Days are growing longer, dogwoods are blooming, and showers are about to give way to flowers — it’s late April in Virginia (and North Carolina … cough*Guilford*cough) and that can only mean one thing: ODAC Football! Alright, maybe we’re jumping the gun a little, but can you blame us for getting excited? Football season is just four months away!
The Old Dominion Athletic Conference features four teams in the HeroSports preseason top 25. Hampden-Sydney was the lone team from the league to reach the Division III football national playoffs last season. Let’s take a look at the Tigers and the rest of the conference for the upcoming season in our way too early 2015-16 ODAC football preview.
Guilford Quarterback Matt Pawlowski returns in 2015 to lead an offense that led the ODAC last season on the back of his 3,476 passing yards and 38 touchdowns. His top target, Adam Smith (1,072 receiving yards, 15 touchdowns) is also back. Playmakers like linebacker Hunter Hoots, defensive back JerMario Gooch and defensive lineman Gibson Ziah look to lead a stellar defense. It appears that 2015 will be another promising season for Guilford, who finished 8-2 overall and 5-2 in league play.
Hampden-Sydney, the defending ODAC champs, lost some key components from last year’s title run. The Tigers had 11 All-ODAC selections last season — nine of them graduated. Junior Edgar Moore will likely take over at quarterback, but he’s largely unproven. He only attempted six passes last season. Look for Mike Mey to emerge as a top receiver here. Defensive back Sidney Henry will highlight a young defense.
Kevin Saxton, last year’s conference freshman of the year, is back to lead a prolific Emory & Henry offense that averaged 36.6 ppg last season. A tandem of running backs in Isaiah Rodgers and Chris Thompson rushed for over 100 yards per game and will balance out the offense for the Wasps (8-2, 5-2). Linebacker Rennel Marshall, defensive lineman Jaylen Simmons and defensive back Tre’von Lightfoot highlight what should be a much improved defense.
Defensive linemen Nicholas Cawthon and Logan Whitaker, along with linebacker Nick Anthony, will look to keep Bridgewater on track as one of the premier defenses in the ODAC. Ross Rushing will be back under center for the Eagles (8-2, 5-2) after he threw for 1,308 yards and nine touchdowns last year, but they running back Jacob Wright will be tough to replace. His 17 rushing touchdowns were seven more than Randolph-Macon’s John Byrd who finished second in the conference.
Byrd will be back this year, and should compete with Shenandoah ballcarrier Cedrick Delaney for the title of top running back in the conference in 2015. He rushed for 1,162 yards and 10 touchdowns last year. Expect Byrd to get the ball a ton for Randolph-Macon (5-5, 3-4), especially as Peyton Henley settles into the starting role at quarterback now that Zac Naccarato is gone. A solid defense, which ranked third in the league last season, features one of the best up-and-coming defensive backs in the league in Ryan Burns.
Shenandoah is another team that boasts an elite ODAC running back. Delaney is back after rushing for a league-best 1,239 yards and eight scores, and the Hornets also have Kyle Hopkins who rushed for a further eight touchdowns last year. Shenandoah will rely heavily on its ground game again this season. The Hornets (4-6, 2-5) have some young talent on the defensive side with players like defensive lineman Jake Payne and linebackers Mike Messick and Mike Wroble. Pencil these guys in as a potential dark horse in the ODAC.
Washington and Lee is still very young. Marshall Hollerith will look to make his name known along with Delaney and Byrd in this run-heavy league. He rushed for 763 yards and nine touchdowns last season, and will be the silver lining for what was the lowest-scoring offense in the ODAC. Moody Heard is a playmaker on defense at linebacker for the Generals (2-8, 2-5).
At the bottom, there’s really no where to go but up for Catholic. The Cardinals finished 3-7 overall and 1-6 in conference action. Quarterback TJ Tutone is a dynamic playmaker, but Catholic will need to find a way to tighten up a defense which allowed nearly 40 ppg last year if they want to make any significant move up the standings.
(We will revisit this preview before the season begins, so if you have any comments or corrections, send me an email at [email protected])