The 2016 Hiram College football team will look to head in a new direction after an offseason of changes. Henry Stanford takes over the reigns of the program after serving as offensive coordinator for the Terriers for the past three seasons.
Stanford knows the upcoming season will be a challenge as Hiram competes in the tough North Coast Athletic Conference (NCAC). The Terriers welcome back a total of 53 letter winners from last season's squad that four of its last five game to finish 4-6.
The Terrier offense showed steady improvement throughout the season. Hiram has the luxury of welcoming a offensive line back with four key returners. Senior Antwand Hill (Bedford, Ohio/Bedford) returns and will serve as the anchor of the line. Hill started all 10 games at the center position last season, earning Honorable Mention All-NCAC honors. At the guards, senior Deion Coleman (Kansas City, Kan./Locust Grove) and sophomore Sebastian Jenkins (Garfield Heights, Ohio/Ginn Acadmey) will serve as the guards. Senior Myles Whitman (Loganville, Ga./Grayson) will have the important role of controlling one of the edges at tackle. The Terriers also welcome back other talent on the line, which will see competition across the board for playing time.
In the backfield, the Terriers will welcome back junior Danny Robinson (Labelle, Fla./Labelle). Last year, he posted career-bests in rushing yards (736), rushes (196) and touchdowns (7), while earning Second Team All-NCAC honors. Robinson has also posted five career games of at least 100 rushing yards. A handful of newcomers will also split carries to help take the load off of Robinson.
The quarterback position will be held by senior Nic Paolo (Chardon, Ohio/Harding). Paolo was named as the starter mideason in 2015 and provided a boost to the Terrier passing game. He finished the season with 1412 yards passing and 11 touchdowns, while completing .573 percent of his passing attempts. He tossed at least one touchdown in all five games in which he started.
The receiving corps will have some holes to fill after the departure of three key players. Senior's Joshua Philander (Fort Myers, Fla./South Fort Myers) and Akili Tate (Los Angeles, Calif./Junipero Serra) will be called upon to lead the group. Philander finished with 11 receptions for 219 yards and two scores, while Tate caught 13 passes for 227 yards and two touchdowns. Senior Jacob Luc (Fremont, Ohio/Ross) will also provide depth after hauling in his first career touchdown and setting new career-bests in receptions (7) and yards (72). Senior David Perkins (Santa Ana, Calif./Segerstron) will also make the jump over to wide receiver, after spending the last three seasons at running back. Junior tight end Mike Skizenta (Bedford, Ohio/Bedford) will also pose as a threat in the passing game.
The defense returns four of its top five tacklers from last season. The front seven for the Terriers is talented and will look to continue its successes from last year.
Two-time All-NCAC honoree Zayd Mabin (Winter Haven, Fla./Winter Haven) is back after another standout season. Mabin set career-bests in tackles (59) and sacks (5), while tying his career-high with 10.5 tackles for loss. His five sacks were tops on the team. Hiram will also lean on senior Timothy Hinton-McCoy (Bedford, Ohio/Bedford) to step in and fill another void. Hinton-McCoy has seen significant action the past few seasons and hopes to make an even stronger impact.
The linebackers return the most talent on the defense and will serve as the leaders on the field. Senior Kyle Burchett (Fairport Harbor, Ohio/Harding) returns after posting a NCAC leading 121 tackles last season, on his way to First Team All-NCAC honors. In his career, Burchett has accumulated 268 total tackles. Fellow senior Dan Hernandez (San Diego, Calif./Castle Park) is also back at linebacker after posting his strongest season as a Terrier. He posted 67 tackles and 12 tackles for loss, while intercepting two passes.
The secondary took the strongest hit on the defense, seeing all four starters leave. Senior D.D. Fleetion (Youngstown, Ohio/Youngstown East) will make the change back into the secondary after earning Second Team All-NCAC honors last season at linebacker. Hiram will turn to veterans of the team to help fill the void in the secondary. Senior Brandon Gros (Ravenna, Ohio/Roosevelt) appeared in nine games last season, registering 17 tackles and one interception. Senior Alex Kania (Newbury, Ohio/Newbury) battled injuries last season, but has seen plenty of playing time in previous seasons. Junior Dillon Walsh (Wyandotte, Mich./Roosevelt) emerged last season after making 15 tackles and forcing two fumbles and will also be called upon for contributions.
Special teams is one area where Hiram sees plenty of returners. Kickoff specialist and punter senior Diego Navar (La Porte, Tex./La Porte) returns. Junior Zac D'Urso (Bradenton, Fla./Braden River) also returns and will see time at punter. Junior Sam Conway (Wickliffe, Ohio/Wickliffe) emerged as the teams placekicker last season and will be called upon to shelter the load in 2016.
The Terriers will need to search for a new punt returner with the departure of Nate Eaton, but welcome back their two primary kick returners. Junior Ricky Hampton (Westmoreland, Pa./Yuma Catholic) will look to rebound after a leg injury last year. Hampton still led the team with 395 kickoff return yards. Sophomore Luther Fortson III (Kent, Ohio/Theodore Roosevelt) is also back after registering 385 return yards, including a team long of 61.
The 2016 season will begin with a tough road contest on September 3 under the lights at Westminster (Pa.).
Following their bye week, the Terriers will open their home schedule and NCAC play on September 17 against Kenyon as part of Homecoming festivities at 1 p.m.
The Terriers will then hit the road on September 24 with a visit to DePauw (Ind.), before returning home to host defending NCAC champion Wabash (Ind.) on October 1 at 1 p.m.
Hiram will host Denison on October 8 under the lights at 7:30 p.m., before playing back-to-back contests at Ohio Wesleyan and Wittenberg on October 15 and October 22, respectively.
The Terriers will conclude the season by playing two of their final three games at home against Allegheny (Pa.) on October 29 and Oberlin on November 12. Hiram concludes the road portion of its season on November 5 at Wooster at 1 p.m.
Stanford knows that the front end of the schedule will feature plenty of challenges. He hopes that his team can carry the momentum from the late charge last season and keep the recent successes of the program in 2016 and beyond.