The names have changed from Miguel Maysonet and Brock Jackolski alternating at running back to Stacey Bedell and Jordan Gowins and from Michael Bamiro leading the offensive line to All-American candidate Timon Parris. But Stony Brook football coach Chuck Priore is hoping a rejuvenated running game can lead to a more potent offense when the Seawolves open the season against North Dakota Thursday night at LaValle Stadium.
How quickly it all comes together is the major question. Parris is a fixture at left tackle, but two-year starting guard Armani Garrick has moved to center, and new right tackle Jackson Miller missed last season with an injury. Transfer guards Mason Zimmerman (Maryland) and Jonathan Haynes (West Virginia) will be asked to produce early.
“We’re in a much better place today than we were over the last two years on the offensive line,” Priore said on Wednesday. “We have more depth, and I think we’re a more physical and athletic group than we’ve been over the last couple years.”
Bedell is coming off shoulder surgery that ended his season after only three games a year ago. He will be joined by powerful sophomore Gowins, who transferred from Boston College and whose older brother Eddie once played with Maysonet and Jackolski.
“I have no issues now,” Bedell said. “I feel like I never even had surgery. I think I can take a pounding of a full season. I put on 10 more pounds. That’s going to help me in a big way. My big focus was to put on extra weight and get stronger, and I succeeded with that.”
Rather than easing into the season, the Seawolves’ running game is facing an acid test from a veteran North Dakota defense in what amounts to a big-time FCS game against one of the Big Sky Conference favorites. The Fighting Hawks rank 19th and 21st in two FCS polls, are coming off a 7-4 season in which they defeated FBS Wyoming on the road, and their run defense allowed an average of 100.1 yards per game.
“They’re a little unorthodox,” Priore said. “They’re a 3-4 front. They like to bring a lot of pressure. They rely on playing quite a bit of man coverage, which allows them to put more guys into the run game.”
Stony Brook’s new offensive line will grow together over the next two seasons, but the maiden voyage is an extreme challenge. “We’re the engine of the team, so, we need us to all be in sync,” said the 6-5, 310-pound Parris, a Floral Park native who ranks as SBU’s leading NFL prospect.
“Me and Armani are the veterans of the offensive line, and we just help the young guys to understand what’s going on and make sure they’re taking the correct steps.”
The Seawolves averaged only 17.3 points while going 5-5 last season, but the 225-pound Gowins is a vital addition to the running game. If he and Bedell can approach the success of Maysonet and Jackolski, it would open up the offense for quarterback Joe Carbone and a deep corps of receivers that features Ray Bolden, Tim Keith and BC transfer Sherman Alston.
“We definitely have a lot of depth from the receivers and running back, Bedell said. “[Gowins] has speed, power and moves . . . I feel like it’s going to help spread the offense out. It’s kind of scary how dangerous we can actually be if we put the pieces together. We could be lethal.”
Priore said there’s no set plan to rotate Bedell, Gowins and possibly Donald Liotine, last season’s leading rusher. He wants to keep the backs fresh while remaining flexible to stick with a hot hand. But Bedell agreed a rotation might help preserve him physically.
The key for the Seawolves is they don’t want to be forced to go to the passing game because of an inability to run the ball. Parris said their offensive potential is “limitless” provided they can control the line of scrimmage.
“We’re definitely going to score more points and be a lot better in the running game,” Parris said. “The pass game is going to be a lot better because our quarterback has another year under his belt, and we have more weapons that we added in the offseason. We’re going to be in a better place this year.”
The stout North Dakota defense undoubtedly will provide a clear gauge of how far the Seawolves’ offense has come and how far it has to go to regain its former identity.