In nerds vs. ma­chine, Jays like their chances

Hop­kins re­lies on team chem­istry and re­solve to sur­vive in sec­ond round

Baltimore Sun - - COLLEGE FOOTBALL - By Mike Klinga­man mike.klinga­man@balt­sun.com twit­ter.com/MikeKlinga­man

Johns Hop­kins has won 11 straight foot­ball games, scored 476 points and reached the sec­ond round of the NCAA Di­vi­sion III play­offs — all with­out us­ing a play­book. The Blue Jays keep schemes in their heads, a safe­guard to pro­tect their strat­a­gems from the en­emy.

“A few years ago, you could find teams’ play­books all over the in­ter­net,” coach Jim Mar­graff said. “You’ve got to be care­ful who you share things with these days.”

But who’d ex­pect a foot­ball team, from day one, to com­mit ev­ery­thing to mem­ory? “They are great stu­dents,” Mar­graff said. Re­mem­ber, this is Hop­kins. “Our coaches throw a lot at us, but we can handle it,” re­ceiver Brad Mun­day said. “We’ve been called ‘nerds’ and heard jokes, like, ‘What do you guys do for fun? Study?’ But not all schools with high aca­demic stan­dards have good teams. It takes a unique type of per­son to play foot­ball here.”

Mun­day’s se­nior class has won 43 of 46 games over four years, los­ing three times in the NCAA­play­offs. The Blue Jays face their tough­est test to­day in Mount Union (Ohio), the de­fend­ing national cham­pion, at Home­wood Field at noon. Hop­kins ranks sixth na­tion­ally; Mount Union (10-1) is No. 8. But the Pur­ple Raiders have won 12 Di­vi­sion III titles, and have reached the cham­pi­onship game in11 con­sec­u­tive years. Hop­kins has yet to crack the semi­fi­nals. More­over, when these teams met in the sec­ond round of the 2012 play­offs, Mount Union rolled, 55-13.

The ban­ner out­side Mount Union’s sta­dium in Al­liance reads sim­ply, “THE MA­CHINE.”

“Ob­vi­ously, [Mount Union is] a great team,” Hop­kins quar­ter­back Jonathan Ger­mano said. “But that one loss this sea­son (31-28 to John Car­roll) shows they’re beat­able.”

The game is a god­send for Ger­mano, 22-1 as a starter.

“I’ve dreamed of play­ing Mount Union ever since I came here,” said Ger­mano, a se­nior who in high school was New Jer­sey’s Ga­torade Player of the Year. “To be the best, you want to beat the best, and it’s go­ing to be a dog­fight. It doesn’t mat­ter how the game starts be­cause you’ve got to play 60 min­utes, and if it takes more, we’ll give ’em more.

“It’ll take ev­ery­one giv­ing ev­ery sin­gle thing they have. We’ve got to show how much we care about each other.” Johns Hop­kins coach Jim Mar­graff says the Blue Jays are the ex­cep­tion rather than the rule as a suc­cess­ful foot­ball pro­gram at an aca­dem­i­cally high-achiev­ing school.

The Blue Jays preach fam­ily. Ju­niors and se­niors share a four-story apart­ment build­ing on North Charles Street. They study, joke and eat to­gether; though, as Mun­day said, “No one is go­ing to go to culi­nary school af­ter col­lege.” In the off­sea­son, they sup­port other Hop­kins teams, at­tend­ing basketball games, call­ing them­selves “The Gold­farb Gang” (af­ter the school’s gym) and needling op­po­nents.

Ear­lier this month, play­ers dressed in bizarre cos­tumes, from a frog to an ele­phant, to root on the vol­ley­ball team in the Cen­ten­nial Con­fer­ence cham­pi­onship match. Hop­kins dropped two sets to Swarth­more, then took the last three to win it.

“We got un­der [Swarth­more’s] skin a bit,” Ger­mano said.

This past spring, the foot­ball team flew to Italy, where it trounced a team from Rome, toured Venice, and for 10 days bonded as per­haps no Hop­kins team has done be­fore.

“We­came to­gether over there,” Mar­graff said. “We lost a lot of good play­ers last year, and if you’d have told me then that there would be a dip [in wins] this sea­son, I’d have said that wasn’t too far-fetched.”

Didn’t hap­pen. Hop­kins is av­er­ag­ing 43.3 points and 519.2 yards a game. Ju­nior Ryan Cary has 14 rush­ing touch­downs and three re­ceiv­ing. Mun­day, an Ohioan whogrewup an hour away from Mount Union, needs three catches to be­come the school’s ca­reer re­cep­tions leader. Jack Toner, an Al­lAmer­ica de­fen­sive back, read­ied for this game by watch­ing the movie “Bleed for This.” And Ger­mano prepped for it by pass­ing for four touch­downs and run­ning for a fifth in last week’s 42-21 win over Ran­dolph-Ma­con.

“[Ger­mano] is a special guy,” Mar­graff said. “Watch him work out and you wouldn’t choose him, but make it a game and he’ll beat you. He’s more ac­cu­rate when the pres­sure is on. I haven’t seen one like him in my [27 years] here.”

Ger­mano, who is 5 feet11and195 pounds, seems a poster boy for the stereo­type dog­ging aca­demic giants like Hop­kins — that, in foot­ball, size trumps smarts.

“We have a rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing smart, so we can’t be that good, right?” Cary said. “I think we’re prov­ing them wrong.”

Still, Mar­graff said, Hop­kins is the ex­cep­tion, not the rule.

“If you look at the top [aca­demic] schools, the only ones win­ning at a good clip are Stan­ford, us and who­ever wins the Ivy League,” the coach said. “Other coaches will tell you there are guys whoare bril­liant, who could build a nu­clear re­ac­tor — but who can’t un­der­stand what’s go­ing on, on the foot­ball field. Our guys aren’t like that.”

KIM HAIRSTON/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

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