Buffalo State football is coming off its first eight-win season since 1998 and just its third winning season since the turn of the century.
Naturally, the expectations have been raised around the Division III program. Players and coaches can point to last season’s 59-36 ECAC Southwest Bowl victory against Waynesburg as definite proof that the program is moving in the right direction.
“I think there’s a little bit of a sense of urgency on the players’ part,” said head coach Jerry Boyes.
The Bengals went 8-3, including a 5-3 record in the Empire 8 last season. But last year’s successes are just that – last season. The 2015 season is about building and maintaining improvement.
The signal caller: Buffalo State returns junior quarterback Kyle Hoppy. The Orchard Park product threw for 2,258 yards and 22 touchdowns with eight interceptions in 10 games in his first year as a starter.
Filling the gaps: “We have to replace 3,000 yards,” Boyes said, talking about graduated running back Rich Pete and wide receivers Mike Doherty and Ryan Carney. Actually, 3,501 yards to be exact. Pete had 1,129 rushing yards and 13 TDs last year. Doherty and Carney, both over 1,000 yards last year, had 22 of the team’s 28 receiving TDs. Players to watch for out of the backfield include junior running back Tre Jones and senior Joe Oca. In the passing game, senior wideout Billy Joiner should be one of the team’s main threats.
From the QB: “Obviously it’s going to be a transition after every year but I’m confident in the guys we have here and their abilities,” Hoppy said. “If you just come out and watch practice, you’ll see the speed and the experience we have. We were just blessed to have two to three great receivers last year and of course Rich Pete in the backfield, but we pretty much just reloaded. We didn’t rebuild, we reloaded.”
The Big Men: The Bengals return all five offensive linemen from last season – led by senior Brandon Lathrop (Kenmore West) at right tackle. The rest of the O-line is made up of seniors Jake Lipowski (C), Jeremiah Luderman (LG, Lancaster), John Knudsen (LT) and junior Chad Vickers (RG).
Defensive star power: Buffalo State returns the entirety of its defensive linebacking core, led by last season’s Empire 8 Defensive Player of the Year, Marquis Artis. The Amherst High School graduate is entering his senior year after recording 99 tackles, nine for a loss, three sacks, two interceptions, seven pass breakups and four forced fumbles. He was a third-team All-American selection last season and was named a preseason All-American this year.
The Unit: The Bengals return last season’s leading tackler, senior Shaq Frederick (118) and second leading-tackler, senior John Alessandra (104, Kenmore East).
Opening Day: The Bengals open the season Sept. 5 at Otterbein in Ohio. The team’s first three games are on the road and its home opener will also serve as homecoming on Oct. 3.