Stony Brook University (SBU), renowned for a stellar academic reputation and award-winning on-campus hospital, can now place another feather in its cap as an up-and-coming athletic powerhouse that strikes fear in the heart of opponents. Welcome to the Wolves Den.
This year, college football is marking its 150th anniversary, but the Stony Brook Athletic Department has its own milestone achievements that will inspire them to greater heights this season: 20 years of Division I athletics; seven players received NFL rookie minicamp invites last year, following six invites the year before; they’re coming off two straight Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) playoff appearances and there’s a chance Stony Brook finally has a player drafted into the NFL come April.
Elvis Presley crooned “home is where the heart is.” While that may be true, for the SBU football team, “home is where the wins are.” In the past two seasons, the Seawolves were a combined 11-1 while playing under the bright lights at Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium and were one of only 17 teams in the nation to go undefeated at home during the 2018 season. The team’s success, on-and-off the field, led the school to extend head coach Chuck Priore’s contract last November, adding two more years to his deal; he is now signed through 2022.
“We talk about defending the Wolves Den, and if you’re going to come into that stadium, you’re going to have to claw your way out of there,” Coach Priore said at Stony Brook Football Media Day. “It becomes really apparent because we have seven home games this year, so if we can hold serve at home games, we should be able to compete correctly.”
The “sweet sorrow” of parting ways is an unfortunate reality faced annually by college teams. The reasons vary — graduation, transfer, professional opportunities, etc. — but the result is always the same: quality players leave. Stony Brook is not immune to this phenomenon. Of the 110 players on the roster, only 11 of them are returning starters, three on offense and eight on defense. Despite the inevitable turnover, coach Priore has assembled an impressive squad.
Coach Priore recently stated that “[e]ven though we graduated some key playmakers the past couple seasons, we probably have a deeper team with more experience on offense.”
Stony Brook scored 20 rushing touchdowns and ran for over 2,000 yards in 2018; every player who accounted for those touchdowns has moved on, including the duo of Jordan Gowins and Donald Liotine, better known as the “Long Island Express.” However, Running Backs coach Omar King is not worried.
“We have a real good group that is very talented,” King said. “The only thing is that we don’t have the experience that we’ve had in the past couple of years. We have to train these guys and make sure they are doing everything necessary to get caught up to what it is that we are trying to do.”
Team captain, senior Isaiah White, makes his return to the offensive side of the field after spending two years on defense and redshirting last year. White, as well as redshirt-freshmen Ty Son Lawton and Seba Nekhet, will be the featured ball carriers this season.
Although the offense has only three returning starters, those three have a combined 58 starts under their belts. Senior right guard Mason Zimmerman, as well as offensive linemen senior Joe Detorie and sophomore Kyle Nunez will be part of the group tasked with keeping the quarterback safe and the run game flowing. Nunez’s play last year earned him a spot on the All-Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) Football second team, as well as HERO Sports Freshman All-American team and a spot on this year’s CAA Football Preseason All-Conference team.
With the graduation of Joe Carbone, the starting QB for the last three-and-a-half years, coach Priore is faced with the challenge of selecting a new field general for the first time in years. Juniors Tyquell Fields and Jack Cassidy have been battling for the position since spring ball and only time will tell which of them will get the starting nod.
Whoever coach Priore picks to lead the team, he will have many weapons armed and ready at wide receiver. Returning starter Nick Anderson is joined by Brandon Benson, a junior who transferred to Stony Brook in the spring from Southern Methodist University, as well as graduate transfer, Jean Constant, from Bryant University. Constant, who is known for his speed, was recently named a STATS FCS first team Preseason All-American. This is not Constant’s first, or even second time having his name on the All-American list, having been honored in 2017 and 2018.
The offense is not the only big and shiny attraction for this hungry Seawolves team. Opponents will have to prepare to face-off against a rock-solid defense.
Towson Football Head Coach Rob Ambrose knows that when his team plays Stony Brook, the Seawolves defense will present a significant challenge. “Stony Brook plays fantastic defense,” Ambrose said in an interview with The Statesman.
