NORTHFIELD, Vt. - The 123rd season of Norwich University football begins on September 7th, as Head Coach Mark Murnyack carries a deep group of veterans into the third season of New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) play poised to make some noise during the 2019 season.
Murnyack enters his ninth season at the helm of Norwich football with the majority of his 2018 staff returning. Program cornerstone Bill Russell returns as Associate Head Coach for his 12th season with Norwich football, and fellow mainstay John Rhoades continues into his 15th season with the program. A host of coaches enter their sophomore season on the staff, including Sam Chaves, Kyle Smesko, and Greg Vreeland, and they'll be joined by first-year offensive coordinator Marc Kolb and Patrick Madden.
On the field, the Cadets enter the season with one of their deepest teams in recent memory. A senior class of well over two-dozen athletes is led by the co-captaincy of Jacob Barr and Owen McKenna, both of whom received Second Team All-Conference honors a year ago.
Barr returns to anchor an offensive line that Head Coach Murnyack called a "bigger and better version" of the 2018 line that helped the Cadets rank second in the NEWMAC in yards per game (334.7) and allowed just four sacks over the final four games of the season. McKenna will be the defensive and special teams representative for captaincy, after averaging a punt distance of 36.3 yards per attempt and totaling 50.0 total tackles on the season.
"I feel like the offense made tremendous strides a year ago," Coach Murnyack stated. "It was an explosive big-play offense," Murnyack continued, but went on to express a key to continued success is to convert more consistently between big plays to keep sustained drives going.
A trio of returning First Team All-Conference award winners will be the focal point of the potent Cadets' offensive unit and a shutdown defensive lineup that but up a few simply dominating defensive efforts during the 2018 season.
Two of the best single-game performances in Norwich football history came courtesy of Manni Romero a year ago, as the New Jersey wide out tied the single-game receiving touchdowns record with four against Coast Guard in week four before breaking the single-game receiving yards record with 272 yards against Merchant Marine during week six, earning a New England Football Writers Association Golden Helmet Award and a spot on the D3football.com Team of the Week. He ended up with 35 receptions for 566 yards and seven touchdowns on the season in just seven appearances.
Aaron Conner joined Romero on the First Team All-Conference squad, finishing the season in the top-five in the conference in rushes, yards, yards per game, yards per rush, and rushing touchdowns. He set a new career-high against Coast Guard with 161 yards on 32 carries and found the end zone in five out of ten games this year.
The Cadets' third First Team member from a season ago comes in the form of lockdown cornerback Brasean Stewart. A three-time All-Conference recipient, Stewart earned First Team status last year after totaling 57 tackles, a forced fumble and a recovered one, an interception, and five pass breakups on the season while shutting down an entire half of the field nearly every game.
Led by Stewart and Second Team All-Conference returner Michael Corinna at the other cornerback position, the Norwich defense will look to build on a 2018 effort that showed marked improvement for the Cadets as they return 10 of their 11 starters from last year's lineup.
Norwich put up their first shutout in six years during their 40-0 week three victory over Castleton University in the annual Maple Sap Bucket game, and then pitched another zero in week eight with a 31-0 defeat of Catholic University. 13 returners on the defense had 24 or more tackles last year, led by senior Tavares Ward's 61, as the Cadets field a nearly identical defensive lineup to the 2018 version that led the conference in interceptions and defensive touchdowns.
Norwich's 3-4 defense has six experienced players at defensive line. The Cadets also have seven veteran players coming back at the linebacker spots. Martin Bailey, Marshall Watters, Ferron Greene, Nick Campobasso, and Mike Kennedy anchor a defensive line that has depth. McKenna, Chris Ryan, Jon Moltimer, Cahan Quinn, Jake Burke, Kevin Svarczkopf, and Isaiah Williams all saw time at linebacker last season as well.
Offensively, junior Matt Dunn is the de-facto starter at quarterback after posting an impressive sophomore effort under center. Appearing in nine games, Dunn threw for 1,933 yards on a 52.7% completion rate with 12 touchdowns. Ranking second in the conference with 214.8 yards a contest, Dunn carved out space in the record book for himself during week six when he set a new program record with 407 passing yards against Merchant Marine.
Senior Ryan Reed who returns after a solid 20-reception, 183-yard effort a year ago. A collection of exciting newcomers will push the returners for every target during the season, as the Cadets look to build on one of their most successful passing efforts in the last few seasons.
Aaron Conner will control the majority of the carries from the Norwich backfield this year, but senior Connor Bourque will provide his wide-ranging set of skills to shoulder some of the workload. Bourque rushed 108 times last year for 559 yards and a touchdown along with six receptions out of the backfield for 54 yards and a score. He received a Second Team All-Conference nod under the "athlete" position category thanks to his work on special teams serving as the team's primary return man, returning 18 kickoffs for 374 yards and 11 punts for 88 yards. He ended the year fourth in the NEWMAC in both all-purpose yards and all-purpose yards per game.
Clyde Tamburro returns to anchor the kicking game, fresh off a season that saw him go 8 for 14 on field-goal attempts and a nearly perfect 22 for 24 on extra points. A NEWMAC All-Academic recipient last year, he already ranks in the top-five in program history with 17 made field goals and boasts an impressive 94% career extra point conversion rate. With Bourque returning kicks and team captain Owen McKenna handling the punting, Norwich will field one of the most veteran special teams units in the conference this year.
When asked for an aspect of the team he's most excited for early in camp, Murnyack pointed to the team's battle-tested veteran class. "We have been pushing the envelope from an install perspective because of the experience," Murnyack stated. "We know we can compete in one of the premier New England conferences."
Murnyack concluded by saying, "The seniors in this program are some of the best men you will find anywhere in the country. The coaching staff is inspired by them daily. We expect to compete for a conference championship."
Norwich's 2019 schedule starts on a slightly different note, as the Cadets will travel to Salve Regina to take on the Seahawks for just the second time in program history. The first meeting came in 2014 when Salve Regina defeated the Cadets in the ECAC Northeast Bowl at Sabine Field. From there, the schedule takes its normal shape, with non-conference dates against St. Lawrence and Castleton alongside the characteristically tough NEWMAC schedule.
The season opener will kick off at noon in Rhode Island, with Norwich returning home on September 14th for their home opener against St. Lawrence.