Just one year after Coach James Perry took the reigns of the Bryant Football team, the Bulldogs were picked to finish third in the NEC Coaches Preseason Poll, but they believe they’ll improve from there.
Coach Perry and the Bulldogs start the season Saturday, Sept. 1 when they welcome the University of New Haven to Smithfield. The program is celebrating its 20th birthday and they head into the season with a very promising roster. In addition to having 30 seniors on the roster, the Bulldogs are coming into the season after winning their final four games of 2017.
“Last year we put in a new offense, a new defense,” Perry said. “Schematically, it was a lot for these guys to do. They embraced the challenge very well, and we kept getting better. But in year two, it’s so much easier. We got 30 seniors on this team, so I have a lot of guys that can take my message and give it to the whole locker room.”
The experience also comes with talent, as well. A program record six of the returning players were given Preseason All-NEC honors. Four of the six are seniors, with three of those being on the defensive side of the ball. Linebacker Thomas Costigan and Defensive Linemen Dillon Guthro and Kevin Lazo were named as well as senior Wide Receiver Tom Kennedy.
The other two award winners were junior special teams players. Jean Constant, a wideout and returner, finished the season with the fifth most all-purpose yards in the nation with 148.5 per game. Kicker Gavin Rowley was named after making 7-of-9 field goals last year and only missing two extra points of his 38 attempts, finishing the season with 57 points.
Aside from these six, Perry feels the whole team has enough talent to continue right where they left off at the end of 2017.
“The biggest thing, I think, is we know how much better we’re practicing,” Perry said. “From last August to this August- we’re light years ahead. It’s going to be fun to put them out on the field Saturday.”
The Bulldogs are extremely impressive on the defensive front, with Guthro and Lazo leading the line after being named defensive captains. Both of them were awarded All-NEC honors last season as Lazo blocked a program-record four kicks and Guthro recorded 38 tackles, four of them being sacks and 6.5 of them tackles for a loss.
These are only two of the 17 returning players on the defensive front. Anthony DiMatteo, Fernando Casanova, Peter Corbett, Kobi Ojuku and Tomas Wright will all see significant time on the line.
The linebacker core is led by senior Thomas Costigan, who was named to the Buck Buchanan Award Watch List as well as being placed on the preseason all-conference team. The award is given to the best defensive player in the FCS, and Costigan was the only player in the northeast to be nominated. He’s also only the second player in Bryant history to be named to the list.
“All the young guys are looking up, and we have to lead them in the right direction,” Costigan said. “With the talent we have on the this team- it’s all about getting everybody to buy in and see what we can accomplish.”
Costigan was the 2017 NEC and ECAC Defensive Player of the Year, and was fourth in the FCS in sacks per game. He recorded 17 tackles for a loss and four forced fumbles, and became the second player in Bulldogs history to have a 100+ tackle season. Costigan recorded five 10+ sack games and had 14 against New Hampshire, who was nationally ranked at the time.
Besides Costigan, the linebacking core has 141 games of experience, with 8 other returning players. Jesse Nemerowicz is a key piece, as he has 152 tackles in his first two seasons, even though he missed five games last year due to injury.
Moving backwards, the defensive backs could prove to be a strong unit, led by junior Eulogio Portugal and sophomore Andre Brackett. Portugal finished the season with 61 tackles, 46 of them solo, and broke up six passes. Brackett was the NEC Defensive Rookie of the Year, with 15 tackles and two interceptions in the Bulldogs’ last four games.
On the offensive side, Price Wilson will be the quarterback for Bryant. Wilson, a senior transfer in his second year with the program, was outstanding in 2017. He was given Second-Team All-NEC honors and threw for a program record 3,311 yards and 24 touchdowns. Wilson had six 300-yard passing games and was ranked ninth nationally in yards per game- he also set program records for completions (257) and total offense (3,263).
The backfield will be shared this season and health will be a concern, as senior Brenden Femiano and sophomores Isaac McCray and Alfred Dorbor are all expected to get touches. Femiano led the team with 394 yards last season while missing four games with an injury. McCray followed with 287 yards before being sidelined for the final six games, and Dorbor added 101 yards on 23 carries last year after being injured in 2016.
The receiver core looks promising, as 12 of their players have experience and their top three options are seniors. Tom Kennedy led the team with 888 yards and nine receiving touchdowns. He was an All-New England and All-NEC selection last season after posting five 100-yard games.
Jean Constant also returns for his last year, and looks to impress on both the offense and special teams as he did a season ago. He posted 48 catches for 594 yards and seven touchdowns. Three of his seven scores were big plays, with touchdowns of 80, 67 and 59 yards. On the return, he had 989 yards and two scores, one of them being a 100-yard return.
“It’s one of the three phases of the game,” Constant said of special teams. “It’s always great to get out there first, get that first hit- it makes the game a lot better as it develops.”
The experience doesn’t end at wide-receiver, either. The offensive line returns 18 players with 53 starts amongst them. Shawn Gholson is in his final season after starting every game for the last two years at left guard. He’s lined up next to fifth-year senior Pete Mestre, who’s also started 22 straight. His last 11 starts were at left tackle, where he’ll see most of his time.
While third place in the preseason is nothing to scoff at, Perry and the players know they can accomplish more. With their hefty amount of seniors, now is the year to make something happen, and they’re confident they’ll succeed.
“Third? That’s not even close to where we’re setting our expectations,” Costigan said. “We want to win the league. We want to make a run in this year’s playoffs, third is definitely not where we want to be.”
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