2015 Football: Hornets ‘need to get production’ in Yoder’s third year

Shenandoah's Cedrick Bridges and Josh White battle for the ball during a game last year. Courtesy photo/ Keith Lucas ©Sideline Media Productions

WINCHESTER – Since taking over the Shenandoah University football program in 2013, Scott Yoder and his assistant coaches have laid a foundation that has led the Hornets to flashes of success.

Entering year three, and following a pair of 4-6 seasons, Yoder says now is the time for Shenandoah to take the next big step in becoming a consistently competitive factor in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference.

“There’s no doubt in our mind as a coaching staff that in year three we need to get production. And production in our business is wins,” Yoder said following the Hornets’ first day of practice on Aug. 16. “We understand that. … There’s no doubt in our mind that the blueprint that we put here, that we know can be successful, it’s got to start to be successful.”

The Hornets appear, at least on paper, to be set up for a shot at success in 2015 after fizzling out at the end of 2014. Though picked seventh in the eight-team ODAC in the conference’s preseason coaches poll following a 2-5 showing in the league last season, Shenandoah returns seven players who earned All-ODAC recognition and plenty of starting experience on both sides of the football.

Defensively, Shenandoah returns 10 players who started at least two games in 2014, including five who started all 10.

Senior defensive end Jake Paye – a first-team All-ODAC pick last season – returns to anchor the defensive line after leading the team in sacks (6) a season ago, while seniors Michael Messick (team-high 117 tackles), Micheal Wroble (75 tackles) and junior Malik Sims (56 tackles) return at linebacker in Yoder’s 4-4 defense. Sophomore Cedrick Bridges brings starting experience at free safety, while classmate Josh White will man one of the cornerback spots after snagging a team-high five interceptions as a freshman last fall.

The Hornets’ defense, which returns its top five tacklers from last season, ranked sixth in the conference in points allowed (28.6 points per game) and fifth in total yards (391.4) but did lead the ODAC in sacks (30) in 2014.

“I’m pumped,” said Payne, who had 58 tackles (10 for loss) last year. “If we can play together as a team and play with that togetherness throughout the season, I don’t think there should be anyone that can stop us or anyone that we can’t stop. But it’s going to factor a lot into just keeping everyone together but … we’re a lot closer, so we shouldn’t have that problem.”

Most of the skill position players return on offense for the Hornets in 2015, although there will be a new face at quarterback this season following the graduation of two-year starter Drew Ferguson.

Sophomores Travis Barton Jr. – who saw limited playing time last season – and Tyler Phelps and 2014 Central High School grad Hayden Bauserman, a freshman, competed during spring practice in what Yoder called “the best quarterback battle we’ve had since we’ve been here” and carried that into fall camp, although Phelps was slowed by an ankle injury early in fall practice.

Yoder didn’t set timetable for when he’d like to name a starting quarterback, saying only they would make a decision as soon as it “makes sense,” and the coach dispelled the idea of Shenandoah using a two-quarterback system like it did in 2013.

“I really don’t want to do the two thing,” Yoder said. “… That’s not what we want to be, so I’m hoping we have one guy.”

Whoever earns the starting quarterback job will have plenty of talent around him, including junior running back Cedrick Delaney, who led the ODAC with 1,239 yards rushing and eight touchdowns and was a first-team All-ODAC selection in 2014.

Senior Kye Hopkins (eight rushing touchdowns) also returns in a versatile backfield, as does top receiver Qlyl Middelijn (32 catches, 332 yards) and three starting offensive linemen in Dustin Edwards, Marcus Jenkins and Forestt McDaniel.

Shenandoah was second in the ODAC in rushing (248.2 yards per game) last season, although the Hornets ranked sixth in scoring offense (27.6 points per game). Yoder said one of the primary goals for the offense will be to limit turnovers after giving the ball away 20 times last year, the fourth-worst mark in the ODAC.

“I think they have a really good sense of what we want to try to do and I think if our goal is as simple as cutting the turnovers in half, then we’re going to have a chance to win ballgames,” Yoder said.

Sophomore Jacob Newton will retain the kicking duties for the Hornets after leading the ODAC with 12 made field goals (out of 14 attempts) as a freshman, and Christian Arias (34.7 yards per punt) returns to handle the punting.

Shenandoah opens its 2015 with a home game against Gallaudet at 7 p.m. Sept. 5. The Hornets open ODAC play with a homecoming game against Bridgewater on Oct. 3.

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com