Football Preview 2017: Shenandoah enters Yoder’s fifth season as coach’s most experienced group

Scott Yoder, in his fifth season as head football coach at Shenandoah University, returns nine starters on offense and four on defense in 2017. Photo courtesy of Shenandoah University

WINCHESTER – Shenandoah University’s football team continued its upward climb under head coach Scott Yoder in 2016, earning the program’s first winning season since 2011 and remaining in contention for the Old Dominion Athletic Conference title before dropping back-to-back games to end the regular season. Plenty of veteran experience has the Hornets primed to continue taking positive steps this fall.

SU returns nine starters on offense and four on defense in 2017, though Yoder said earlier this month that the coaching staff has cautioned the Hornets about letting that wealth of experience develop into a false set of expectations.

“To think we just automatically start where we ended last year, it never works like that. That’s how we have to approach and that’s how we started preseason,” said Yoder, whose squad went 6-4 overall and 4-3 in the ODAC in his fourth year with the school last season.

“Now that being said, this is the most returning starters we’ve had back together. When you bring back nine starters on offense, the first team all-league quarterback, your entire offensive line, you feel really good about where you are. And right now … we feel really good about the beginning of camp.”

Most of the key pieces remain for a Shenandoah offense that led the ODAC in points per game (35.2) in the eight-team conference in 2016.

Junior quarterback Hayden Bauserman, a first team All-ODAC pick last season, remains entrenched at the position and enters his third year as the Hornets’ starting signal caller. Bauserman, already the school’s all-time leading passer, led the ODAC in passing yards (2,648), touchdowns (27) and completion percentage (62.1) last season.

Also back is Bauserman’s favorite target from 2016, senior receiver Michael Ashwell (another first team All-ODAC honoree), and a veteran offensive line anchored by junior center and two-year starter Caleb Hutson, one of three linemen – alongside junior guard Andrew Coffman and junior tackle Adam Ibrahim – to start all 10 games for SU in 2016.

The Hornets committed the fewest turnovers (12) in the conference last season and were plus-12 in turnover margin.

“We were by far the number one plus-minus in our league and it showed. Not only did we win more games but we were in a position to win a lot more games,” Yoder said. “So can we make that dramatic increase again? Probably not, because we went from being not very good to being very good. But (if we can) keep eliminating negative plays and maybe make the turnovers even better, then we’re gonna have a chance to win even more games.”

The Hornets do have to replace three-time first team all-conference running back Cedrick Delaney, who graduated as SU’s all-time leading rusher, and will do so with a tailback rotation that includes junior Jalen Hudson and sophomore Mario Wisdom.

Yoder said Hudson, who rushed 106 times for 365 yards in 2016 and was voted second team all-conference as an all-purpose back, would play the versatile role that Delaney held last season and could frequently line up as a slot receiver this season.

Shenandoah has fewer certainties on defense, where the Hornets lost five of their top seven tacklers from a season ago.

The Hornets do have some experience up front, led by senior defensive linemen Gladimir Dupalis – the team’s leading returning tackler (62 total in 2016) – and Thomas Whalen. Those two combined for six sacks and 17 tackles for loss last season.

At linebacker, new faces will enter the mix beside senior Javonte Rose, and Yoder said the unit’s biggest question as SU progresses through preseason camp is who will fill out the defensive secondary around two-year starter Weldon Gilchrist Jr.

Last season Shenandoah ranked fifth in the ODAC in points allowed per game (29.5), third in rush defense (198.5 yards per game) and last in pass defense (236.6 yards per game).

“We’re gonna be better than people think on that side of the ball because even though they’re not returning starters, if you remember there was a lot of young guys that played last year, especially the linebacker position,” said Yoder before rattling off a list of names that included Adrian Brisbon, Bernie Hayes III and Tyler Williams – a trio of players who combined for 59 tackles in backup and special teams roles last season.

“I think they’ll take a couple games to get rocking and rolling but they’re good football players now.”

On special teams, senior Christian Arias will again resume punting duties after earning second team All-ODAC honors in 2016.

Yoder said senior kicker Jacob Newton entered preseason camp healthy after struggling through complications with a knee injury the last two seasons. Newton made 12 of 14 field goals and 28 of 33 extra points as a freshman in 2014 but attempted just nine field goals in 2015 and 2016 combined.

Shenandoah opens the 2017 season with a home game against Gallaudet on Sept. 2. The Hornets, who were picked to finish last in the ODAC preseason poll, begin their six-game conference slate with a Thursday night road contest at defending conference champ Randolph-Macon on Sept. 28.