Feb 25, 2013, 8:30 AM EDT
Editor’s Note: Over the three weeks following National Signing Day, we will talk with local journalists and bloggers covering our 11 schools to get their take on the teams that they cover. Each day will be devoted to a different program. Today we talk with Greg Logan of Newsday about the Stony Brook Seawolves.
What were you general impressions of Stony Brook’s 2013 signing class?
They did a good job of trying to address some of the major needs they had as a result of very serious graduation losses. It is a large class and there was a clear effort to try to upgrade the level of talent across the board as they make the move to the CAA. All in all, I think they’re very pleased with the class that they brought in based on head coach Chuck Priore’s comments about it being a very good and balanced class.
The Seawolves’ signing class size of 24 players is relatively large for an FCS program and the largest of the 11 CAA Football schools. Why is this number significant?
I think this is a two-part answer. First, they felt the need to bring in as many quality athletes as possible because they’re going to be playing a much tougher schedule in terms of the depth and the talent that they’re going to face throughout the season. Secondly, several members of last year’s team who were probably not going to play very much in the future have left the team. So it wasn’t just the graduating class that had to be replaced, but there were also several other depth type players who left the team because they understood that they weren’t going to be playing as much. That then created more openings to bring in more of the talent that they feel like they’re going to need for CAA play.
Is the coaching staff done recruiting or should we anticipate additional guys signing at this point?
I think they’re satisfied where they’re at, but they’re always on the alert for any players who might become available this spring and into the summer. Generally speaking, though, I think they’re pretty well set right now.
How significant of a loss is Walter Payton Award Runner-Up Miguel Maysonet, who set numerous school and conference records as a running back?
You can’t understate the magnitude of losing a Miguel Maysonet. As you know, he was the runner up in the Walter Payton Award voting behind Taylor Heinicke. He spent three years at Stony Brook, and each year he increased his rushing yardage and became the all-time leader in the Big South Conference and in school history by a wide margin. He just had a special ability to come up big in the big games. He had huge games against Syracuse and Army, which was their first win over an FBS program. He’s really going to be a difficult guy to replace.
Outside of the running back position, what particular holes were the Seawolves looking to fill with this year’s class?
They are fortunate because they got an Iowa transfer, Marcus Coker, this past year who was the second-leading rusher in the Big Ten his sophomore year. He actually wound up alternating with Maysonet in the program’s two-back system this year. So they’re lucky to have a guy like Coker who can now step in and fill that number one role. He may be even more of a workhorse than Maysonet in the sense that his is a power running style that gets better with the increase in his number of carries.
They also have a breakaway type back in Jamie Williams to help complement Coker. But at the same time, because the running back position is so critical to everything they do, they did bring in another running back to get into the mix. His name is James Kenner from ASA College. They also have another running back in Davon Lawrence. So they have great depth at running back and are well stocked there with four guys who could be in the rotation. I should also mention that they have a high school guy coming in from Long Island, Tyler Fredericks, who will be in the pipeline for the future.
Beyond that, they had big losses at the defensive back position. They lost their two starting safeties and they now know they need more depth at cornerback because of the passing attacks they’re going to face in the CAA. So they really went heavily for defensive back help.
They also brought in a top-notch transfer tight end from Florida State in Will Tye. They’re in a position where they lost one tight end and haven’t really been that strong at that position in terms of a real pass-catching tight end. He will be a huge help there.
The other key loss was a special teams piece in that they graduated their kicker, Wes Kiffington. He is the all-time scoring leader in Stony Brook history. They were able to go out and get a transfer kicker from Maryland, Nick Ferrara, who like Skiffington will quite likely not only handle placekicking but punting and kickoff duties as well.
They did a good job of addressing those needs as well as getting more depth at linebacker because they feel that if any side of the ball has to be upgraded, it’s the defense. They added some depth at defensive line and got a couple of pretty good offensive lineman, which isn’t as much of a concern this year because they have their entire interior offensive line returning, which is a huge advantage for them.
What has the consensus been in and around the SBU community about the football program’s conference move?
I think it was by far the most logical step. They did need to upgrade from Big South play where they did get two bids to the playoffs these last couple of years, but it’s basically a one-bid league.
Getting into CAA Football makes sense on two fronts. The first is that the CAA is a multiple-bid league and what they believe is the strongest of any FCS league in the country. Second, geographically it makes much better sense because now most of their games allow them to travel by bus, so that will cut down on the high cost of traveling they’ve experienced in the past.
Also, the great thing for building fan support is that now teams will be coming in here from recognizable institutions – names that are a lot more familiar to college football fans. In addition to that, they’re also more familiar to the players that they’re recruiting. So this move helps on every front possible.
Among Stony Brook’s 24 signees are seven transfers, including one each from Maryland and Florida State. What impact will this sizeable group have on the program?
I think the transfers will have an immediate impact. The number one recruit in the class is tight end Will Tye from Florida State. He’s a big, powerful tight end who will fit in beautifully in terms of blocking for their option running attack. He’s really a basketball player who switched to football and is yet to fully develop as a football player. He has this great athletic ability that should make him a very good pass-catching tight end for them.
