SU football notebook: Hornets open preseason as ‘most mature’ group in Yoder’s tenure

Scott Yoder

WINCHESTER – Scott Yoder has begun his fifth season as the head football coach for Shenandoah University. At this point, the coaching staff and the schemes brought with it have been well established, and the roster is filled with players that Yoder and his coaches have personally recruited. If one thing has stood out to the Hornets’ head coach after a week of preseason camp, it’s the product of that established order.

Yoder called the 2017 Hornets the “most mature” group that he’s coached since taking over the program in 2013, citing the leadership of a large contingent of juniors and seniors that have been playing in SU’s program since they were freshmen.

“There’s kind of just an air of calmness,” Yoder said before practice Tuesday evening. “Whether we are getting ready to do our first day of hitting or we’re going through lifting, they’re intense and they’re focused but they know what’s coming, they know what the expectations are.”

The Hornets return 13 starters – nine on offense and four on defense – from a 2016 squad that earned the program’s first winning season under Yoder and remained in contention for the Old Dominion Athletic Conference championship entering the final week of the regular season.

Shenandoah enters the 2017 campaign with some holes to fill on a defense that allowed 29.5 points and 435.1 yards per game last season, but the Hornets have far fewer question marks on the other side of the ball.

SU, which led the ODAC in points per game (35.2) in 2016, features the return of junior quarterback Hayden Bauserman – who led the conference in passing yards (2,648) and passing touchdowns (27) last season – three receivers who caught at least 20 passes and its entire offensive line.

The Hornets do have to replace Cedrick Delaney, the school’s all-time leading rusher, and Yoder said despite the limited turnover the offense will be a “work in progress” over the next three weeks.

“We know what we’re gonna be but we don’t have it all figured out yet,” Yoder said. “We’re still seeing how do we incorporate (sophomore running back Mario Wisdom’s) strengths? How do we incorporate (junior running back Jalen Hudson’s) strengths more on a full-time basis? How do we incorporate Hayden’s strengths to help this offense? Because we’re different than last year. (Delaney’s) not gonna be out there busting any touchdown runs. We’ve still gotta figure that out.”

SECONDARY QUESTIONS: SU’s biggest unknown entering the preseason was who would fill out the defensive backfield around senior cornerback Weldon Gilchrist Jr., the lone returning starter in the Hornets’ secondary.

Yoder said Tuesday that senior Devontae Dunn, who came to SU as a receiver and switched to free safety last season, has been moved to cornerback and that the coaching staff is trying to put Dunn in a position where he doesn’t have to “worry about a coverage” so much as using his athleticism to make plays.

Yoder added that freshmen Daquan Pridget and Mike Amobi would press for playing time in a defensive backfield thin on experience.

“Are they gonna start? I don’t know, but they’re gonna play and people are gonna see them against Gallaudet (in the opener on Sept. 2) as long as they’re healthy,” Yoder said.

BULLETIN BOARD MATERIAL: Shenandoah was picked seventh – last place – in the preseason ODAC poll, voted on by league coaches, released Tuesday afternoon one year after the Hornets went 6-4 overall (4-3 in the ODAC) and tied for fourth-place in the conference.

The Hornets received just 8 points in the poll (voting is done on a 6-1 basis and coaches are not allowed to vote for their own team), netting half as many as Guilford, the league’s sixth-place selection.

Emory & Henry (32 total points, five first-place votes) is the ODAC’s preseason favorite after going 6-4 (5-2 ODAC) last season. Shenandoah beat E&H 36-33 in 2016 before the Wasps reeled off five straight wins to close out the season.

“We’ve never put stock in the preseason poll. I’d be lying to tell you that wasn’t on our bulletin board though,” Yoder said. “I mean, it has no effect on the season but it does motivate our team that went 6-4 last year and beat quite a few of those teams that are ranked ahead of us. We bring back the most all-conference players (seven) in the league. But I think the ODAC thinking is the new guy, the conservatory school, put them at the bottom. So I guess you could say there’s no place to go but up.”

Shenandoah has never been picked to finish higher than sixth in an ODAC preseason poll since joining the conference in 2012. This season marks the fifth time in six seasons, and the third straight year, that the Hornets have been picked seventh (the ODAC included eight teams in football until Catholic’s departure this year).

Still, junior running back Jalen Hudson said he was “very surprised” by the 2017 poll results.

“I was mad but it’s just a motivation, that’s all. Motivation for us to be better,” he said. “We know what the preseason poll thinks of us, we’ve just gotta make them wrong.”