For Stony Brook University football coach Chuck Priore, spring football has been a time for reflection and planning. The session ends Sunday with an intrasquad game at LaValle Stadium at 2 p.m. Admission is free.
Priore recently scrutinized the 2011 season -- the most successful in the university's scholarship era -- and took a glance at 2012, just five months away.
Stony Brook (9-4) won the Big South title over rival Liberty to earn its first berth in the NCAA's Football Championship Subdivision playoffs. The Seawolves beat Albany in the first round, then concluded their playoff run with a 34-27 loss to top-ranked Sam Houston State, which eventually lost to North Dakota State in the FCS championship game.
Stony Brook tied the score at 20 on a 3-yard touchdown pass to Kevin Norrell with 8:56 remaining but allowed an 80-yard touchdown pass 11 seconds later. The Seawolves tied it at 27 on Brock Jackolski's 2-yard touchdown run with 6:37 to play but allowed a game-winning 7-yard touchdown run with 1:01 remaining.
When Priore gathered the team for spring practice, he did not give a collective pat on the shoulder pads. He told the players, "The last time we were on the field, we did not perform in the fourth quarter the way we needed to do to be a successful program. So let's perform today better than we did in the fourth quarter; let's take spring ball and perform better than we did in the fourth quarter of last year. I think everybody remembers the fourth quarter. We had a chance to win and we didn't.''
Stony Brook had a 10-3 halftime lead over Sam Houston State. "When we ran off the field at halftime, I looked over at the scoreboard and I said, 'Could I just continue running to the bus? I don't want to play another game,' '' Priore said. "That really defined who we were. We at every level played against what I consider a team that we can play against as well as we could play top to bottom . . . I wasn't scared to go back out in the second half, but the reality of it is, I knew another half was going to bring competition and I thought, 'Are we going to be ready for the competition?' ''
For the most part, yes. "We inched ourselves each year to be a better football program,'' Priore said. "Our ability to compete with Sam Houston means our personnel is pretty good right now. Could we do it for 13 straight games against similar competition? That's a tough one. We might be 6-5, might be 5-6. I think we can win some of those games now.
"We were on the short end; let's be straight right now. We didn't win the game. The honest two games that I think we should have won were the first one and the last one. We should have beaten UTEP and we should have beaten Sam Houston State. When you watch the film, we should have won both those games. But we didn't. I think that's where we still lack the overall big-play ability on a consistent basis. We had them both in our hands.
"Certainly the transformation for this football team is to go from 8-3 in the regular season with two Division I losses,'' including Buffalo, "and for us to go to that 9-2 team. How do we become 9-2? How do we stay undefeated in our league? How do we go down to Liberty and beat them? We haven't beaten them yet down there.''
That led Priore to the present. "How do you get different?'' he asked. "You get different by making better decisions on what you're doing as a staff when it comes down to the football-related activities. Like weightlifting. I've got five guys on the offensive line that are going to start. Every one of them benches over 400 now. We're so much stronger than we ever were.''
There's the incalculable loss of all-purpose back Jackolski but also the addition of Iowa transfer Marcus Coker. "Purely in an offensive standpoint, we added a star to the equation,'' Priore said. "We're not going to get worse with that star, but it doesn't mean we're going to be better unless we function as a unit and we make good decisions.''
Coker, who is not scheduled to play in the spring game, will team with Miguel Maysonet, the resident star running back. Priore has no concerns about a battle for carries between the two backs.
"If I come in here and make Marcus Coker the benchmark of what we're doing in every turn we make and every statement we make, then I would expect a lot of kids in this program to be ticked off,'' he said. "So it's all in the guy that sits in this chair and how he presents it to his team at all times. Everybody is the same; the third- and fourth-string tailbacks deserve a chance at practice.
"I think [Maysonet] trusts what he gets here from the first day he came here,'' Priore said. "I'm certainly confident in his ability. I'm really excited about watching them both play. You can slice and dice it however you want; Marcus isn't the type of kid -- and I wouldn't have recruited him if he was -- that's worried about it, and I know being around Miguel, he's not worried about it.''
And Coker will not get the star treatment, either. "My presentation when I met him was history tells you this is a great place to come because we run the football,'' Priore said. "There's plenty of carries in the game for more than one. One thing Brock and Miguel learned to appreciate is it's really good going on the field rested. You are that much better. A typical Stony Brook football game is going to put the ball 45 times in the [backs'] hands. You're talking 22 carries each. The sky's the limit when you touch the ball 22 times in college football.''
And the possibilities seem limitless for Stony Brook.