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Spring Growth Takes Place on Football Field

Stetson Football Spring Game

Spring football at Stetson means learning fundamentals — and growing as a team.

On the football field, Xs and Os are important, of course. Yet this spring, while working to get better on the field, the Hatters also spent considerable time focusing on intangibles.

The game plan: build internal leadership and a culture of winning.

The approach by Hatters head coach Roger Hughes comes on the heels of a disappointing 2015 when a season of high expectations resulted in a 3-8 record. The Hatters had finished a promising 5-6 in 2014.

“I probably made a mistake last fall of not paying enough attention to building that culture,” Hughes said in retrospect. “Last season was disappointing because we all had higher aspirations. I think our guys have been good at analyzing why we had the problems we had, and they are pretty determined to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”

Among the new reasons for optimism comes from the weight room. By virtue of an offseason conditioning program put into place by strength coach Mark Wateska, the Hatters are physically stronger. “He is paramount to the development of the team,” Hughes said of Wateska. “During the offseason, we don’t get a whole lot of time with the players, so he essentially becomes the head coach while we are out recruiting and so forth. Having Mark in that role has been crucial because he is great at setting that culture we want.

“Our kids have developed a much better sense of the work ethic they need to have to improve. They are getting a narrower definition of what they need to do every day to get better.”

On the field, position battles took center stage this spring, highlighted by the challenge of replacing Ryan Tentler at quarterback. Colin McGovern would be the first to fill in, but he has to “earn that position,” said Hughes. As a redshirt freshman last fall, McGovern saw action in eight games, completing 24 of 49 passes for 269 yards with four interceptions. None of the other five quarterbacks on the roster attempted a pass in a varsity game last year.

Following graduation losses, other areas of concern include cornerback and safety. In addition, work on building depth on both the offensive and defensive line was a focal point.

As for leadership, veteran players figure prominently. On offense, the Hatters return running backs Cole Mazza and Mike Yonker, receivers Chris Crawford and Jonathan Jerozal and lineman Patrick Fogarty, among others. On defense, All-American Donald Payne will be back along with defensive end Davion Belk, linebackers Dylan Wydronkowski and David Lazear.

“Their level of play should certainly step up, but more important is their leadership on the team,” Hughes said of his veterans. “It goes back to what we have been doing in the offseason; we have been doing everything we can to make them understand how they can be effective as team leaders.”

A season that begins in earnest on Sept. 3 at home against Sacred Heart likely hangs in the balance.