By Chris Mackowiak
The Salisbury football team capped off a strong season with a 52-20 victory over Carnegie Mellon in the ECAC Legacy Bowl last week. The bowl win tallied another championship in the win column of SU Head Coach Sherman Wood. The win ends Salisbury’s season with a record of 8-3, 6-3 in the New Jersey Athletic Conference.
Below we take a look at some of the key players that paved the way for the eight win season. Also, I analyze the season in our final takeaway.
Freshman of the Year: Strong safety Andre Boone
From game one against Albright College, Boone began to make a name for himself. His most notable imprint was his ability to make open-field one-vs.-one tackles against opponents. In his first game, Boone tallied six tackles, all solo, and one interception. From there on, the freshman skied upward as one of the top playmakers among a talented defense.
By the end of the season, Boone was tied for the lead in tackles (62), led the team in solo tackles (33), and led the team in interceptions (3). When opposing teams were able to break through the Sea Gulls’ stout front seven, Boone seemed to always be there alongside the talented secondary.
As a freshman, Boone returns in 2017 to the Salisbury secondary alongside cornerback Mark Davis Jr. and free safety Shane Gaines to make for a talented unit. The Sea Gulls will just need to find the consistent starter for their second cornerback position.
Comeback Player of the Year: Sophomore wide receiver Sean Rowland
If there was one name Sea Gulls’ fans learned after the 34-18 win over Albright College on Sept. 2, it was Sean Rowland. Sea Gull Stadium erupted when the sophomore returned the opening kickoff against the Lions 92-yards for a touchdown. At a Coaches’ Luncheon later this semester, SU President Dr. Janet Dudley-Eshbach even presented Rowland with a plague commemorating the moment.
The electric factor of special teams is what really defined this Salisbury team this season. Rowland was the core of that, averaging 32 yards per kick return on 12 returns. He also earned NJAC Special Teams Player of the Year for his production. At his typical position, Rowland led the Sea Gulls in receptions (12) and also tallied 196 yards and three touchdowns.
He did all of this after sitting out last season, and Rowland will be back next season as a definite name to watch potentially leading a wide receiving core that returns all their players.
Senior of the Year: Quarterback Ryan Jones
Jones fought for the starting job from day one last season and took the opportunity with stride when then starting quarterback John Dunbar was out with an injury. From then, he has led the Sea Gulls to numerous victories. However, this season, Jones faced his own injury troubles, but he persevered.
The senior finished with a stat line of nine games played for 856 passing yards, nine touchdowns and only one interception. On the ground, Jones was third on the team in rushing, rushing 111 times for 539 yards and seven touchdowns.
One item that truly marked Jones and his senior ability was his decision-making in key situations. His well-timed option laterals and runs opened up successes for his teammates and prevailed the Sea Gulls onward.
Salisbury will lose a true natural leader, but they do gain another in junior Brandon Lewis next season. Lewis was able to see much time this year when Jones was injured. The junior started in Salisbury’s loss at Rowan and their ECAC Legacy Bowl victory last week.
Defensive Player of the Year: Senior defensive end Tyler Paradysz
Paradysz was a leader by example on the defensive line. While he did not lead in many statistical categories, he was pivotal in setting the tone on the defensive line for his team. Paradysz appeared at Coach Wood’s weekly Coaches’ Luncheon as the ‘Team Defensive Player of the Week’ multiple times displaying how much he meant to the coaches and the team.
The defensive end tallied 34 tackles (6.5 tackles for loss), two sacks, and one forced fumble. While the front seven did not tally as many sacks as desired this season, they placed immense pressure on opposing quarterbacks in order to place them in tough situations, leading to interceptions by the secondary.
Salisbury loses a lot with Paradysz graduating since they will have to reestablish the physicality on the end of the defensive line, which Coach Wood will surely be able to do.
Offensive Player of the Year and MVP: Senior super back Connor Canonico
For this award, it was hard to choose between Canonico or the offensive line that blocks for him, Jones, and the other slot backs. Following his ECAC Legacy Bowl performance, Canonico has been named the Offensive Player of the Year, which the SU Offensive Line receives Honorable Mention.
The super back position is critical in the triple option offense. It provides the openings for the pitch outs to the slot backs by forcing the opposing front seen to crash inward and draw towards the super back. Canonico’s consistency at the position made him perfect for this.
By the end of his senior season, Canonico led the team with 955 rushing yards on 157 rushes, tallying 10 touchdowns. Most notable was his play in the Legacy Bowl where he was named MVP following his 203 yards and one touchdown rushing performance.
Next season, injured junior super back Dandre Dennis and junior super back Malique Pratt both return next season to take over the production at the position.
2016 Season Takeaway
The season started on a high note with a Top 25 win over No. 16 Albright College at home. The Sea Gulls then rattled off three straight dominating performances to start the season 4-0. Then, the injury bug hit the team.
For their fifth game of the season at Rowan University, both starters, Canonico and Jones, were out for the game. While Lewis and Pratt performed well in their place, the Sea Gulls received their first loss of the season against the Profs.
The Sea Gulls rebounded well with three straight wins in a tight battle with Wesley and Frostburg State for the NJAC title. The whole season though seemed to be building up to the final two weeks of the regular season when Salisbury hosted Wesley and then travelled to Frostburg St. for the regular season finale.
Hope for an NCAA Tournament run quickly faded over those two weeks. Wesley starting running back Jamar Baynard pounded the ball on the ground against the Gulls, leading to a commanding 44-27 Wesley victory.
The next week was a must-win for Salisbury, but a late scoring drive by the Bobcats paved their way to their first Regents Cup win in over a decade, 21-17.
It was a roller coaster of momentum through the season that Salisbury did not have go their way. The Sea Gulls played a tough schedule though which allowed them a bid into an ECAC Bowl against Carnegie Mellon to be played at Franklin Field in Philadelphia.
Salisbury took the game with the same stride that they had at the start of the season, winning in commanding fashion 52-20. The bowl win softened the hurt from the two-game losing streak at the end of the season.
The 2016 season could have been more, but a lot happened out of the control of the team. Multiple injuries to many players across the final two games of the season brought back the memories of the early season loss to Rowan. Wesley also started the season 1-2, but then they quickly rebounded with their backs against the wall under one of the most successful coaches in NCAA DIII Football history.
While it is easy to say that the Sea Gulls will be back in 2017, it will be a tough road back to the top. Salisbury is deep at many of the skilled positions, but they do lose many seniors that were crucial to the 2016 team. Key players on both sides of the ball depart, but there is no doubt that Coach Wood will prepare them well.
Expectations soared this season after the explosive start to the season, but this program might perform better when it is the underdog, like their 38-35 upset of Wesley last season. It might take a long season where the Sea Gulls are not favored in the NJAC, for them to rise to the top and surprise everyone.
The only expectation I can truly provide is that the team will be in the NJAC Title hunt once again.