The tight end has been somewhat of an overlooked component of the passing game, and I think it will become a much more important part of the team now. They’ve always been a team that has primarily run the ball and throws deep to keep people honest. So to now have this mid-range safety valve with the tight end over the middle, that will really add a new dimension and element of power to the offense. The team bringing in Kenner out of ASA College will also be big in terms of having him as part of what will be a sort of three running back system.
In respect to Ferrara, it goes without saying that you’ve got to have a good kicking game at this level. And they had to replace a great player in Wes Skiffington.
Defensively, they had a huge loss at strong safety in Dominick Reyes, who was a defensive co-captain, but were able to go out and get a hard hitter in Zedrick Gardner, who was Kenner’s teammate at ASA. He will probably step right in and start right away. They also got a Butler Community College transfer out of Kansas, Max Martinez, who can come in and have a chance to start at their rover back position – sort of a hybrid safety and linebacker position.
The big question is likely at quarterback. They have a transfer coming in from Fullerton Junior College in California, Conor Bednarski. The thought seems to be that they will likely redshirt him to have him available for the following two seasons rather than have him in competition with the returning backup, Lyle Negron. I’ll be curious to see if it’s possible that Bednarski competes for a starting position right away and this develops into a competition during spring ball. That’s a big question that will have to be answered going forward.
So I think you’ll definitely see Tye, Ferrara and Gardner all in the starting lineup with Kenner in the mix at running back as well. Then it’ll be a question from there with respect to the quarterback position.
All but one of these transfers are already on campus taking classes. What kind of advantage will this early enrollment afford them?
It allows them to start getting in the mix and to be able to go through spring practice. That’s a big learning period. It also allows them to work with their teammates in the weight room program and start forming a bond. That’s what happened last year with Marcus Coker when he came in fully enrolled for the second semester and got to know the team and had a chance to study the system. He was then ready to roll when it came time for the season. I think you’ll see the same effect with all of these transfers.
In looking at both transfers and true freshmen, who in this year’s signing class stands out to you?
There are a few of them that really stand out. I know defensive back has got to be a concern simply because they’re going to be facing better athletes and better passing games in the CAA. Therefore, one kid who possibly has a chance to compete for a starting position and at least make the two-deep is Tyrice Beverette out of New Jersey. Another kid to watch is Travon Reid-Segure. Those two probably have the best chance to make the two-deep and compete for a starting position.
On the defensive line, they have a kid named Allen Singleton who should definitely have a chance to get in the mix. I think Ousmane Camara from here on Long Island will have a shot as well. Stony Brook has a lot of defensive linemen returning, but they like to rotate their linemen in and out to keep them fresh and to keep a strong pass-rush presence in the game.
I’m pretty sure they’ll redshirt Tyler Fredericks because they like to have a top running back in the pipeline for the future. They did bring in a talented wide receiver, Keyon Pinnock, who might make the two-deep given the team’s lack of depth at wide receiver. That is probably their biggest offensive concern right now.
They do have two starting receivers coming back. One is a senior who transferred from Temple, Malcolm Eugene, who is probably going to be one of the starting wide receivers alongside Adrian Coxson, a returning receiver and Maryland transfer. But they lost Kevin Norrell, who was a dominant receiver and real star. I don’t think they’ll have that same kind of receiver again this year and will definitely have to rely on more depth to develop that component.
Chuck Priore has always said that even though they’re a run-oriented offense, you can’t win a championship without a passing game. So it will be interesting to see how their receiver situation plays out this season.
This year’s signees hailed from nine different states. Is this type of pull typical for the program?
Absolutely. They have contacts in various parts of the country that they’ve relied on for a long time. They definitely look at California for quarterbacks and skill position players. They go into Florida and down south as much as possible as well.
They have always felt that they have an advantage going around the country to recruit top talent simply because they’re located in New York. It is an attraction when you can offer kids a chance to experience life in New York. It’s not New York City, but it’s close and you can get in and see what the city is life while living in a very beautiful spot outside the city. I think they see that as a recruiting strength.
Now that they can say that they’ll be playing the likes of Villanova and Towson and James Madison, I think it’s a much easier sell for them to actually even expand that recruiting base. So I think you’ll see them try to expand even more nationally now to bring in the type of athletes who can help them win in the CAA.
Seven signees are New Yorkers. Is New York traditionally a hot bed for collegiate football talent?
This has not really been the case, at least as of late. The recruiting pool has dried up a little bit. There are still major college programs who will come up here and try to take the cream of the crop, and Stony Brook is trying to become one of those programs that takes the very best from the area. And they feel like they have gotten the best athletes from Long Island and from the New York City area these last couple of years.
But it’s not what you would call a deep recruiting pool here. That’s another reason that they feel in order to be competitive they’ve got to go out of state and run a wide-ranging recruiting operation.
At the same time, because going to school at Stony Brook is a relatively low-cost option for football players on Long Island, they have a big walk-on program. They’ll have a lot of good high school players from the area walking on and competing for positions. Eventually some of those guys will earn scholarships down the road.
How does this year’s recruiting class stack up to those of previous years?
