As the 2017 preseason ends, the Alfred State football team is ready for the start of a new era as the Pioneers begin competition in the Eastern Collegiate Football Conference. A New conference, new opponents, and a large number of new faces has built excitement around the program.
Alfred State, led by third year head coach Jarod Dodson, enters their fifth year playing a NCAA Division III schedule and 2017 marks the first year that the program will play for a chance at a conference championship (The Pioneers join the ECFC after playing an independent schedule the previous four seasons).
With the move to the ECFC, the 2017 schedule features games with only three teams that were on the 2016 schedule. The Pioneers open up the season with three straight non-conference games. They travel to Coast Guard (8/31), host Hartwick (9/9), and continue their series with the University of Rochester (9/16). After a week off the blue & gold will play seven consecutive weeks vs. ECFC opponets. The ECFC opener sends the Pioneers to Maritime (9/30) before the team plays their first home ECFC contest vs. longtime opponent Dean College (10/7). Homecoming will be celebrated the following weekend (10/14) when Gallaudet visits Pioneer Stadium. The team alternates road and home contests the rest of the way, traveling to Anna Maria (10/21), hosting Mount Ida (10/28), battling again at Husson (11/4), and celebrates senior day by hosting Castleton (11/11) to wrap up the season.
Over 100 players reported to preseason camp and thirty players return from the 2016 team. 56 players on the roster are freshmen and eight are from outside of New York.
The defense boasts the return of 18 players who will work under the leadership of new defensive coordinator Nick Taylor (Taylor Bio). Five of the Pioneers top six tacklers from 2016 return. Linebacker Brandon Davis (Lansing) was the 2nd leading tackler with 99 (25 solo), defensive end John Lauretti (Seaford) accumulated 58 tackles and four sacks, defensive end Justin Espinal (Beacon) recorded 57 tackles, defensive back Jhamel Cohen (Brooklyn/South Shore) added 40 tackles and two interceptions, and linebacker Carlisle Philip (Brooklyn/South Shore) was credited with 38 tackles and five sacks. Michael Zimmerman (Canandaigua), 28 tackles, Kaieel Ward (Brooklyn/Thomas Jefferson), 13 tackles, and Jamal Little (Brooklyn/Thomas Jefferson), 11 tackles, all return to the defensive secondary.
The line boasts the most experience on the offensive side of the ball under the direction of Graham Johnsen (Johnsen Bio). Returning starters Sam Van Valkenburg (Sherman) Devon Clark (Perrysburg/Gowanda), and Todd Capen (Newfane) will be counted on to open up holes and provide protection for a group of young skills player. Eli Frantz (Swansboro, NC) and Hunter Evingham (Bolivar Richburg) both saw limited time at quarterback last year and will compete for the starting spot this season. Targets for Frantz and Evingham will include returners Kelvin Allotey (Bronx/Millennium Art), Giovanni Jean (Rosedale/Kellenberg), and Joe Moscato (Valley Stream/Kellenberg). Chris Meadows (New Rochelle) and Kegan Brown (Cortland) will be two of a contingent of young running backs that will look to contribute to the ground game.
Senior kicker Zack Goodwin (Poughkeepsie/FD Roosevelt) returns after finishing 2nd on the team in scoring with 17 points last year (2 for 6 field goals and 11 for 15 PAT's). Zimmerman averaged 36.8 yards per punt last year in limited action.
Three keys to improvement in 2017 will be turnovers, red zone effectiveness, and 3rd down conversions. In 2016, the team turned the ball over 26 times while forcing just 11 turnovers, scored in only 59% of their chances inside the red zone, and converted 25% of their 3rd down attempts. The defense will look to force more turnovers, improve on their opponents 74% red zone scoring percentage, and lower the opponents 53% conversion rate on 3rd down.