Hornets satisfied with successful start to preseason camp

Shenandoah University assistant coach Ben Taylor watches a group of receivers during a drill Monday during the first day of football practice. Rich Cooley/Daily

WINCHESTER – Shenandoah University’s sixth season under head football coach Scott Yoder is officially underway, and the optimism is as high as ever for the Hornets.

On the heels of back-to-back 6-4 seasons, during which the Hornets came up a win short of claiming the program’s first Old Dominion Athletic Conference title both times, players reported for SU’s preseason camp on Saturday and took part in their first practice that evening.

Shenandoah put on pads for the first time on Monday afternoon, and afterward Yoder was already feeling like his team was further along than it was three days into practice a season ago.

“We’ve been getting after it pretty well,” Hornets senior quarterback Hayden Bauserman said shortly after the team wrapped up its session at Shentel Stadium on Monday. “Defense has been pushing us. We’ve been pushing them. Freshmen have been competing really hard and I think overall we look pretty good. This is probably some of the best first three days that we’ve had. Any time you report to camp there’s gonna be a learning curve with some guys, so it’s gonna be more teaching than it is anything, but I think as returners we’ve kind of picked up where we left off and kept it moving.”

Bauserman, last season’s Division III leader in passing yards per game (381.8), is one of a handful of familiar faces on offense early in camp, with a veteran offensive line also returning to anchor a unit that led the ODAC in points per game (40.1) and yards per game (495.3) in 2017.

SU's returning quarterback Hayden Bauserman gives a pitch during a drill Monday at SU's Shentel Stadium. Rich Cooley/Daily

The Hornets also enter the new season with some holes to fill on that side of the ball, however, most notably at receiver. While running back-turned-slot receiver Jalen Hudson and 6-foot-4 wideout Casey Stewart return after combining for 78 receptions, 941 yards and 12 touchdowns last fall, SU doesn’t have the depth and experience it had at the position a season ago after graduating four of its top six receivers.

Bauserman, who passed for 3,818 yards and 41 TDs in 2017, said the first few weeks of camp would be critical to building rapport with some of the pass catchers who figure to take on larger roles this season.

“We have to take advantage of every single day and every single rep that we have together in camp. Today I was throwing to Jake Wallace a couple times and was just making sure that he was up when I was up, and kind of forcing the ball to him a little bit just to try to get on the same page and see how he runs routes and things like that,” Bauserman said of the sophomore, who caught 20 passes for 188 yards and a score in 2017. “Tom Rahme’s the same way outside.

“These next two weeks are really important for us to kind of get on the same page, and even some freshmen are gonna compete to have a role, so just kind of getting on the same page with them.”

Shenandoah’s defense enters 2018 with fewer questions to answer after losing just four starters from last year’s group. The Hornets do have to find two new starters in the secondary, but the defensive line and linebacker positions remain largely intact, a fact that senior defensive end Chris Grady said has allowed that unit to flow quite nicely together in the first few days of camp.

Shenandoah University head coach Scott Yoder works players in a drill during the first day of practice. Rich Cooley/Daily

SU posted some of the ODAC’s top marks in pass defense (214.2 yards allowed, second in the ODAC), takeaways (25, tied for first), interceptions (14, second) and sacks (24, second) in 2017, though the Hornets also surrendered the most yardage (462 per game) of any team in the conference.

“Our biggest thing right now is our emphasis to stop the run,” Grady said. “You know how that went last year. I think they said we gave up like 250 a game. That’s just not where you can be if we wanna win the championship. We all know we’ve gotta tighten up on the run, so that’s what we’re gonna do.”

Yoder said the coaching staff has divided preseason camp this year into two sections, and the first week is primarily an evaluation period as players don’t yet have to worry about academics and orientation as the new school year approaches.

That will change next week as the Hornets prepare for a scrimmage at Gettysburg College on Aug. 25. Shenandoah also will host a joint practice with Frostburg State on Saturday, according to Yoder.

“We’d like to know in a week really what kind of team and position situations we have,” Yoder said, “and then that next week we’re getting ready for the scrimmage to get ready for the season.”

SU's Mario Wisdom jumps during this drill for running backs during the first day of practice on Monday. Rich Cooley/Daily

Shenandoah, which went 3-3 in ODAC play last season, begins the 2018 season with a road game at Methodist on Sept. 1 before returning home to play five straight games at Shentel Stadium.

“I feel like we’re ahead of where we normally would be right now and that is what it is,” Yoder said. “We’re just kind of getting into the evaluation because (Monday was) the first day in shoulder pads, but I think we’ve got probably our most productive group of first-year players that we’ve had. At least they look at this point like there’s a lot of guys that could contribute. Now, if they will, we’ll see. And I think the upperclassmen, it’s a good group and we’ve got a lot of guys that worked hard in the offseason and it shows and it’s translating on the field. It’s very early, there’s such a long way to go but couldn’t be happier with where we are right now.”