BY CHRIS MACKOWIAK
Featured photo: Navitsky hands off the ball to senior super back Kadarrius Campbell. Sept. 22. Brendan Link photo
Four weeks and a three-game home stand now into the 2018 campaign, many questions have been answered regarding the Salisbury University football team. The Sea Gulls have gone a perfect 3-0 (2-0 NJAC) to complete their first three home games of the season.
This Saturday, Salisbury will hit the road for the first time this season against William Paterson University, looking to continue their undefeated stride. The Sea Gulls have to feel positive about where they stand now moving forward. Despite a multitude of injuries to start the season, the team has made very few miscues in the first few games.
Entering this season, one of the sure things about the Sea Gulls was the starting quarterback, sophomore Jack Lanham. Lanham was a two-time NJAC Offensive Rookie of the Week last season, showing brief sparks late in the season including his start in Salisbury’s ECAC Bowl appearance.
While lacking luster in the opener against Albright College, Lanham made up for it in the first half against Kean, throwing and passing for at least 55 yards. Going down with an injury just before the half, the sophomore did not return to the game and is currently out indefinitely.
In stepped fellow sophomore quarterback Jack Navitsky, not sporting much experience from his freshman season. Taking over with just a 7-0 lead at the half, Navitsky led the Sea Gull offense to the 28-0 win. In his one half of play, he threw a touchdown pass and rushed for 55 yards.
With Lanham out against The College of New Jersey this past weekend, Navitsky achieved similar results in his first career start. The Shrewsbury, N.J., native threw for 35 yards and one touchdown, but his real production came on the ground. Leading the team in rushing, Navitsky ran for 152 yards and two touchdowns, including a 69-yard touchdown on the opening drive.
“We were supposed to pass the ball and I had pressure in my face,” Navitsky said after the game. “So, run away from pressure. Next thing you know, I see a lot of field and that’s that. Gotta give credit to guys adapting to change on that back side and blocking for me and allowing me to go 69 yards for that touchdown.”
After the 38-7 victory over TCNJ Saturday evening, Navitsky realizes the role he is in now and is ready for the road ahead.
“As a team, you gain a little bit more confidence with each win,” Navitsky said. “For me personally, I can kind of settle in now, know what I need to do, get back to the grind, watch film of William Paterson next week and continue to just practice hard and get the guys to come with energy to practice every week.”
Next Man Up
Outside of Navitsky in the offense, there are a few examples of a next-man-up mentality on the SU football team. At center, due to an early season injury to veteran Tyler Rosello, sophomore Joseph Osbourne has started the first three games of the season.
This past Saturday, the Sea Gulls were without two more key cogs in the backfield in senior Mike Fowler and sophomore Shamar Gray, both due to injury. The holes in the potent backfield were left open and filled for the TCNJ game by junior Khari Chase and sophomore Pete Boone.
The two players carried themselves well in the victory. Transferring in from Ferrum College, Chase has 125 rushing yards on 15 runs this season, while Boone has rushed eight times for 45 yards.
Adding into the rushing offense has been the super back combo of Kadarrius Campbell and Mike-Ryan Mofor. The two are within the top four rushers this season for the Sea Gulls.
Both players have stabilized the rushing attack over the course of the season with three touchdowns apiece. Mofor leads SU currently with 367 rushing yards on 25 runs.
With so many injuries coming across the team, the Sea Gulls will look to gain some of their health back on this road trip. The good lesson in all of this is that Salisbury clearly has depth at multiple positions, a useful skill set down the line.
The largest difference in the start of the 2017 and 2018 seasons might just be the success of the pass rush. Creating only two sacks in their first three contests last season, the Sea Gulls already have 10 sacks this season. It took SU until their fifth game to get to that point last year.
“We just try to do our best to get off the ball, use our hands and just look for the ball to make plays,” SU junior defensive end Matt McFarland said following the TCNJ victory. “I think I’ve definitely grown through the Sea Gull football program. [These coaches] have been like mentors to me growing up in college.”
McFarland is a big part of the early success, leading the Sea Gulls in both sacks (2.5) and tackles for loss (3.5). He attributed the early success of the season to the team’s mental toughness and pursuit of the football.
The sack production has additionally come with senior defensive end Isaac Johnson out for the last two games. He had 1.5 sacks in the season-opening win against Albright.
Overall, the defense seems to once again be a solid backbone for Salisbury. After their first three games, the Sea Gull defense is allowing just seven points per game. The only score allowed for the Lions on Saturday was on their opening drive.
The early defensive success has allowed this offense to mature and figure their strategy after losing many skilled key players from a season ago. With stronger offenses on the horizon, this Sea Gull unit will see a true test in the next few weeks.
Strength of Schedule
Within Salisbury’s overall 3-0 record, some caveats do have to be issued about the strength of schedule so far. The three teams currently have a combined record of 0-11.
Albright College has currently started what could be a very long season for the Lions. After their loss to Salisbury, subsequent blowout losses hit the Lions vs. Mary Hardin-Baylor, vs. Stevenson and at Widener.
While nothing should be taken away from Salisbury’s electric start, it brings the notion into perspective that a much tougher road is ahead for the maroon and gold. Most people have their eyes on the final two weeks deciding the NJAC title race with the Sea Gulls facing top-10 teams in Frostburg State and Wesley then.
Until then, the strength of opponents literally grows tougher week by week as Salisbury moves through their schedule. It is something that SU head coach Sherman Wood says will help the Sea Gulls heal and grow confidence before arguably their toughest match-ups of the season later on.
On Saturday, the Sea Gulls will look to continue their hot start at William Paterson University (0-3, 0-2 NJAC) at 1 p.m. Then, SU will travel to Christopher Newport University (2-1, 1-1 NJAC) before eventually returning home for Homecoming.