After 3 years of falling short in playoffs, Jays hoping for more
JHU is favored to win eighth Centennial title in a row
Johns Hopkins has seen one play be the difference between advancing another step in the NCAA Division III football playoffs and heartbreak in each of the past three seasons.
The Blue Jays have come up short on a fourth-and-1, suffered an interception at the goal line and been on the wrong end of a long touchdown pass over that span. Nonetheless, the coaches and players for Johns Hopkins have moved past those disappointments and are poised to take that next step this season.
Led by senior quarterback Jonathan Germano and safety Jack Toner, the Blue Jays are the favorites to win their eighth consecutive Centennial Conference title. Hopkins opens the season Thursday against Washington & Lee, which started 10-0 and also advanced to the NCAA playoffs in 2015.
“Our goal each year is to win the Centennial Conference championship. After that, it’s extra football,” Hopkins coach Jim Margraff said. “We just try to win our conference, and after that, we just try to do as well as we can. We’ve run into some good teams over the past
couple of years.”
In last season’s NCAA second-round playoff game, Johns Hopkins could not convert a fourth-and-1 from Wesley’s 13yard line with 1:38 remaining. The Wolverines were able to run out the clock and hold on for a 42-37 victory.
The year before, the Blue Jays had the lead and the ball on Hobart’s 8-yard line with just under 10 minutes left in that second-round playoff game. The Blue Jays, however, lost a fumble and the Statesmen responded with an 88-yard scoring drive. Hopkins then drove to the Hobart 22, but an interception at the goal line with 10 seconds left killed its final chance in a 24-21 loss.
And in 2013, Wesley quarterback Joe Callahan, now with the Green Bay Packers, threw a 33-yard touchdown to Steve Koudossou with 12.8 seconds remaining for a 29-24 victory.
Johns Hopkins advanced to the quarterfinals in 2009 and this year’s players want to become the second team to achieve that milestone — and more.
“We’ve been there every year and it’s been one play here and one play there,” Toner said. “I don’t think it’s us making mistakes. The other team made plays and you have to credit them. So, when we get to that point this year — if we’re fortunate enough — it’s about stepping up and someone making a play that can get us over that hump.”
Toner, who was named to the Sporting News’ Division III Preseason All-America team, could be the player who takes Hopkins to the next level. He is regarded as one of the best safeties in program history and is the leader of the defense. He is one of 15 seniors on this year’s team who have not lost a regular-season game.
“We don’t play afraid to lose,” said Toner, who finished with 51 tackles, nine pass breakups and six interceptions last season. “We go out every game thinking we can win and we are going to win. We are not going out there thinking, ‘If we lose, we’ll lose our Coach: Jim Margraff (27th season, 189-84-3 at Johns Hopkins) 2015 record: 11-1, NCAA Division III second round Expected finish: Preseason Centennial Conference favorites 2016 schedule Sept. 1, Washington & Lee, 7 p.m. Sept. 10, at Susquehanna, 1 p.m. Sept. 17, Moravian, noon Sept. 24, at Muhlenberg, 2 p.m. Oct. 1, Juniata, noon Oct. 14, at Dickinson, 7 p.m. Oct. 21, Gettysburg, 7 p.m. Oct. 29, at Ursinus, 1 p.m. Nov. 5, at Franklin & Marshall, noon Nov. 12, McDaniel, noon first regular-season game.’ That’s not good for anybody.”
In addition to Toner, the Blue Jays will be led defensively by juniors Keonte Henson and Lance Hammond, who anchor the defensive line. Henson earned first-team All-Centennial honors last year, while Hammond made the second team. The two were one of the most dominant defensiveline tandems in Division III, combining for 100 tackles and seven sacks.
However, Hopkins must fill the void left at linebacker by the losses of Centennial Conference Defensive Player of the Year Keith Corliss and first-team all-conference pick Brady Watts. Jack Campbell, who led the team in tackles (101) and was an Academic All-American in 2015, will be the leader of that group.
“We want to force turnovers and emphasize getting the ball back in our offense’s hand because we know how great they are at scoring points,” Toner said.
Germano returns to lead Hopkins’ dynamic offense. In his first year as a starter in 2015, he set a school record with 35 Coach: Ed Hottle (Sixth season, 25-27 at Stevenson) 2015 record: 9-2 overall; tied for second in the Middle Atlantic Conference at 7-2 Expected finish: Picked third in the MAC preseason poll 2016 schedule Sept. 2, N.C. Wesleyan, 7 p.m. Sept. 10, at Albright, 1 p.m. Sept. 17, Lebanon Valley, 1 p.m. Sept. 24, FDU-Florham, 1 p.m. Oct. 1, at Misericordia, 1 p.m. Oct. 15, at Widener, 1 p.m. Oct. 22, Delaware Valley, noon Oct. 29, at King’s, 1 p.m. Nov. 5, Wilkes, 1 p.m. Nov. 12, at Lycoming, 1 p.m. touchdown passes. Germano went 217for-311 (.698) for 2,963 yards with just eight interceptions.
He tied the Hopkins record by throwing touchdown passes in 12 consecutive games and also had 388 rushing yards with four touchdowns. Germano’s 39 overall touchdowns were also a single-season school record.
One of Germano’s favorite targets is senior wide receiver Bradley Munday, who earned Centennial Offensive Player of the Year honors after finishing with 83 receptions for 1,066 yards and 12 touchdowns. Quinn Donaldson is also back; he has 88 receptions for 1,471 yards and 16 touchdowns in his career.
“It’s always good to have experience because it makes you more confident in everything you do,” Germano said. “Even this preseason, I saw we were taking bigger steps and bigger strides. We are really looking forward to Week1against Washington & Lee and this entire season in the Centennial Conference.”
Last year, the Blue Jays tied the single- Coach: Mike Dailey (first season) 2015 record: 0-10; last in Centennial Conference Expected finish: Picked to finish last in Centennial preseason poll 2016 schedule Sept. 3, at Catholic, 1 p.m. Sept. 10, at Moravian, 1 p.m. Sept. 17, Muhlenberg, 2 p.m. Sept. 24, Ursinus, 1 p.m. Oct. 1, at Gettysburg, 1 p.m. Oct. 15, at Franklin & Marshall, 1 p.m. Oct. 22, Dickinson, 1 p.m. Oct. 29, at Juniata, 1 p.m. Nov. 5, Susquehanna, 1 p.m. Nov. 12, at Johns Hopkins, noon season record with 11 wins and finished ranked 10th by the American Football Coaches Association and 13th by D3football.com. Much of Hopkins’ success can be attributed to Margraff’s recruiting acumen. As the landscape has changed, his coaching staff has learned to stay ahead of the curve.
Instead of going door to door to visit players, the Hopkins staff watches clips of potential recruits. The coaching staff has also worked several one-day clinics hosted by Ivy League schools to get a look at the type of student-athlete that fits the program’s mold.
“We have a great staff, great guys, so it’s nice we’ll see a kid from California at the University of Pennsylvania or Princeton. A lot of times they will say, ‘Let’s take the two-hour drive or hour-and-a-half drive down to Baltimore and check out Hopkins,’ ” Margraff said. “It’s a fantastic university and it’s a beautiful campus. We’ve had a lot of success with football recently. For a lot of these guys, it winds up being not only a viable choice, but a top choice for them.”
Last season, his first as a starter, Johns Hopkins quarterback Jonathan Germano set a school record with 35 touchdown passes and threw just eight interceptions.