Now? Just listen to this …
“When I look back on the season, the first word that comes to my mouth is disappointment,’’ coach Kerwin Bell said in assessing the season. “And, a feeling of what could have been and that brings you down in the dumps a little more.’’
That’s how high the program’s bar has been raised as the Dolphins put away the pieces after the season-ending 23-14 loss to San Diego which led to the Toreros and Drake sharing the Pioneer Football League title.
Along with the disappointment, Bell says he has a strong feeling of ‘what could have been’ and that feeling may stay with him several weeks.
“That (the ‘what could have been’ feeling) brings you down in the dumps a little more,’’ he said.
It stems mainly from the avalanche of injuries the defense suffered in which 10 players that were on the one and two deep roster were lost for the season. And that’s just the defense. The tally this week is 20 or more surgeries team wide.
“The two areas that kept us from winning the championship was not being able to stop the run and not being able to run on offense,’’ Bell said. “If we had stayed relatively healthy I would have liked to see what our defense was about this year.’’
The offense took a few shots, most noticeable lineman Kevin Halverson who broke his finger early and didn’t play the rest of the way.
“We sort of misjudged our talent level coming back as far as their phyical-ness,’’ Bell, who completed his fifth season, said. “We lost some really good players (from 2010). You combine those losses and we didn’t really replace them with physical football players. It’s a disappointment in that we weren’t as good a team as we thought we could be going into the season, we never developed into that.’’
The good news is the cupboard isn’t anywhere near empty looking to next year.
All the injuries led to a lot of redshirting and the defense looks particularly stout.
Linebackers Layne McCombs (the team’s best player on defense) and A.J. Joiner, neither of whom saw any action because of surgery, will be back. The team’s best safety, Jordan Dewhirst, had his surgery and should be back. In fact, only three key players, defensive lineman Rolando Fines and safeties Lacy McDougald and Leonard Smith, are graduating.
“They’re all coming back,’’ Bell said, “if we can keep them healthy they’re going to be good.’’
An assessment of the offense shows that despite the loss of record-setting quarterback Josh McGregor, running back J.J. Laster, who ended his career in the top five on the school’s all-time rushing list, a senior-laden offensive line and receiving unit, a more physical brand of offense may be emerging.
Halverson, the most physical of this year’s linemen should be back and the team is expecting big things out of transfers Trammel Williams (South Carolina) and Dylan Bostic (Appalachian State).
“We lost some good linemen, but I think with the new guys and new freshmen we aren’t going to be as bad off as we thought we were,’’ Bell said. “We thought it was going to be a total reload after this season and now we feel like we have a chance to get more physical.’’
Replacing McGregor, who set every conceivable school record, many PFL records and made a name for himself on the national stage, clearly will be a challenge.
Backups Trevius Folston and Kade Bell, the coach’s son, need work from different ends of the spectrum. Folston, Bell said, needs to cultivate the instincts McGregor brought to go with his cannon arm and Bell needs to learn to not ad-lib so much and become a better pocket passer.
“Even though he’s my kid, he wants to ad-lib a lot we need to develop him more as a pocket guy,’ Bell said. The coach added they will have company as JU will recruit at least one high schooler and will entertain queries from potential transfers.
“We’re always getting calls because of our system and the numbers we put up here,’’ Bell said. “Quarterbacks are always interested in that.’’
Running back should be solid with Keith Dawson and Jarrius Lindsey returning and redshirt Johnnie Hicks putting on weight. Bell said linebacker Lucktes Estivernes will get a crack at fullback and current fullback Hank Farmer a look at tight end.
Another current tight end, Quintin Davis, returns and keeping him off the field will be tough.
Wide receiver has some experience returning with the late blooming Adrian Riley and Dorian Guy ready to step in for departing Josh Philpart, Larry Thompson and Tommie Rogers. The team also likes young Yeovanti Williams a lot.
Special teams, Bell said, will get special attention as both the kicking and receiving games were much too inconstant for his tastes.
“We lost a lot of field position receiving punts because too many times we let them roll, roll, roll,’’ Bell said. “I am going to find a guy who’s not scared to catch a punt. And, we need to do better on our kickoffs. That hurt us in many crucial situations.’’
All in all, though, Bell’s comfortable with where the team seems headed.
“We’re just going to reload, I really believe that,’’ he said. “I think we have a chance to have another really good year with our defense leading the way and with our offensive line being more physical. We aren’t going to go two years without a championship.’’ -- Jim Nasella