James Kenner admitted he was fumbling for words in the aftermath of Stony Brook's 20-3 victory over American International on a dripping-wet Saturday night at LaValle Stadium. That's because Kenner still was replaying his fumble at the end of his final run of the evening, a 17-yard burst to the AIC 16 just before the ball got punched out from behind by a tackler.
"There's no excuse for a fumble," Kenner said. "That's why my tongue is everywhere. I'm going to go to sleep thinking about it. Coach P. might have something to say to me. We've got the sand and the rice in the weight room, and I'm going to keep my hands pretty strong so that won't happen again."
Coach P., of course, is Seawolves coach Chuck Priore. He decides who on Stony Brook's offense gets to put their hands on the ball, and even though Kenner led the Seawolves a year ago with 829 yards rushing and four 100-yard games in only six starts, he didn't touch the ball in their first two losses this season.
Transfer Stacey Bedell won the starting job over the summer, and Marcus Coker, who was a 1,000-yard rusher in 2012, has been trying to work his way back from abdominal surgery last season as well as from injuries suffered in an April motorcycle accident. Even sophomore Tyler Fredericks was ahead of Kenner on the depth chart.
But when Bedell limped off the field in the third quarter with a minor injury after carrying 12 times for 130 yards and two touchdowns, Kenner finally got into the mix.
On his second carry, he broke over right guard and went 30 yards. He gained 9 yards and 10 yards on the next two plays before capping an 81-yard drive with a 3-yard scoring run that gave the Seawolves their 20-3 lead. Kenner finished with 102 yards on 10 carries.
Kenner said he sometimes worked out twice a day just to stay ready. "I knew as soon as I got my chance, I was going to take it and keep going and progress from last year," he said.
Asked last week if Kenner's absence from the lineup was related to any disciplinary measures, Priore said, "No, he's a great kid."
The fact is that Kenner's measurables, especially in the speed category, fall short of some of his competition. But he proved against the Yellow Jackets that he measures up just fine in terms of yards produced, finding the running lanes and heart.
"I said to him in the preseason, 'Be ready for your opportunity,' " Priore said. "I'm happy for him. He deserves it."
How much of an opportunity Kenner gets next week at North Dakota (1-2) will depend on Bedell's health and whether Coker shows signs of breaking out of his early-season struggles. But Priore can't ignore Kenner's production, even if it came against Division II AIC.
The Yellow Jackets made the playoffs last season and are favored to win the Northeast-10 this year. "They're tough kids," Priore said. "Whether you believe it or not, it was more physical than the UConn game last week."
In fact, Stony Brook managed only two first downs in a sluggish first quarter before Bedell got the running game jump-started with a 72-yard TD run. "We ran one running play after the second quarter," Priore said. "We just changed formations and showed it to them different ways."
Clearly, it was a relief to everyone on the Seawolves, including their outstanding defense, to see the running game kick into gear for the first time this season. Getting that first win meant a lot to a team that still has FCS playoff aspirations.
"It's big," defensive captain Christian Ricard said. "To have the offense going better is huge."
Kenner may have gone to sleep having nightmares about his fumble, but if he keeps running as well as he did against AIC, Priore and the rest of the Seawolves will rest a lot easier.