It would be easy to look at Stony Brook’s projected starting offense on paper and predict a few early growing pains. After all, the unit graduated its starting quarterback, two All-CAA rushers and a good chunk of its receiving corps.
But Gavin Heslop thinks the Seawolves’ offense has the chance be something special. He would know – he’s faced them every day in practice.
“I don’t think there’s going to be any steps lost,” the senior cornerback and team captain said earlier this month. “I think they’re going to come out guns blazing.”
Stony Brook’s quest for a third straight berth in the FCS playoffs begins Aug. 29 against Bryant at LaValle Stadium. The Seawolves return a majority of starters from a defense that ranked among the FCS’s best last season, but the offense will have some fresh new faces at some key skill position spots.
Under center will be redshirt junior Tyquell Fields, who on Tuesday won an offseason-long battle for the starting job and had 36 pass attempts and 31 carries in two seasons as the backup to Joe Carbone. Fields will hand off to senior running back Isaiah White, a Longwood alum whose job two years ago was to fill gaps as a linebacker rather than blow through them. On passing downs, one of Fields’ top options will be Jean Constant, who this time last year played for the very Bryant team that the Seawolves will face.
Last year’s team led the CAA in rushing on the legs of “Long Island Express” members Donald Liotine (1,148 yards) and Jordan Gowins (995). Despite the turnover, this year’s players are very optimistic that there won’t be any fall-off from that. Quite the opposite, in fact – they say all that sitting and watching has prepared them for this very moment.
“I think as being a young team, the fact that we can watch film is huge,” said White, a preseason All-CAA selection. “[Liotine, Gowins, Carbone and receiver Julius Wingate] were nothing short of leaders and they set great examples, especially with the things and the little details that the coaches wanted – emphasis on their first steps or how they studied film and stuff like that.”
Practice time has been key as well, both in terms of getting familiar with the playbook and developing chemistry within the unit.
“I think just the repetitions have been so key for the younger guys, coming into a system that they didn’t get a lot of plays in in games, but really drilling the film work and working with the coaches as soon as they could,” said offensive guard Kyle Nunez, an East Islip product who, like White, was a preseason All-CAA pick. “It’s like they’ve been on the field the whole time.”
It certainly helps that they’ve shared that field with Stony Brook’s trademark stingy defense. The Seawolves finished 18th in the FCS in total defense (315.3 yards per game) and 12th in scoring defense (20.3 points allowed per game) in 12 games last season. With eight players back in the fold – including captains Heslop, who played high school ball at Archbishop Stepinac, and defensive tackle Sam Kamara – they expect to be right back at the top of those rankings this season.
"We’ve got a lot of players who have seen a lot, done a lot, seen a lot of different offenses and seen a lot of different schemes,” said Kamara, the team's’ third preseason All-CAA honoree. “So there’s not a lot that we haven’t really seen.”
“The games were kind of easy compared to what I was doing in practice against those guys,” Nunez said of Kamara and the rest of the Seawolves’ defensive line. “You’re just grateful to play against dudes like that.”
Coach Chuck Priore said that there’s “a little anxiety” when a team has to replace its starting quarterback and its two top running backs in one offseason, but was quick to point out the depth behind all the new offensive starters – especially when compared to the relative youth behind the stars on defense.
“We have, technically, eight starters back on defense . . . but our backups on defense have a lot less experience,” he said. “And on offense, even though we graduated some key playmakers over the last two years – you know, when the quarterback and the running backs are gone, you get a little anxiety – we probably have a deeper team with more experience on offense.
“So honestly, it’s trying to get the whole team to be successful. And I think we have the tools in the toolbox, now we’ve got to get them sharpened and ready to go.”
Three questions facing the Stony Brook football team heading into the 2019 season:
1. How will Fields fare? Stony Brook on Tuesday named Tyquell Fields their starting quarterback after an offseason-long battle with Jack Cassidy (Connetquot). Head coach Chuck Priore called Fields' athleticism “a game-changing element” and added that the junior “can make every throw in our offense.” Fields completed 17 of 35 passes for 166 yards and two touchdowns last season as the backup to Joe Carbone.
2. Can Constant be a constant? The Seawolves graduated most of their top receiving talent but brought in grad transfer Jean Constant from Bryant. The 5-9, 180-pound Constant hauled in 107 passes for 1,336 yards and 15 touchdowns in three seasons with the Bulldogs, but he also adds an element of speed to the return game, with 1,694 kick return yards and five scores. Seniors Andrew Trent (Bellport) and Nick Anderson also return from injury-shortened seasons to bolster the Seawolves’ receiving corps.
3. Can they keep protecting LaValle? Stony Brook is 11-1 at home in the last two seasons, with the one loss coming by just four points. This year, they have seven games at LaValle Stadium, and Priore has stressed the importance of the Seawolves being able to “hold our serve” at home in order to “compete correctly.”
Thursday, Aug. 29: vs. Bryant, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 7: at Utah State, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 14: vs. Wagner, 6 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 21: vs. Fordham, 6 p.m.
Saturday, Sept. 28: at Rhode Island, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 5: vs. James Madison, 6 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 12: vs. New Hampshire, 6 p.m.
Saturday, Oct. 26: at Villanova, 3:30 p.m.
Saturday, Nov. 2: at Richmond, 3 p.m.
Saturday, Nov. 9: vs. Towson, 2 p.m.
Saturday, Nov. 16: at Delaware, 1 p.m.
Saturday, Nov. 23: vs. Albany, 2 p.m.