Hornets to unveil revamped offensive line this fall

Shenandoah sophomore center Caleb Hutson is the lone returning starter along a Hornets offensive line that will need to rebuild in 2016. Photo courtesy of Shenandoah University

WINCHESTER – As Shenandoah University’s football team prepares to kick off its 2016 season with a road game at Gallaudet on Sept. 3, center Caleb Hutson said he’s felt a bit awkward.

Tossed into the ring as a freshman starter a season ago, Hutson had the chance to look up to a veteran core of senior linemen in Dustin Edwards, Marcus Jenkins, Forestt McDaniel and Phillip Way. Now, as the only returning starter along an offensive line that has been almost entirely rebuilt, Hutson feels all of the eyes on him.

He’s only a sophomore, but Hutson is the most veteran player the Hornets have up front.

“Actually it’s funny,” SU junior right tackle Austin Goins said at the team’s media day Sunday morning, “because … we sit in film and it’s like (Hutson) played a lot last year, so it’s constantly like, ‘You see how Caleb does that right there?’ So we’re always looking at Caleb like, ‘God, it feels like you’re a senior.’ So he basically is the old man of the group. He’s a good leader though, really. He’s the captain of our O-line and we really trust him. We really do.”

That’s a concept that’s new to Hutson, who admitted to being “nervous as hell” as he prepared to make his first collegiate start in the season opener last fall. Hutson credits Edwards, an all-Old Dominion Athletic Conference honoree, for taking on a mentor role for the young center at that time, and he said SU’s other senior linemen followed suit as the season progressed.

It’s Hutson’s job now to pay it forward.

“You’ve gotta take what they taught you and keep going with it,” said the 245-pound Hutson, a Fairfax native who started nine of the Hornets’ 10 games in 2015.

“I really look forward to it. I feel like it’s a good experience for me, helping everyone out so we can all get to that level, so hopefully we can be successful as a whole unit instead of just a couple players.”

In stark contrast to the veteran offensive line the Hornets put on the field last season, this year’s starting unit will not feature any seniors. Goins (five games played in 2015) and fellow sophomore left tackle Adam Ibrahim (four games) bring a little added experience to that group, which will likely also feature junior right guard Jonathan Grammo – a 6-3, 285-pound transfer from Division II Shepherd University – and sophomore left guard Andrew Coffman (6-foot-4, 285 pounds), according to Hornets offensive coordinator Stan Hodgin.

“We may be a little short in the experience category up front but we are more athletic than we’ve ever been,” Hodgin said of a line that averages 263 pounds. “They have completely bought in to what we’re doing, very committed group. Certainly have quickly formed into a unit of one as opposed to five individuals and I really like the growth and the direction that the offensive line is currently headed.”

Aside from what Hutson called a few “hiccups” early in preseason camp as the linemen settled into their new roles, the consensus among that group is that it’s been a pretty smooth transition, a process no doubt aided by the existing chemistry between Goins and Grammo, who played alongside each other at Kettle Run High School.

“We’ve been feeling good,” Ibrahim said. “We’re just a bunch of young, athletic guys bringing in a new atmosphere, just trying to fill some big shoes that we lost from last year. But definitely we’re gelling real well together with our front five and we’re feeling good about how we’re working together.”

Hornets head coach Scott Yoder expressed concern about the lack of depth on the offensive line, saying that depth is “talented but they’re not ready to play yet,” although if SU can remain healthy up front it should be poised to produce offensively this season.

Senior running back Cedrick Delaney, who racked up 1,554 all-purpose yards and 10 touchdowns last season after leading the ODAC in rushing two years ago, is back to lead an experienced backfield, as is sophomore quarterback Hayden Bauserman, who threw for 2,177 yards and 21 touchdowns in his collegiate debut in 2015. The Hornets also return seven of their top eight pass catchers from a year ago.

Goins said one of the offensive line’s primary goals this preseason has been building trust with the veteran skill players.

“We’ve gotta prove to them in camp, and that’s what we’ve done, man,” Goins said. “We’ve been crisp in camp. Everything’s been good.”

Last season Shenandoah’s offense ranked in the middle of the eight-team ODAC in points (fourth, 30.4 per game), total yards (fifth, 425.9), rushing yards (third, 177.9) and passing yards (fifth, 248), although the Hornets’ production dipped to 25.9 points and 410.3 yards against conference competition.

“Last year we had games we’d come out and we would do really well, like Gallaudet, and then we would come out against teams like Emory & Henry and just kind of crap,” Hutson said. “So we try to stay more consistent throughout the year, limit our turnovers and be more consistent everywhere, including the offensive line because we had bad games last year, but we’ve just gotta stay positive and keep going.”

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