Overall, they have to be satisfied with the talent level and depth of this class. This has to be one of their best recruiting classes ever, if not the best. It’s really a top-notch recruiting class, and I think they’d probably put it right at the top.
They did luck out a few years ago when Hofstra’s program dropped football because Miguel Maysonet and Brock Jackolski came over from Hofstra and made a huge difference in the program. But that was a unique situation and this class appears to be right up there with it and any other recent recruiting class.
Coach Priore just signed a contract extension. Can you give us some insight into the background of this extension?
The contract extension is basically a reflection of the success that they’ve had here under Priore. They’ve gone to the playoffs two straight years and won a first-round game in each of those years. They’re trying to move up, go deeper in the playoffs and compete for a national championship.
So I think the program’s success was the most important factor in it. He has helped build this into a place where players can come in and play quality FCS Football. The team plays a good schedule that will include the likes of Boston College this year along with teams in what they feel is the best FCS league in the country.
CAA Football fans may not be familiar with Stony Brook given that this will be the program’s first year in the league. Is there anything in particular we should know about the program?
They have a very interesting style of football. Many schools have gone to spread offenses, but not Stony Brook. If you want to compare, you might compare theirs to the style of football that Alabama plays. They like a traditional running attack out of the I formation. It’s not an option offense with a running quarterback, although he can roll out and scramble that way sometimes, but it’s essentially a power running attack with zone blocking that relies on quality running backs and a deep play action passing game because it all works hand in hand with the running game. They have to have a high efficiency quarterback, which is why Kyle Essington led the nation in quarterback efficiency this past year in much the same way as Alabama’s A.J. McCarron was at the top in that same category at the FBS level.
I think that’s what you look for from them in terms of their style of play. They’re a hard-hitting, physical defense with an interesting offensive scheme. Looking back two years ago at their quarterfinal game at Sam Houston State, they pushed that game well in to the fourth quarter and you could tell the Sam Houston players were relieved to come out of that game with a win. They noted that Stony Brook was the hardest hitting team they’d played all year. That’s the style of football you can look for from Coach Priore’s team.
Can you speak to the Seawolves’ fan base?
They’ve really been trying to build the fan base. We’re in a heavy pro sports market with nine professional sports teams in the New York metropolitan area, so it can be a tough sell for college football here. However, they’ve definitely had their moments. They’ve managed to sell out 8,000-seat LaValle Stadium several times and had upwards of 10,000 fans at games last year. They’ve also had games with plenty of seats to be had, which I believe is partly due to their schedule in that not everybody knows certain teams coming in here like Gardner-Webb and Presbyterian.
So in that regard, people should be more familiar with the teams now that Stony Brook is moving to CAA Football. The teams are more well known and it helps that Hofstra was in the league in the past. I think people understand that this is a high level of football.
With respect to the student body, they’ve begun to connect more with the team and have started to support it in a bigger way. And they’ve had enough success that I think you’ll start to see the students get behind the team even more.
Honestly, I think the upgrade in the schedule is going to mean everything to them because I know it’ll be a far easier sell in this area when it comes to college football.
Do you think a natural rivalry will begin to take shape between Stony Brook and Albany?
I think it’s already in place. They used to play each other even before Stony Brook moved to the Big South. It was kind of a rivalry at that point. Then when they made the FCS Playoffs for the first time two years ago, their first-round opponent was Albany. The Great Danes came in here and gave them an unbelievable game and probably should have won it after being down on the goal line ready to score in the final seconds before a pass was intercepted. There was a packed house for that game because there were Long Island players playing on both sides and it people were excited about the playoffs. It was an electric atmosphere and the students of course all rushed the field after the win. It was an unbelievable atmosphere for a football game.
I was very pleased to see on the schedule that they put the Albany game at the end of the season. It’s an absolute natural rivalry, and I know the Stony Brook people were very pleased to be paired with Albany for that final game this year.
What should we anticipate from the Seawolves in 2013?
They still have a lot coming back from a two-time FCS Playoffs team. They’re going to be very skilled and the simple fact that they have that veteran offensive line and Marcus Coker returning is huge. I definitely feel like they’ll be in the upper half of the CAA.
My question is if their passing game can be sufficient enough to add the dynamic component to the offense that they’ve had the last two years with Kyle Essington at quarterback and Kevin Norrell at wide receiver. That’s a real question mark. We will see if the offense can be dynamic enough to dominate and put up a lot of points like they have the last two years to get back to the playoffs. The other thing to watch is that the defense will be tested on a weekly basis now after not being tested to the same degree in the Big South. They’re going to have to learn to play a really consistent brand of football.
I think the worst-case scenario is that they’ll be middle of the pack in the league. But I think they could also get up there and be a playoff team. I did notice that the two teams they miss on this year’s schedule were both teams with losing conference records, so they’re getting all of the top teams this coming season.
Thankfully, in respect to the CAA, one or two losses won’t kill you in the national rankings and a team’s playoff standing. Everyone knows the rigors of CAA Football, so that’s the real benefit of moving to the league. At the same time, though, it’s a much tougher schedule and we’ll have to see if they’re up for it. No doubt that it’s going to be a very interesting dynamic to watch.
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