Coach Ambrose’s sentiment was echoed by Richmond Head Coach Russ Huesman who stated that “Stony Brook is the most physical team that we play in the CAA. They have that mentality. They’ve played really well. They play really good defense. Never out of position. Physicality on special teams. Chuck has a tough blue-collar mentality. He’s done a tremendous job turning the team into what they are now. I want Richmond to play like Stony Brook.”
The captains on defense, seniors Sam Kamara and Gavin Heslop, lead the return of a mostly intact group that allowed an average of only 193.2 passing yards per game and 122.1 rushing yards per game, good enough to rank 20th in the nation.
Kamara, who recorded 42 total tackles, including nine sacks, is joined on the defensive line by senior Keegan Henderson, junior Brandon Lopez and sophomore Casey Williams. Henderson played in all 12 games last year, while Lopez started 10 games in 2018 and Williams recorded 43 total tackles, including six sacks and three blocked passes.
Coach Priore raved about the depth the team has this year. “This is the deepest team I’ve ever had, by far, at every position, with the exception of linebacker.” Meanwhile, Kamara likes what he sees from the defense. “Because we have a lot of experience, these guys have seen a lot,” Kamara said. “With that being said, we all know what is going on and we are clicking on all cylinders. In the short time we’ve been together [in] (sic) this camp, everybody has been in tune with each other and we are on the right path.”
Most casual NFL fans — New York Jets, in particular — have heard the expression “Revis Island” repeatedly over the last decade. The moniker symbolized the work-ethic and play of cornerback Darrelle Revis, and how receivers felt stranded when he covered them. Add “Revis Island” to the “Bash Bros,” and you’ve got the backfield duo of Heslop and junior cornerback TJ Morrison. One could even include junior defensive back/rover Augie Contressa in the mix. But Heslop and Morrison are like diamonds that have been formed from the same piece of coal.
Since the age of eight, Heslop and Morrison have been on the same football team. “He’s my brother for life. We didn’t think we would meet up in high school,” Heslop said, but they did and won the CHSFL AAA Championship in 2015 while at Archbishop Stepinac High School. “We push each other, he teaches me about his game and I teach him about mine.” Morrison said about his “brother for life,” Heslop.
The two combined for 101 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, one interception, a crazy 87-yard fumble recovery touchdown and much more. Add Contressa and his 73 tackles, 10 for loss including three sacks and one interception, and the defense is ready to go.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
White, a CAA Football Preseason All-Conference team selection, looks to help rebuild the run game; while senior free safety Synceir Malone is coming off a hot 2018 in which he had 53 total tackles, five for loss including a sack. Defensive Line Coach Rob Noel talked about the defensive group that included Malone. “We have a lot of fourth and fifth-year guys in our two-deep. That’s probably the most I’ve ever had coaching anywhere and it is showing in camp … the technique is very polished because they have been doing it a long time. I’m excited to see the development of some of these guys as they enter the last couple years of their careers.”
Of the players on the roster who might have their dreams of playing in the NFL come true, three names stand out: Kamara, Constant and Heslop. Constant could easily be a staple on a special teams unit while Kamara projects to be solid depth on the defensive line, but the diamond in the rough is Heslop. His speed, athleticism and physicality lends itself great to the NFL’s style of play. According to DraftScout, Heslop is projected in the range of seventh-round draft pick to priority free agent (PFA). If any player gets drafted and makes the 53-man roster, they would follow in the footsteps of Stony Brook alumni Will Tye, Victor Ochi, Timon Parris and Chris Cooper.
This might be the most important season for the Seawolves since joining the CAA. Coming off two straight FCS playoff appearances but having been bounced in the first round last year, many within the media expect it to be a “rebuild” year for the Seawolves, but don’t tell the team that. They’re preparing for a championship run. The season kicks off August 29, 6 p.m. at Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium versus Bryant University, an interesting matchup for transfer Constant: new versus old. Let’s hope the phrase “new is always better” plays true.
Correction: August 18, 2019
The article previously listed junior defensive back/rover Auggie Contressa as a senior. The article has since been updated.