The Stony Brook football team running onto the field last year. The Seawolves’ 2022 season starts on Thursday. KAT PROCACCI/THE STATESMAN

The countdown is almost over. The 2022 Stony Brook football season is just two days away.

After finishing under .500 and missing the playoffs for the third straight year, the Stony Brook football team has a lot to prove. They finished 5-6 in 2021 and 4-4 in conference play, leaving a lot to be desired. However, a 4-1 finish to the year carried some positive vibes into the offseason for the Seawolves, and they will look to ride that momentum into the 2022 season. 

“I think we found our niche midway through last year,” head coach Chuck Priore said in an interview with The Statesman. “We found our identity back. This year’s team came back in January, and we went back to the standards that we needed to set forth. Masks were able to be taken off, and we were able to interact and go back from two locker rooms to one locker room. I think you’ll see the results in this football team.”

Expectations from the media — and the rest of the league — are not particularly high for Stony Brook in 2022. They were picked to finish in seventh place in the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) for this year. Despite being the underdogs, this Seawolves team has several aspects to it that may lead them to a successful 2022. 

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At the top of the list is their elite running game. Stony Brook’s offense was second in rushing yards per game last year in the CAA. Due to their success on the ground, Stony Brook controlled the clock better than anyone last year, finishing first in average time of possession per game last season. 

Luckily for the Seawolves, their running game has the potential to repeat its success this year. First-team All-CAA running back Ty Son Lawton is returning to Stony Brook for his senior year after leading the conference in rushing yards (1,088) last year. He is backed up by two good running backs in Roland Dempster and Seba Nekhet. 

“You win by having a physical part of the game,” Priore said. “I do believe games are won defending the run and being able to run the football.”

The run game will likely be relied on even more this year, as former starting quarterback Tyquell Fields graduated in the spring. The team had a three-way competition between quarterbacks Drew Guttieri, Daron Bryden and Josh Zamot this past training camp. 

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“I’m a big believer that we can win every CAA game with any one of those quarterbacks,” Priore said. 

Priore has not named a starter yet, but he confirmed Monday that the competition is now between Bryden and Zamot as the potential starters, with Guttieri being the backup for now. He has not ruled out potentially playing two quarterbacks, which he has done before.

“There’s been three other times in my coaching career … where I played two quarterbacks,” Priore said. “I wouldn’t dismiss that having to be the case this year.”

In order to be successful with an inexperienced quarterback, the Seawolves are going to have to be solid around him. Not only will he have a good ground game to lean on, but he will have a solid offensive line returning to protect him and open lanes for the running backs. Four-time All-CAA right guard Kyle Nuñez will be returning to anchor an offensive line that returns three starters. Nuñez, along with left tackle Cameron Lucas and left guard Cole Gambino, started every game and are back for 2022. 

“I think we’re going to be a great group,” Nuñez said. “It makes our job a lot easier when you can turn around and you’ve got number seven [Lawton] back there. I think we’re going to have a lot of fun doing what we do, and I think the sky’s the limit for this unit.”

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As for the receiving corps, Delante Hellams Jr. and Shawn Harris Jr. are both back after co-leading the team in receptions a year ago. Harris Jr. is a speedy receiver who led the team in receiving yards (586) and receiving touchdowns (three) last season. Hellams Jr. is a tall, reliable receiver who brings both experience and leadership to the offense. 

“The playbook comes second nature to me,” Hellams Jr. said. “I help a lot of the guys if they don’t know what routes to run and stuff like that. I give them the knowledge that I have, and I think that helps us come together.”

Also returning to the receiving corps is Khalil Newton, another tall receiver who was second on the team in yards and touchdowns. A new addition to the receiving corps is Tyler Devera, who was a tight end last year but converted to wideout this offseason. Devera was the only tight end who found the endzone last year, scoring a pair of touchdowns for Stony Brook. Priore also highlighted wide receiver Teddy Afful as a player to look out for this year, as he had an impressive training camp. 

Priore also mentioned that tight ends Damien Caffrey, Cal Redman and Nick Capazzola are likely to see the field a lot this year. 

