Bengals focus on continued success


Dave DeLuca/The Record

Junior quarterback Kyle Hoppy returns after leading the Bengals to an ECAC Championship in 2014.

Dan Almasi, Sports Editor

2014 was a breakthrough year for the Buffalo State football program, and the team plans to take a step forward, not back, this year. Highlighted by an ECAC Bowl win over Waynesburg State, 2014 brought about a change in culture – a culture of discipline, unity, and success.

But if the Bengals want to take that next step, they have some big shoes to fill, especially on the offensive side of the ball. All-Empire 8 players Rich Pete and Mike Doherty left open slots at running back and wide receiver after graduating. Until recently, it looked as though the coaching staff would need to find someone to play opposite would-be senior Ryan Carney amongst an inexperienced wide receiver group.

Then, in mid-July, just over a month before the start of training camp, Carney made a decision to step away from the program and pursue a non-football career in Texas.

“We’re supportive of him. We’re obviously going to miss him,” junior quarterback Kyle Hoppy said, explaining that he and his teammates are taking Carney’s decision in stride. “He knows and we know that one guy doesn’t make a team. We’re just going to have to take on the mentality of next guy up and give some more opportunities to our other receivers.”

Carney, who broke the program touchdown reception last year with 12, left the coaching staff scrambling to find a proven receiver.

They’re currently making efforts to recruit Williamsville South graduate Chaq Nettles, a prospective transfer who played football last year as a freshman at Division I Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh, registering 6 catches for 25 yards.

Head Coach Jerry Boyes stated that Nettles has “great potential,” but has to “work out some details with his previous school before being accepted to Buffalo State.”

23-year-old Hoppy returns as a junior with experience, but without the weapons he had at his disposal last season. Hoppy, who’s still returning to football form after spending four years pursuing a career in professional baseball, ended his up-and-down 2014 campaign on the upswing.

He carved up Waynesburg in the ECAC Bowl Game for 335 yards and four touchdowns. 282 yards and four of those touchdowns were accounted for by Doherty and Carney, though.

The only returning receiver who caught more than 10 passes last year is senior Billy Joiner, who hauled in 19 passes for 234 yards and two touchdowns. Despite the inexperienced group of pass-catchers Hoppy will be throwing to this year, he called the group “ a great core of guys,” and said he’s “excited to see who will step out on top,” in the position battle that will take place in training camp.

Hoppy will need to prove that he improved on an individual level; he’ll need to prove that the success he realized was due to more than improved chemistry with his now-departed record-breaking duo of pass-catchers.

“I’m pretty critical of myself,” Hoppy said. “I try to take everything I do and make it better. I want to be more efficient and I want to be a better leader out on the field.”

At 5-foot-8, junior Tre Jones, who backed up the compact 5-foot-6 Rich Pete during the 2014 season, certainly fits the mold left by one of the most prolific rushers in program history. Now, he has to prove he can fill the shoes of Pete, who left the program with 3,284 rushing yards and a program-record 5.9 yards-per-carry average.

Jones, who rushed for 370 yards while spelling the workhorse Pete last year, hasn’t inherited the starting job, though.

“We’re expecting a great deal from Trevon Jones,” Boyes said. “He played behind Rich and when he had the opportunity he took advantage of it.”

Buffalo State recruited running back Dale Stewart after his academic ineligibility caused him to lose his scholarship to play at the University of Buffalo. Stewart, a Niagara Falls High School grad, joined the team this past May during spring practices.

“He still needs to learn the system, learn to run the right plays and all that,” Boyes said of Stewart. “I think we got accomplished with Dale what was needed to be accomplished.”

Boyes noted that sophomore Antoine Holloman is in the mix as well. Jones’ solid play as Pete’s backup, combined with his experience, makes him the frontrunner to handle the bulk of the carries come fall, though.

On the defensive side of the ball, a majority of 2014’s key contributors will return. The defense enjoys a minimal senior turnover as their entire core of starting linebackers – seniors John Alessandra, Shaq Frederick and Dez Howard – and most of the starting secondary stayed with the team.

The defensive line took the biggest hit, graduating starters Trezz Bailey, Tawone Williams and Anthony Sanders. The secondary will be without defensive backs Sherman Nelson and Scott Koen.

Boyes is calling for improved play by his cornerbacks. He called defensive back Ish Height, a freshman who played in all 11 games last year, albeit in a limited role, a “young man with tremendous potential.”

Defensive back Marquis Artis, 2014’s Empire 8 Defensive Player of the Year, returns as a senior after being named a preseason All-American.

The secondary also returns defensive backs Mitch Thomas and Will Cheshire, who together accounted for eight of Buffalo State’s Empire 8-leading 18 interceptions last season.

“We learned how to win last year,” Alessandra said. And a lot of the guys who learned how to win are back this year. It’s their job to instill their winning ways in those whose time it is to step up. “We call it next Bengal up,” Alessandra said. “That’s just a motto we have on our team.”

According to Boyes, the team isn’t talking about going undefeated this year. The team isn’t even talking about winning the Empire 8. This year, the team’s goal is to take the culture of success that it created last season, carry that culture over to this season, and improve upon it. They don’t need to focus on winning, because they’ve learned that if they focus on success, winning comes naturally.

“All I want at the end of the day is the feeling of success,” Boyes said. “Success equals winning. Winning is the reinforcement that what you’re doing is being done the right way.”

2014 marked the program’s first 8-win year since 1998, yet the team is hungry for bigger and better things this year, like the Empire 8 crown. The Bengals last finished atop the Empire 8 in 1999.

“We all have a common goal of wanting to win the Conference Championship and getting an NCAA bid,” Alessandra said.

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