Picked to finish 10th out of 12 teams in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) by the conference’s head coaches and media relations directors, the Stony Brook football team is seeking a reversal of fortunes. Backed by a healthy quarterback and an arsenal of wideouts at full strength, the Seawolves will need to exceed expectations to finish above .500 and return to the postseason.
“We weren’t consistent enough as a team and probably need to improve upon that,” head coach Chuck Priore said about Stony Brook’s performance last year.
Since reaching the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) playoffs in two consecutive seasons from 2017 to 2018, the team has struggled to win consistently. A 2019 campaign that began 4-1 saw the Seawolves quickly sputter as they dropped six of their final seven games. In the abbreviated spring 2021 season, Stony Brook lost its first three games before beating rival Albany on the road for the Golden Apple.
“It just felt different playing in the spring,” redshirt senior defensive lineman Casey Williams said. “Rather than having training camp for a month and then preparing yourself mentally and physically, we just came into the season just not knowing what to expect.”
The Seawolves’ final two opponents wound up canceling their contests due to COVID-19 issues, sending Stony Brook into the offseason prematurely.
“We got done on April 1 from our competition,” Priore said. “So we got more spring ball practices in, we got game experience in my opinion [and] we got the rest we needed to have a normal offseason, which I think was real important.”
There is notable turnover on the squad’s defense, with three starters — defensive lineman Sam Kamara and defensive backs TJ Morrison and Augie Contressa — ending their Stony Brook careers and signing undrafted free agent contracts with NFL teams after the 2021 draft. Priore expects a handful of key players to take the next step and become the new leaders for the Seawolves on this side of the ball.
Redshirt senior linebacker Reidgee Dimanche, who Priore believes “had his best game of his career” in last season’s opener against Villanova, is one name that Stony Brook’s head coach singled out. The inside linebacker was ruled out for the rest of the shortened campaign after suffering an injury in his lone appearance. In 2019, Dimanche finished second behind Contressa on the team with 87 tackles in 12 games; he tied with Contressa for the team lead in tackles for loss at 10.5.
On the defensive line, Priore described Williams as an “important” piece in “anchoring the front,” especially with the graduation of Kamara, a five-year starter. The current Chicago Bears player remains an influential figure to those still on the Stony Brook roster.
“The culture [Kamara] preaches, on and off the field, we have in our locker room, especially in the D-line,” Williams said. “This short season was good for the younger guys because they got their feet wet, so they know what we’re looking for. We’re very excited and ready to work.”
Priore also confirmed that redshirt junior defensive back Gregory Young II will play a big role in the secondary. Now with two seasons under his belt, the cornerback is expected to be counted on for leadership as well. Joining him is redshirt junior Isaiah Givens, who transitioned to defensive back in the offseason after spending three years as a wide receiver for Stony Brook.
The statistics from the shortened spring season are difficult to extrapolate based on the small sample size as well as the divisional format, which permitted Stony Brook to schedule only northern CAA schools. Still, the Seawolves defense finished fourth in the conference, allowing only 22.2 points per game. The team was less adept in total yards per game, finishing in the middle of the pack as a result of the second-worst pass defense in the conference at 228.2 yards per game.
Returning for his third season as Stony Brook’s starting quarterback, graduate student Tyquell Fields looks to bounce back from a disappointing spring. In 2019, his first year as the team’s primary signal-caller, he set a program record with 2,809 total yards of offense. His reduced effectiveness last season played a role in the Seawolves’ struggles, as they finished last in the CAA with a paltry 120.8 passing yards per game.
“It was a difficult season for Ty,” Priore said. “Not to make any excuses, but five of our top six receivers did not practice in preseason because of injuries … He also battled a couple of injuries. He got hurt in the Delaware game, which kept him out of the second half of that game and the whole practice week. And then he played pretty much three quarters of the Albany game with a pretty substantial knee injury that probably would have put him out for the rest of the season.”
Stony Brook gained numerous weapons for Fields before last year, but injuries hampered their productivity. Redshirt senior wide receiver Khalil Newton, a Ball State transfer, was hurt in the Maine game and missed the rest of the season. Graduate wide receiver Hunter Hayek, who came in from Rutgers, suffered a hamstring injury in preseason and never played. Redshirt sophomore wide receiver Shawn Harris Jr., a Stepinac product like Fields, additionally was never healthy.
Fields only threw two touchdowns last season. One was to redshirt senior wide receiver Delante Hellams Jr., who was Stony Brook’s leader in receiving yards and receptions in the spring as well. Priore also expressed excitement about sophomore wide receiver Tedy Afful, who redshirted last season.
“I’m certainly confident that [Fields] can return to what he did in 2019,” he said. “But he also needs the parts around him. We need to protect the quarterback better and we also need to have the guys on the outside to do their job.”
Stony Brook’s trademark ground-and-pound run game was one of the team’s strong suits last season, finishing third in the CAA with 159.8 yards per game. The Seawolves’ top rusher, redshirt junior running back Ty Son Lawton, averaged 89.3 yards per contest, also good for third-best in the conference. Backed up by redshirt senior Seba Nekhet and redshirt freshman Roland Dempster, the Seawolves look to continue their success with the rush.
The CAA is once again expected to be one of the top conferences at the FCS level. It represented half of the teams in the national semifinals last season, with Delaware and James Madison both among the final four teams standing. With the conference slate always a gauntlet, there are no easy games, doubly so for a Stony Brook program that is 3-9 against the CAA since 2019.
“Delaware ended up playing in the national semifinals, and we probably didn’t perform great in that game,” Priore said about the 28-point defeat. “But in the other three games versus a very good Villanova team, against a Maine team that was good, we had our moments.”
This year, Stony Brook is scheduled to play every team picked to finish the top nine of the conference except for James Madison. Neither Elon nor William & Mary, the two schools projected to finish worse than the Seawolves, are on the docket. Stony Brook has a date with the reigning Pac-12 champions Oregon, as well as non-conference opponents Colgate and Fordham. The road will not be easy, but the Seawolves’ players are up for the challenge.
“Everybody wants to play football,” Williams said. “We don’t want to just sit in a house, just train or whatever have you. This quick turnaround, it might be a little strenuous on our body, but our strength staff is immaculate, so our bodies will be prepared just as our minds will be.”