Football: 2018 Season Preview

Mark Murnyack watches players run through drills at practice.

NORTHFIELD, Vt. - The 122nd season of Norwich University football kicks off on September 1st, as the Cadets begin their second season in the New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) with a revamped coaching staff, an exciting schedule, and a roster filled with dynamic veterans and newcomers on both sides of the ball. 

Head Coach Mark Murnyack enters his eighth season at the helm of Norwich football with a bevy of new faces on his coaching staff. He retains Associate Head Coach/Special Teams Coordinator/Linebackers Coach Bill Russell and Defensive Line Coach John Rhoades, but has added Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach Brian Hayes, Running Backs Coach Sam Chaves '16, Wide Receivers Coach Greg Vreeland, Defensive Backs Coach Grantham Raymond and Offensive Line Coach Kyle Smesko.   

Hayes will guide an offensive unit that looks to do a lot of its damage through the ground game this year. The Cadets will return the dynamic running back duo of juniors Steve Cuqua (Walpole, Mass.) and Connor Bourque (Goffstown, N.H.) who combined for 1,135 of the team's 1,861 rushing yards last year, and seven of the team's eight rushing touchdowns. They'll be reunited with classmate Aaron Conner (Daytona Beach, Fla.) who rushed for 97 yards in last year's season opener before losing the remainder of his season to injury. 

The three backs will work behind a deep offensive line unit led by senior team captain Jared Barton (Colorado Springs, Colo.) and consisting of a group of veterans including Jacob Barr (Walpole, Mass.), Paul Biello (Cranston, R.I.), and Stephen Ohsberg (Cranston, R.I.) among others. 

Under center for Norwich will be junior Matthew Chaffee (Middletown, N.Y.) who earned the starting role a few weeks into the 2017 season and never let it go. The left-handed signal caller threw for 779 yards on 156 attempts last year while rushing for 266 yards, and seems poised to make a big leap forward in his development as a junior. 

The receiving corps of Isaac Houston (Berwick, Maine), Brandon Mynter (Avon, N.Y.), Ryan Reed (Ballston Spa, N.Y.), along with a combo of exciting freshmen and hungry veterans will look to spread the field and improve an air attack that averaged under 100 yards a game last season. 

Senior captain Bo Phillips (Chappaqua, N.Y.) will anchor the Cadets' defensive unit this season, a group that allowed 28.0 points per game a year ago. Phillips led the Cadets last year with six interceptions and will form a potentially dominant trio of defensive backs with two-time All-Conference selection Brasean Stewart (Bronx, N.Y.) and fellow junior Michael Corinna (Milford, Mass.), who collected 63 tackles last year, the most of any returning player. Last year the Cadets ranked 4th across all of NCAA DIII football in pass defense, allowing a mere 132 yards a game, and the talented group of defensive backs is sure to put in a similar effort this year. 

On the defensive line and in the linebacker corps, a cast of returners will be fighting for snaps as the Cadets return the majority of both units from last year. Martin Bailey (Bedford Corners, N.Y.), Mike Kennedy (Somers Point, N.Y.), Marshall Watters (Oakland, N.J.), and Ferron Green (Suitland, Md.) are projected to anchor the defensive line, as the four juniors combined for 111 tackles last season. A similar situation is unfolding at linebacker, as Jon Moltimer (Boca Raton, Fla.), Chris Ryan (New Milford, Conn.), and Cahan Quinn (Putnam, Conn.) return after each of them started at least one game at the position a year ago and all three provided solid play while combining for 98 tackles. 

The special teams unit will feature the sophomore season of NEWMAC All-Conference selection Clyde Tamburro (Elizabethtown, Pa.), who put together a fine freshman season last year. Tamburro went a perfect 12-for-12 on extra points attempts while nailing nine field goals in his first season in the maroon and gold, earning a NEWMAC Special Teams Player of the Week honor as well as the aforementioned All-Conference nod. 

The 121-man roster will face a schedule of opponents that mirrors last year's calendar. For the second year in a row, the Cadets will start things off against Morrisville State, this time at home on September 1st. 

Norwich will follow that up with three straight weeks of trophy games, starting with the 41st consecutive annual matchup with St. Lawrence University in the battle for the Hoffman Cup at Sabine Field. The Cadets will then hit the road to take on in-state rival Castleton University the following week and attempt to reclaim the Sap Bucket Trophy. The third and final trophy game of the regular season and the first NEWMAC contest of 2018 will happen on September 22nd at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, where the Cadets and Bears will square off in the 73rd "Little Army-Navy Game" with both squads vying to possess "The Mug" trophy. 

Norwich will proceed to take on six straight NEWMAC opponents to finish up their regular season, including home games against reigning conference champion Springfield College on September 29nd and Catholic University on October 27th. 

A 1-9 record last year could have been vastly different, as the Cadets dropped three games by a combined total of 14 points. Norwich is poised to make large improvements this season and has set their expectations accordingly. "Our program expects to compete for a conference championship," Coach Mark Murnyack stated. "We need to win the close games and play well in a couple of games that people outside the program expect us to lose.  If we can do that we will be playing in meaningful games down the stretch." 

With a dynamic rushing game and improved air attack offensively, solid play from veterans on a talented defensive unit, and a more well-rounded and consistent approach in all facets of the game, Norwich football is set to make the next big step in their long and storied history during the 2018 season.