By Jaden Daly (@jadendaly_) & John Kelly, Jr. (@jfkjr24)
Team Name: United States Merchant Marine Academy Mariners
Preseason Ranking: The Mariners checked-in sixth on our ‘Preseason Top 10’ poll, which was posted on Twitter on Monday, July 31st.
2016 Season Recap: The Mariners posted their first winning season since 2003, capturing five of nine contests (5-4). They went toe-to-toe with a pair of Top 25 teams – No. 19 Hobart and No. 24 St. Lawrence – but did fall to both squads by single digits. They notched their first conference road win since 2003 by rallying to defeat WPI with a dramatic 45-44 victory. USMMA also beat Springfield for the second-straight season on Senior Day, while the rushing attack (299.9 yards per game) ranked third in NCAA Division III football.
Key Losses: Patrick Keyes (Safety), Ian Stoner (D-Line), Marcus Kitchin (D-Line), Alex Shiber (D-Line), Joshua Woodburn (LB), Parker Johnson (Lineman), Channing Meyer (Dback), and Tyler Sulik (Linebacker)
Players to Watch: Brice Moore (Quarterback), Wiley Martin (Fullback), Joe Bellomo (Running Back), Aaron Rice (Running Back/Wide Receiver), Luke Jamison (Wide Receiver), Joe Vitelli (Wide Receiver), Jake Murphy (O-Line), Isaac Lee (Linebacker), Justin Sydlowski (Linebacker), Brooks Cannell (Defensive Back) and Charles Deegan (D-Line).
2017 Schedule: USMMA Football moves over from the Liberty League to the newly-established New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) in head coach Mike Toop’s 13th season. The Mariners went 3-0 against NEWMAC foes last season, defeating rival Coast Guard 31-27, WPI 45-44, and Springfield 15-12. They will face four familiar teams from last season, including SUNY Maritime (Sept. 16- Homecoming Weekend), Springfield, WPI and Coast Guard (Nov. 11th on ESPN). The Mariners will take on three opponents they haven’t faced in a while – those foes include Maine Maritime (first meeting since 1964), Norwich (First Meeting since 2003), and Catholic (first meeting since 1996). They commence the year against two new opponents in MIT (week four) and Misericordia (week one) on Parents Weekend.
Season Outlook: The Mariner defense, which was the biggest reason the squad enjoyed a successful campaign last year, happens to be the unit’s biggest question heading into a new season. The defensive unit does return some quality talent, but will need its first two games – both contests are non-conference match-ups – to gain important experience, which should help them once conference play begins. The NEWMAC will provide favorable match-ups for the Mariners at the beginning of the year before a stern test on the road against Norwich University during the fifth week of the season. The month of October also features some important tests against WPI – the Engineers will host the Mariners, while Springfield will pay a visit to Kings Point, New York. Springfield-USMMA could be a de-facto conference championship game, so make sure to circle that particular meeting on your calendar now. USMMA will end its regular season slate against Coast Guard Academy – the game will be broadcasted on the ESPN Family of Networks. The Mariners could enter the Secretaries’ Cup with a chance to clinch another winning season, so make sure to keep an eye on this game, too.