Following the tragic loss of defensive coordinator Bryan Collins, the Stony Brook football team’s defenders are wearing their hearts on their sleeves coming into the 2023 season.
Collins died at the age of 58 on July 8 due to a cardiac event. Leaving behind a void in the Stony Brook football program, his absence has been felt by many that valued him as a coach as well as a person.
Collins’ absence will also be felt on the field. Coming off its worst season in program history, Stony Brook already had a lot riding on the upcoming year; without Collins’ services, the defense may struggle yet again. In 2022, the Seawolves finished with the fourth-worst total defense and the third-worst scoring defense in the Colonial — now Coastal — Athletic Association (CAA).
Despite losing Collins while trying to turn the defense around, many Seawolves say the team will seek to honor his legacy in the 2023 season. One of those Seawolves is defensive tackle Taylor Bolesta, who played under Collins at Long Island University (LIU) in 2021 before transferring to Stony Brook last year. After recording 22 tackles (seven for a loss) in 11 games a season ago, Bolesta was named a captain for Stony Brook on Tuesday.
Bolesta was outspoken on Collins’ everlasting impact on the defensive unit.
“We 100% have something deep to play for,” Bolesta said in an interview with The Statesman. “What we’re going to do is take [Collins’] values that he instilled in us and continue to uphold that throughout the season.”
One thing that sticks with Bolesta was Collins’ personability with his players.
“Obviously we miss him as a coordinator and as a member of our staff, but he was so much more than that,” Bolesta said. “He knew every player that ever played for him on a personal level. You could ask him about a player that played for him at [LIU] Post 20 years ago and someone on the Stony Brook roster last year; he’d be able to tell you a personal story about them.”
Also helping the charge on defense will be middle linebacker Aidan Kaler, who was named a captain and earned a 2023 Preseason All-CAA Honorable Mention nod. Kaler is now in his fifth season at Stony Brook, and would have been his third under Collins’ guidance.
Kaler said that he built a strong connection with Collins and credited him for being a very motivational coach — one who makes his players want to give their best on every play.
Kaler explained how losing Collins put life into perspective, and how he thinks it will help unify the team and play harder in his memory.
“It’s terrible what happened … I felt that it made us closer as a group,” Kaler said. “If he was here, he would say the same thing. He would go ‘You boys better bring it,’ so we’re definitely going to do everything we can to play for him and that motivates everybody on the team.”
Many of Stony Brook’s defensive woes from last season can be attributed to the pass defense, which allowed the second-most passing yards per game in the conference with 251.3. Coming in to help this cause is safety Cory Gross Jr., a transfer student from the University at Buffalo. Due to his limited time here, Gross Jr. did not get to know Collins as well as some of the other guys on the defensive unit. However, since they were each settling into new roles with the team when they first met, Gross Jr. and Collins were able to build a bond over that.
With the locker room functioning like an extended family, Gross Jr. said that the team will play in honor of their fallen family member.
“Having those relationships and those football brotherhoods, it’s always going to motivate you when a brother goes down,” Gross Jr. said. “We’re going to go out there and play for him and pay it forward, the work and dedication that he put into the game and the team.”
The Seawolves will don a commemorative “BC” sticker on their helmets to commemorate Collins’ legacy for the entire 2023 season. Head coach Chuck Priore confirmed that the first game of the season on Aug. 31 against No. 24 Delaware will be “Bryan Collins Day.”
Priore said that the team may get an extra push from the emotions bound to flow that night.
“I think there will be a certain type of motivation,” Priore said. “It’ll be a good day. I think [knowing] Bryan’s philosophy and getting to know him well over two years here, it’s not about him. It’s about performing your duties in the correct way. I think that’s what we’ll do.”
Mike Anderson also contributed reporting.