2018 Gridiron: Quincy University Hawks
Colors: Brown and gold
Total Returning Lettermen: 37
2017 Overall Record: 3-8
Head Coach: Gary Bass
Years at School: 6
Record at School: 3-8
Overall Record: 3-8
ONCE UPON A TIME IN HAWKYWOOD: QU FOOTBALL SEEKS IMMEDIATE DIVIDENDS FROM ENRICHED ROSTER
PRESNAP READS: Season One of the Gary Bass Regime didn’t lack for activity. Shortly after receiving his promotion to succeed his departing ex-boss Tom Pajic, Bass took a flame thrower to the “status quo” of Quincy University Football. The changes ranged from cosmetic to systemic; including, but not limited to, moving the team’s football offices back on campus and even turning his Defensive Coordinator into his Offensive Coordinator. Rethink everything might well have been the working mantra here. And that included talent acquisition, with a newly reconfigured Hawk Staff landing one of the largest recruiting classes in school history. The new Hawk Boss clearly wasn’t afraid to put his stamp on the program. Unfortunately for Bass, there was not a lot of immediate on-field benefit derived from all the maneuvering. QU finished his first season with just a single win in the GLVC and just three victories in eleven games. Not that Bass ever expected an overnight miracle. The goals and focus of all his actions have been long term; macro over micro. In his now six years with QU in almost every football coaching capacity, Gary Bass understands the pitfalls and traps at play for this program better than anyone. And so it is he will continue to focus and enact new ways to try and weed out the mediocrity that has too long been at root within Hawk Football. In that spirit, the QU Staff wasn’t afraid to play younger kids last Fall. That won’t change in 2018 either as Gary Bass envisions his newest incarnation of the Hawks to be even younger, on balance, than the last. He considers this phase an unavoidable step in the process of pushing forward. In that spirit, outside expectations will be something less than soaring. The Hawks were picked to finish sixth preseason in the eight team GLVC. But Bass is also quick to point out the positive strides his team has already made in accelerating the growth cycle both in Spring Ball and throughout the off-season.
RAZOR SHARP TALONS: Quincy University’s best window of opportunity for improvement likely comes on Defense, where the Hawks were porous to the tune of surrendering nearly 39 points per game on average. In the interest of fairness, I think it bares noting that QU’s inability to move the football on offense exposed that defense and often left it to wither under the constant barrage of high play counts. Bottom line, this was probably a little better group than it appeared to be statistically. And with nine starters returning, Defensive Coordinator Sean Kelly should be able to kick start things from a better “Point A” this Fall.
All Conference Pick and Carrollton Native Cody Leonard headlines the attack. The 220 pound Senior posted a team-high 110 tackles a year ago and remains one the most dependably ornery and frustrating young men to block in the GLVC. As those of us who saw him play in High School can attest, that’s just always been his way. Cody is a virtual heat-seeking missile of a Linebacker; one with the uncanny ability to stampede his way through enormous Offensive Linemen like they weren’t even there. His continued disruptive ability will be paramount in the Hawks quest to cut off the oxygen to opposing running games that amassed some 252 ground yards per game on QU last Fall. Senior Clayton Cole could also reprise his role here as a starting Linebacker after posting 48 tackles a season ago. That said, one of the most positive developments of the Spring Session for QU was the terrific across the depth chart play of the Linebackers as a unit. The Hawks seem to have cultivated better depth here moving forward and that means more viable fresh legs in the mix. And there is value added coming to that mix with a strong recruiting class in play that includes homegrown Gem City All Stater Jackson Connell and good looking Cardinal Ritter import Donnell Sharp.
The Quincy University Staff is also very high on the potential of its returning Secondary Pieces. Mind you, Defensive Back play has been a considerable Achilles Heel for the Hawks in the not so distant past, so having a bevy of quality options at the ready could be a field tilter for a group that surrendered 220 passing yards per game in 2017. Juniors Keenan Steegal (55 tackles) and DT Christiansen (48 stops) as well as Senior Shane Barrett (53 stops) all made starts at Safety a year ago. Theo Hopkins is a versatile Senior coming off a strong 2017 showing that saw him post 36 stops of his own.
Perhaps the most pressing priority on Sean Kelly’s docket this Summer is finessing the right lineup to maximize the talents of his Defensive Linemen. He will have three starters back to that cause in Senior Jeff Hinkle and Juniors Bryce Johnson and Dominque Gatewood, who showed nice motor and gap clogging ability as a Sophomore with 38 tackles. The Hawks will also take long looks at Senior Kris Sutton and California Junior Juco Transfer James Perryman in trying to affect more gravitas up front. Perryman has the tools to emerge as the kind of Edge Crasher this unit desperately needs. The Hawk Staff also addressed the long term needs here at Defensive Tackle in the recruiting process with Tampa import Jacques Jean-Baptiste and Macon, Missouri superstar Jeffrey Smoot coming on board as well.
ACHIEVING PASSING GRADES: Quincy University’s offensive struggles were well documented in 2017. The Hawks were held under double digit scoring in five of their eleven games and averaged just under 16 points per game. Take away the 50 points QU hung on NAIA opponent Alderson Broaddus and the Hawks scoring average dwindles to just a dozen points per contest against Division Two foes. Gary Bass is fully cognizant that has to change. And while there are a host of trouble spots to address in ramping up the offense, better calibrated consistency at the Quarterback spot might be the most sweeping remedy of all.
