Wagner Seahawks (2011 Poll Finish - 7th)
2010 Record: 5-6, 3-5 NEC
2010 NEC Finish: t-6th
Two-Hundred wins later and Wager head coach Walt Hameline seems as excited and energetic as ever.
"We're excited," exclaimed the man who enters his 31st season at the helm of the Seahawks. "Our kids had a good offseason, and we're really excited."
Hameline's outlook could have something to do with the fact that his offense returns all-star caliber quarterback Nick Doscher (Staten Island, NY/Moore Catholic) and a pair of proven receivers.
"We're going to be young on offense up front," said Hameline of a team that lost two first team all-NEC linemen to graduation. "But in all the other places we're pretty solid."
Starting with the signal caller, the Seahawks return a ton of talent to the offensive skill positions.
In his first two seasons as the starter, Doscher threw for 24 touchdowns and ran for another 19. The 6-foot-2, 225-pound Staten Island native, who spent four years as a Kansas City Royals farmhand prior to enrolling at Wagner, has rushed for 1,461 yards and averaged in excess of 4.0 yards per carry as a collegian.
His sophomore season did not go entirely as planned. After leading the Seahawks to a third-place NEC finish as a freshman, Doscher saw his rushing touchdowns decline by seven and his interceptions increase by 6 while Wagner dropped three places in the final 2010 league standings.
"Last year he was put in a situation where he was it," said Hameline. "He was the guy who had the carry the ball, and every time we had to make a play we put him in that situation."
Nearly all of the offensive workload fell on Doscher's shoulders in 2010 because of a summertime season-ending injury to preseason all-NEC running back Dominique Williams (Bridgeton, NJ/Milford Academy).
After a year's worth of rehab and hard work, Williams is expected back at full strength this season. As a freshman in 2009, the Garden State product averaged 5.7 yards per carry and rushed for nine touchdowns in eight games.
"This year at the running back spot we have Dom Williams who was out [last year due to injury] and we have some other kids who we think can go back there and take the pressure off of him [Doscher] so we're not asking him to do everything," said Hameline.
The return of senior receivers David Crawford (Carrollton, TX/Hebron) and Justin Matthews (Hillside, NJ/Hillside) means opposing defenses will have to contain two big-play targets. Both men averaged over 15.0 yards per reception in 2010 with the former accounting for a team-best 18.0 ypr average. The 6-foot-4 Crawford ranked third amongst league leaders in receiving yardage after making 35 grabs for 629 yards. Meanwhile, Matthews, a 6-foot-1 target, made 29 receptions for 446 yards and five touchdowns.
Crawford was one of three Seahawks to garner preseason all-NEC status, joining linebacker Julian Stanford (Bloomfield, CT/Bloomfield) and kicker David Lopez (Plantation, FL/Heritage).
Wagner has built a reputation for turning out strong-legged kickers in recent years (ie Piotr Czech who spent time with the NFL's Ravens and Steelers), and Lopez fits this mold. The junior converted 67 percent of his attempts from beyond 40 yards last year, including a last-second game-tying 54-yard kick in a road win over Georgetown.
Meanwhile, Stanford is the leader of a defensive unit that Hameline has high hopes for this fall.
"They're [the defense] going to be the crew that's going to carry us. We have size, skill, and experience. I really like where we are defensively," said the 200-game winner.
Stanford, who made 12.5 hit for a loss and logged a league-leading 7.0 sacks in 2010, anchors a veteran linebacking corps that features junior CO Prime (Quebec, Canada/Kent School) and senior Dom Gaston (Phillipsburg, NJ/Bergen Catholic). The former is the Seahawks' top returning tackler after making 71 stops in 11 games, 10 of which he started, as a sophomore. Meanwhile, Gaston, a former standout at well-known Bergen Catholic HS, appeared in all 11 games last season and recorded 35 tackles.
Wagner is also experienced up front with two senior starters at defense end and another fourth-year Seahawk at tackle.
The secondary incurred the most turnover due to the graduation of safeties Stefen Gage and TJ Czeski, two of the team's top-three tacklers a year ago.
Senior strong safety Jeremiah Brown (Brooklyn, NY/Grand Street Campus) will have the opportunity to step into a starting spot. The NYC product made 26 tackles in 11 appearances as a junior.
Hameline will also look to a pair of transfers from Division I FBS programs to help fill the void in the defensive backfield. Native Staten Islander Torian Phillips (Staten Island, NY), who saw time as a running back for Wagner in 2010 after transferring from Syracuse, will bring his speed and athleticism to the defensive side of the ball. Meanwhile, Purdue transfer Jarrett Dieudonne (Fort Lauderdale, FL/Dillard), a sophomore, could have a meaningful impact on the Seahawks' secondary.
One other personnel change Wagner underwent this offseason was up in the coaching box. Defensive coordinator Malik Hall left to join the staff at Massachusetts and Tony Brinson has stepped in to replace him.
Brinson will call the Seahawks' defense following a three-year stint on staff at Columbia.