Football Preview 2016: Hornets hope to continue to make strides

Shenandoah University head football coach Scott Yoder yells during second half action of their home game against Catholic during a 2015 game. Yoder is entering his fourth season with the Hornets this year. Rich Cooley/Daily file

WINCHESTER – Shenandoah University head football coach Scott Yoder thinks the Hornets’ records over his first three seasons can be a bit misleading.

During that span, SU has gone 4-6 each year, and last season the Hornets suffered a 1-6 mark in Old Dominion Athletic Conference play, tied with Catholic University for the league’s worst record.

Sure, a higher win total is at the top of every Hornet’s checklist, and they would certainly enjoy the gratification that an improved record would bring, but Yoder doesn’t view Shenandoah’s trio of identical losing records as evidence that the program is stuck in a standstill.

“I think when you look at the records I think it’s very easy to be disappointed. But you also look at each year we’ve figured out how to get better as a program,” Yoder said.

“Each year is different, so you don’t wanna dwell too much in the past but I think if our program can just keep getting better and keep taking steps every week and every season, as a coaching staff you can’t ask more than that. … Obviously we wanna win every time we play and we wanna win more, but I can find some comfort in that our program continues to take steps forward.”

The Hornets, who haven’t had a winning season since 2011 when they were members of the USA South, enjoyed the best start in program history (3-0) last fall before skidding in ODAC play and losing their final four games.

Offensively, Shenandoah ranked in the middle of the eight-team conference in points (fourth, 30.4 per game), total yards (fifth, 425.9), rushing yards (third, 177.9) and passing yards (fifth, 248) but must replace four starters along the offensive line this fall.

Head coach Scott Yoder, who is entering his fourth season with the Hornets, said the coaches feel “really good” about being able to rebuild the offensive line around center Caleb Hutson, who started nine games as a freshman in 2015. Yoder couldn’t name a projected starting five after one day of practice but mentioned returning sophomores Austin Goins, Adam Ibrahim and Andrew Coffman as players in the mix, as well as Jonathan Grammo, a transfer from Division II Shepherd University and a former teammate of Goins at Kettle Run High School in Nokesville, Virginia.

“While we don’t have as much game experience as the group last year we feel really good about what they can do physically and what they’re going to be,” Yoder said. “Now it’s a challenge of how quickly can we get them there?”

Shenandoah returns plenty at the skill positions on offense, including sophomore quarterback Hayden Bauserman (2,177 yards, 21 touchdowns and 15 interceptions in 2015) and all-ODAC senior running back Cedrick Delaney (1,554 all-purpose yards, 10 TDs). Seven of the team’s top eight pass catchers also return, including receivers Leonard Scott (34 catches, 411 yards, six touchdowns) and Deshon Brown (32 catches, 405 yards).

On defense, the Hornets ranked seventh in the ODAC in points allowed (31.8) and yards allowed (427.7) last year, and now must fill holes left by the graduation of career tackles leader Michael Messick (126 total tackles in 2015), an inside linebacker, and defensive end Jake Payne, the 2015 ODAC Defensive Player of the Year.

“To be honest I don’t think we can replace it,” Yoder said of the production and leadership provided by the duo.

“Messick’s loss probably hurts the structure of the defense more because of what he was able to do, so we’re gonna have to actually make some changes that people wouldn’t see from the outside to help the young inside linebackers that are trying to fill that spot, which is gonna make it more on us as coaches to get us in the right calls and do things that help those young guys.”

Yoder noted that the defensive secondary – a group that includes junior cornerbacks Weldon Gilchrist Jr. (team-high three interceptions in 2015) and Josh White (one interception, six pass breakups) – is “probably the best” he’s had at Shenandoah in terms of returning experience.

Inside linebacker Micheal Wroble (72 tackles in 2015) returns for a fifth season after securing a medical hardship waiver for an injury sustained during his freshman year, Yoder said, and brings valuable experience to the defensive alongside senior linebacker Malik Sims (67 tackles).

Yoder said the team will take a by-committee approach to the defensive line around defensive tackles Jake Shaffer and Gladimir Dupalis.

“I think the defensive side is just more, we’ve gotta quickly find out who our best 11 are and then, not drastically alter the scheme, but without Messick we can’t do some things,” Yoder said. “So now whoever that guy’s gonna be, now kind of build it to help him.”

Jacob Newton entered camp healthy after suffering through a knee injury last season and will resume the kicking duties for Shenandoah, Yoder said, and all-ODAC punter Christian Arias also returns.

The Hornets open their 2016 season with a 7 p.m. non-conference road game at Gallaudet on Sept. 3.

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