The Hawks could achieve this in a number of different ways. They could bank on Andrew Rund making the leap in his Junior Season. The 6’3” 230 pounder certainly looks the part, isn’t afraid to tuck the football and run (and lower the shoulder when doing so) and put up 1288 passing yards on 55% accuracy metrics. Where the Hawks struggled under Rund’s command was finishing drives, with just six touchdown strikes in 220 attempts. If he can improve that part of his game, Rund has great utility. But in an effort to spur that, he will get considerable challenges this Summer; most notably from JUCO Transfer Justus Spillner, a kid from right out my own backyard in Rocklin, California. Spillner put up impressive numbers in six games at Sierra College with a near 64% completion rating and seven passing touchdowns. He reportedly showed out extremely well in Spring Ball. He’s a big dude in his own right at 6’5” and 225 pounds and a proven playmaker. The Hawks also added four total quarterbacks in their recruiting class with an eye on the future.
FEATHERING THE NEST: The Offense will be largely rebuilt around whoever wins the QB Battle, though Offensive Linemen Justin Rosenadahl (6’4” 290lbs) and Devon Hickman (6’4” 285lbs) are returning All-GLVC selections who should help provide framing pieces around which the newcomers can be arrayed. The Hawks have made a concerted effort over the last four years to chase bigger and better blockers in the recruiting process and as such, Gary Bass is convinced that the reserve of talent he can pool from to build that Front Wall is equal to the task. Granted, the majority of those young men are Sophomores but that well has nice size and is drawn largely from prestige high schools from around the Midwest. The Hawks will build up front with an eye on improving on last year’s disappointingly paltry 3.8 yards per carry average.
Quincy University’s only other holdover starter on Offense is Fullback Briar Hancock, who enters his Junior Year with two seasons of starters reps/brutish blocking experience to his credit. The former Paris, MO star is a capable caddie and one who exists to make the feature backs around him excel. Based on the scuttlebutt coming out of Spring Ball, that Feature Back this Fall could well be JUCO Transfer Oscee Calhoun, 5’10” and 205 pound power runner out of Feather River Community College in California. The Florida native rushed for 517 yards and a touchdown last season and his High School Hudl highlights show him to be a compact, direct runner with great acceleration out of the backfield. The Hawks also return Dylan Rosado to a loaded backfield mix, who delivered an 80 yard touchdown scamper in the win over Alderson Broaddus as well as ex-Chaminade standout Dominque Bobo.
Redshirt Freshman Paul Sullivan is expected to be a major player in the rebuilt receiving corps. He’s coming off a very strong spring, per Gary Bass. Junior Jordan Smith is the top holdover pass catcher from a year ago with 13 catches, 142 yards and a touchdown to his credit. Again, the Hawks have been aggressively stock piling Wide Receivers and this could be the one area where a true Frosh could sneak into the two-deep ahead of schedule. The graduation of Owen Schoenenberger is a biggie at Tight End, robbing the Hawks of a terrific safety net weapon for their Quarterbacks who caught 24 passes a year ago. That said, QU scored a recruiting coup in landing former Jacksonville High Star Adam Hillis and the Big Sophomore is poised to fill that void. He had spot work in 2017 with 6 catches for 53 yards and a touchdown. And as those of us who saw him in high school can attest, you would have an easier time tackling a freight train than this kid.
On the special teams front, the Hawks received Quality Punting last Fall from Quincy High product Nathan Kewney, who averaged 42 yards per boot and killed a dozen balls inside the opponents 20. Michaal Klotz delivered 4 of 7 accuracy on his Field Goal attempts in his Freshman Season, but figures to face a challenge from newly signed Palmyra All Stater Noah Mencer in Camp.
THE DUERR DIAGNOSIS: Hawk Football fans are undoubtedly tired of being asked for patience, but the scope of this rebuild and the volatile nature of change within it (player attrition/transfer, Tom Pajic’s poorly timed departure) necessitate it. Just because Gary Bass was a part of Pajic’s staff, doesn’t mean they shared the same vision, approach, or ideal construct for the program. In his first year at the helm, Bass has been both ambitious and aggressive. It’s going to take time for those actions to resonate; particularly in terms of personnel and player development. As I mentioned earlier, this QU Staff is going to play a lot of young guys; there guys because they want to retrofit this program to their specifications. That’s not a recipe for great Win/Loss column success in such a loaded Conference and against a schedule that kick starts with a visit to FCS Foe Indiana State. But it is a transition that has to happen and one that is already in process. I think the key this season for the Hawks is to accentuate their areas of strength; playing to them to mask their flaws as much as possible while shoring up those traditional areas of weakness. To some extent, this staff has already proven that it can better a dynamic. We’ve seen it with the uptick in Special Teams attention paid her and the gradual fine tuning of Defensive Back play. But those evolutions must continue on a grander scale. And most notably continue at the Quarterback spot which really hasn’t been a program strength in a long time, despite Nick Lonergan’s best efforts to mask that flaw with his individual talent, game presence and work ethic. Again, Gary Bass knows the architecture and seems to understand the scope of this rehab. And his ambition is beyond reproach. The tipping point here, however, is seeing if that is enough to finally create sustainable forward progress in a program that hasn’t known it since the Ron Taylor days. And that’s a sad legacy of futility. Here’s hoping Bass and Staff are the guys who can finally reverse that floundering course.