Win­ning de­sign

Hatters’ for­mula for suc­cess re­lies on team chem­istry, lead­er­ship

Orlando Sentinel - - SPORTS WEEKEND - By Roy Parry

DELAND — Five years into their “mod­ern” era, the Stet­son foot­ball team has cre­ated a cul­ture of ca­ma­raderie that is car­ry­ing the Hatters to new heights.

A 48-24 home­com­ing win last week over More­head State pushed the Hatters to 7-1 over­all and 5-1 in the Pi­o­neer League. Since the pri­vate school brought back foot­ball in 2013 af­ter a 57-year ab­sence, Stet­son had done no bet­ter than five wins.

“I’m just so proud of th­ese guys and how hard we fight for each other,” said fifth-year se­nior quar­ter­back and co-cap­tain Colin McGovern. “The cul­ture of this team has just come so far … and I only see it get­ting bet­ter ev­ery year.”

The 2018 sea­son cer­tainly has been one to re­mem­ber.

The Hatters beat Jack­sonville for the first time on a field goal as time ex­pired.

They pulled out a last­sec­ond mir­a­cle win over Drake.

Their cur­rent four-game win streak is a pro­gram best.

They’ve set a num­ber of team and in­di­vid­ual records.

So what has made the dif­fer­ence?

“I think we have bet­ter play­ers, and I think we have bet­ter coaches. That’s the start,” head coach Roger Hughes said. “The caveat to that is I think the lead­er­ship on our team has been out­stand­ing, and it’s re­ally, I think, a prod­uct of the last three years of hard work.”

That lead­er­ship com­po­nent be­gan to take shape when Hughes came across the book “Ex­treme Own­er­ship: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win.”

Navy SEALs are known for their in­tense loy­alty to one an­other and their high level of team­work. Hughes felt the book would ben­e­fit his team, so he made it part of a lead­er­ship course he teaches.

“It’s the best man­age­ment book I’ve ever had,” Hughes said.

Three years ago, Hughes changed how team cap­tains were se­lected when he started an ap­pli­ca­tion process. Part of that process re­quires play­ers to take the lead­er­ship course, then teach what they’ve learned to the rest of the team. In ad­di­tion, in­com­ing fresh­men are re­quired to read the book.

“I think right now, ev­ery per­son on this team has had ex­po­sure to that book, and has ex­po­sure to what we want out of our cul­ture,” Hughes said.

The re­sults? Play­ers keep their egos in check, put their team­mates first and lean on each other. Team­work. “If you can trust ev­ery­one around you, whether it’s de­fense trust­ing of­fense or just de­fen­sive play­ers trust­ing de­fen­sive play­ers, it helps tremen­dously,” said red­shirt ju­nior linebacker Colby Dun­can, who leads the team in tack­les.

Hughes and his staff also em­pha­size the im­por­tance of striv­ing to im­prove and avoid­ing com­pla­cency. It boils down to fo­cus­ing on one game at a time.

“We don’t think about the games in the past. If you’re 7-1, it’s easy to just to be sat­is­fied, but none of us are,” said McGovern, who has thrown for 2,183 yards and 19 touch­downs this sea­son.

The Hatters have a good shot to go 1-0 each of the next two weeks, fac­ing But­ler (3-6) on Satur­day and Val­paraiso (1-8) in the reg­u­lar-sea­son fi­nale Nov. 17 at Spec Mar­tin Sta­dium. Stet­son likely won’t earn the au­to­matic FCS play­off berth that comes with win­ning the Pi­o­neer League. San Diego, un­beaten in league play and the only team to have beaten the Hatters this year, must lose its next two games to give Stet­son a chance.

So while the play­offs don’t seem likely this sea­son, the Hatters can still fin­ish 9-1 and con­tinue to build from there.

Start­ing of­fen­sive line­man Brad Alexan­der un­der­stands that. The sopho­more, who was a three-year let­ter-win­ner at Bishop Moore, chose Stet­son be­cause of the po­ten­tial he saw.

“It’s been so much fun,” said Alexan­der, who started 10 of 11 games last sea­son. “One of the rea­sons I came here was to be on this team and be a part of build­ing some­thing here.

“And it’s been such a turn­around from last year. It’s been awe­some.”

And ex­cit­ing. Fourthquar­ter ral­lies de­liv­ered wins over Drake, Jack­sonville and David­son.

The come­back against Drake was like some­thing out of a movie script.

Wide re­ceiver Steven Bur­dette picked up what was essen­tially an in­ten­tional fum­ble by team­mate Jack Bowen and took it 8 yards for the game-win­ning touch­down as time ex­pired. Stet­son 23, Drake 21. “The ball has bounced our way a cou­ple of times [this sea­son],” Hughes said.

It cer­tainly did that day in Des Moines. Af­ter catch­ing a pass from McGovern, Bowen was quickly swarmed by three Drake de­fend­ers. Think­ing on his feet, Bowen sim­ply dropped the ball, hop­ing a team­mate might be there to scoop it up.

“Hav­ing seven wins is al­ways go­ing to make it fun, es­pe­cially in the fash­ion we have done it. The end­ing against Drake was prob­a­bly the cra­zi­est play I’ve been a part of,” said red­shirt sopho­more kicker Jonny Messina.

The Olympia High alum con­trib­uted to the Hatters’ late-game magic when his 22-yard field goal as time ex­pired helped Stet­son beat Jack­sonville 38-35. He cred­its much of the Hatters’ suc­cess to the strong bonds be­tween team­mates.

“The chem­istry this year is just so good, and I think that’s what’s made us work so well to­gether and get those seven wins so far,” said Messina, who used to catch passes from cur­rent FSU quar­ter­back Deon­dre Fran­cois at Olympia. “I think it comes down to lit­tle de­tails, as coach Hughes al­ways says. We make sure we do all the lit­tle things right.”

It was a “lit­tle thing” last week against More­head State that sparked Stet­son.

Af­ter the Hatters took over at their 1-yard line fol­low­ing a turnover, run­ning back Bryce Black­mon picked up three yards on first down.

Black­mon’s run gave the Hatters the room they needed to throw the ball on sec­ond down. McGovern hooked up with Bur­dette for a 96-yard throw-and-catch touch­down that tied the game and shifted the mo­men­tum back to Stet­son.

“We could have never run that play had [Black­mon] stopped and not given the sec­ond ef­fort,” Hughes said. “So I try to point out all those lit­tle things that have the cu­mu­la­tive ef­fect of mak­ing us a win­ner at the end of the day.”

That’s seven wins, and count­ing.


Fifth-year quar­ter­back Colin McGovern has thrown for 2,183 yards and 19 TDs this sea­son.

Stet­son of­fen­sive line­man and Bishop Moore alum Brad Alexan­der (66) looks to make a block against Drake.

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