In nerds vs. machine, Jays like their chances
Hopkins relies on team chemistry and resolve to survive in second round
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.”