2014 was not the finest of seasons for the Stony Brook football team.
The team went 5-7 last year with a 4-4 record in the Colonial Athletic Association. Many of these losses stemmed from lack of a consistent starting quarterback. The Seawolves passed for just 11 touchdowns in 12 games, the second-fewest in the CAA. Stony Brook finished eighth in the conference and placed eighth in the conference’s annual preseason coaches’ poll earlier this summer.
But spending time around the team during camp this year, the atmosphere does not reflect its prior failures. The players and coaches have projected hope despite the questions surrounding the quarterback position.
“I’ve been here for ten years and this is the best first week of training camp we’ve ever had,” head coach Chuck Priore said. “Three months from now if we stay on target I would expect us to be on target for a playoff spot in the CAA.”
Much of this hope will lie on the shoulders of senior quarterback Conor Bednarski, who started the team’s last eight games in 2014 and went 4-4, passing for 1,327 yards, nine touchdowns and seven interceptions. Such numbers are hardly impressive, but it’s possible with some experience under his belt, Bednarski will improve and be able to be the consistent quarterback able to efficiently run Stony Brook’s offense.
“I know I learned a lot last year and I know I could have played a lot better,” Bednarski said. “I put a couple of those [losses] on my back personally.”
Priore is also optimistic about his quarterback’s potential improvement.
“I just think the game experience alone is crucial,” Priore said. “I think he’ll be able to feel more comfortable with game situations.”
Several of Bendnarski’s teammates also expressed support for him. Sophomore receiver Donavin Washington praised Bednarski’s early camp performance.
“I feel 100 percent confident in him,” Washington said. “He’s been looking real good this camp and I like the way he’s been playing.”
Senior linebacker Rahim Cassell, who transferred to Stony Brook last year following two years at Oregon, likened Bednarski’s work ethic to one of his more accomplished ex-teammates: Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota. He said that aside from Mariota’s elite speed, the quarterbacks express many similarities.
“Both have great arms,” Cassell said. “Mariota was in the playbook all the time and so is Bednarski. Both of them have the intellectual gift to run both offenses. Both of them can do exactly the same things.”
The most crucial player surrounding Bednarski is junior running back Stacey Bedell. In his first year at Stony Brook after transferring from UMass, Bedell was the team’s most dynamic player on offense, rushing for 1,070 yards and nine touchdowns in 11 games last season. Bedell will likely receive touches in the lion’s share of offensive plays since Priore has generally geared toward a run-heavy offense in the past.
“Hope so,” Priore said when asked if Bedell would be the focal point of the offense. “He’s put 15 pounds on from last year so he should be able to stand the test of time.”
However, the Seawolves lost their two leading receivers from last season. Wide receiver Adrian Coxon and tight end Will Tye have each graduated. Tye is currently with the New York Giants and Coxon was with the Green Bay Packers before being released earlier this month. Washington will be the team’s top returning receiver and said he feels confident about the upcoming season.
“It was great playing with [Coxson and Tye],” Washington said. “But I think now that we’ve got more receivers, we all work together, and we have good receiving corps. So now this year we should be better as a unit.”
Others returning to the Seawolves’ receiving corps include junior wide receiver Pat D’Amato, sophomore Nick Wagner and sophomore tight end P.J. Edwards. None of these players played much in 2014, but Washington seemed confident in their abilities, along with the ability of Bednarski to get them the ball.
For all of the problems that manifested under center last season, Stony Brook fielded one of the Football Championship Subdivision’s best defenses. The Seawolves had the sixth-best defense in the 125-team FCS last season. With eight returning starters, including preseason All-CAA senior defensive back Naim Cheeseboro and senior defensive lineman Victor Ochi, the Seawolves defense once again projects to be one of college football’s best.
“I don’t know if we’ll play statistically as well as we did last year because those were some amazing statistics,” Priore said. “But I do feel we have a lot of depth we bring back a lot of players with a lot of experience, we’ve added some players that have moved up as freshman, sophomores and a couple of transfers.”
Although the mantra is “defense wins championships,” Stony Brook’s stout defense could not carry the whole load in 2014. The disparity of production on both sides of the ball has been one of the main issues addressed coming into training camp.
“I would say this year would be more balanced,” Priore said. “Last year we struggled to win an identity, especially early in the season, but we’ve figured that out. We’ll have good balance and I think we have players on both sides of the field who would add to our team.”
While football has obviously been at the forefront of this season’s training camp, Priore focused on intangibles as well. Because Stony Brook blew several leads late in games last season, Bednarski said mental toughness has been part of this season’s preparation so the team can learn to stay positive in tough situations.
“We lost a lot of games late last year with an average of 4:46 left on the clock,” Bednarski said. “So we have 4:46 on the back of our workout shirts and approach the workouts in a manner that we would finish games. Go hard at the end of the workout, we had finishers and we really busted out butts. We worked hard to finish workouts and finish everything we did, doing it the right way so that when games ended, we go out on top.”
Stony Brook has another week to finish camp to hammer out its previous deficiencies. The Seawolves’ will head to the University of Toledo University on Thursday, Sept. 3 at 7 p.m. to take on the Rockets. The game will be aired on ESPN3.com.
Correction: Sept. 1, 2015
A previous version of this article referred to the University of Toledo as “Toledo University.”