passing average last year while limiting passers to only nine touchdowns.
The defensive line is the only group that will need younger players to step up after graduating three key starters. Sophomores Lance Hammond, John Tycher and Tommy Burke are a promising trio of defensive linemen who will likely step into starting and rotational roles to continue the defensive tradition of continually stopping the run while providing explosive pass rushing pressure.
Hopkins will kick off regular season play on Sept. 5 away at Randolph Macon. The Jays have enjoyed historical success in such matchup after defeating the Yellow Jackets 42-3 in last season’s opener.