The 2021 Stony Brook offense finished the year fourth in the CAA in total yards per game despite poor play at the quarterback position. Given the strong running game, the experienced offensive line and the reliable pass-catchers, this Stony Brook offense has a chance to be even more effective if its quarterback can protect the ball.

On the other side of the ball, the Seawolves are dangerous. The Stony Brook defense ranked third in the CAA last year in total yards, only behind James Madison and Villanova, who were both nationally ranked. The defense is returning most of its starters and top backups from a year ago. Priore said that he is not only high on their returning defenders from 2021, but some of the new players they brought along through the transfer portal.

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“I think that the biggest change we made in our program was that in mid-year, we were able to add through the transfer ranks some really good additions to our defense,” Priore said. “I think we’re more equipped with more numbers now.”

Priore believes that the better depth on the defensive side of the ball will help keep his players fresh towards the end of the game. Stony Brook lost three games by one possession last year, and Priore believes a healthy defense could flip the script on some of those close losses.

“I’m very confident in where we’re at as a defense, and certainly the new guys we brought in are going to add to where we left off.”

Some of those new guys include defensive linemen Taylor Bolesta and Eric Black. Bolesta is a transfer from LIU, and his reputation precedes him as a very strong man; Lawton said that he broke several team weightlifting records on his first day with the team. As for Black, he played for four years at Buffalo as a rotational defensive end. Also on the defensive line is defensive tackle Dakar Edwards, who recorded 33 tackles and four tackles for loss last season.

The linebacker group is almost as stacked as the running back group, as the Seawolves boast one of the best linebacking duos in the conference. Second-team All-CAA linebacker Tyler King returns after leading the team with 95 tackles last year, while team captain Reidgee Dimanche plays alongside him. 

“It’s great seeing the growth we’ve had from when I was a freshman until now,” Dimanche said. “I think we’re all ready to crack some heads.”

Priore also highlighted linebacker Aidan Kaler as a player to look out for in that unit, as he is back from an injury that sidelined him last year.

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The secondary had a good season last year, as they finished fourth in passing yards allowed per game. They finished the season on a hot streak, allowing only 165.2 passing yards per game on a 52.6% completion rate over the final five games. They also caught four interceptions during that interval, and three of those picks belonged to free safety Randy Pringle. He credited their takeaway spree towards turnover drills in practice and an increase in team confidence.

“It was just a big emphasis on takeaway drills and getting into our swagger at the end of the season,” Pringle said. 

Alongside Pringle is strong safety Akeal Lalaind who led the team in pass breakups in 2021. On the outside is defensive back Carthell Flowers-Lloyd, who is a multifaceted player. 

Though Flowers-Lloyd is listed as a defensive back, Priore said he may be used in packages as an outside linebacker. He has been used as a pass rusher before, tallying nine tackles for loss, three sacks and two forced fumbles last season. No matter where he plays, Stony Brook has a dynamic playmaker in him on the defensive side. 

The Seawolves also boast a very experienced roster, as 25 total fifth and sixth year players are on this year’s squad. The savviness that the heavy veteran presence brings may give the team an advantage over younger teams.

With a talented roster in place, all Stony Brook has to do to be successful is play their brand of football. If they run the ball well, control the clock and play strong defense, then they may very well find their way towards the top of the conference. One thing that stands in the Seawolves’ way is a tough schedule and a loaded conference. 

The CAA boasts four nationally ranked teams, with No. 5/6 Villanova, No. 19 Delaware, No. 22/24 Rhode Island and No. 24 Richmond all finding the preseason rankings lists. William & Mary and Elon also received a preseason national ranking from Athlon Sports, coming in at 23 and 25 respectively. Stony Brook is not scheduled to face Villanova or Delaware, but its first three conference games of the season are against Rhode Island, Richmond and William & Mary. 

Stony Brook dominated Richmond at Homecoming 27-14 last season and is 7-1 all-time against Rhode Island with the one loss coming last year. The Seawolves have not played William & Mary since 2017, but they were the only team who averaged more rushing yards per game than Stony Brook last year. 

The Seawolves begin their 2022 season at Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium this Thursday against Rhode Island. Opening kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. If Stony Brook can handle the ranked teams well in September, it may very well find itself listed right up there with the rest of them.

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