By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - When the NIT came to Stony Brook in March, the Seawolves' football players were in attendance. Similarly, when Stony Brook hosted NCAA men's lacrosse in May, the football players were there.
The Seawolves, no doubt, have a thirst for postseason play.
Had the Big South Conference's new automatic bid to the FCS playoffs been in place last season, it would have belonged to the Seawolves.
This season, Stony Brook has to overcome the loss of 26 seniors to win the Big South title again, and secure the first-ever automatic playoff bid that goes with it. Whether they get there or not, the Seawolves are one of the FCS' more intriguing programs, replenished on the field by a number of transfers and attractive off the field by the growth surrounding them in their athletic program.
Head coach Chuck Priore has been asked, "Why the Big South?" since Stony Brook's football program went to full scholarships and joined the conference in 2008 following a departure from the Northeast Conference. Its campus is located on the North Shore of Long Island, about 55 miles east of Manhattan, so it doesn't fit geographically with a conference whose other schools are in Virginia and the Carolinas. But the Big South is glad to have the Seawolves as a member, and perhaps someday, considering all the changes and potential changes across the college football landscape, another conference could be home to the growing program.
Is football next? That's what Priore is banking on, especially now that he can dangle the carrot of the FCS playoffs to his players. The Seawolves shared last year's Big South title with Liberty, and based on their 36-33 win over the Flames would have advanced to the playoffs if the conference had its automatic bid then.
"We're coming off a Big South championship. The excitement in the offseason was a little bit more than obviously (in the past)," the 50-year-old Priore said. "Their understanding of what it takes is there. We've got the full complement of scholarships now. We had a lot of kids in the program that are going to be playing this fall (who were) there during spring football. And I think the other thing that becomes important is every kid in the program now has been recruited by this staff and myself particularly. There's a point of everybody's really pulling in the same direction. It's a good group of kids."
Stony Brook has finished either 6-5 or 5-6 for five straight seasons, including four under Priore, whose record, not surprisingly, is 22-22 overall. To him, .500 is not acceptable, so with the Big South expected to be improved - led by a veteran Liberty squad and dangerous squads in Charleston Southern and Coastal Carolina - Priore filled some holes in the lineup by bringing in transfers.
He brought in nine in January and four more this summer. The demise of Hofstra's program has benefited the Seawolves, providing players of impact like running backs Brock Jackolski and Miguel Maysonet, offensive guard Armand Poole and defensive tackle Andrew Nelson. Former Rutgers cornerback Al- Majid Hutchins is projected to be a starter, Sheldon Armstrong (Utah State) is in the mix for the other cornerback spot and Kyle Essington (Fullerton College) could be the backup to starting quarterback Michael Coulter.
Although the Seawolves lost a lot of key players, they have hopes as big as 6- foot-8, 350-pound redshirt freshman tackle Michael Bamiro. The returning mix features Coulter and workhorse tailback Edwin Gowins as well as defensive leaders Arin West (strong safety), Ryan Haber (defensive tackle) and Joe Kirkpatrick (defensive end). Coulter threw for a conference-best 15 touchdowns last fall, while Gowins rushed for 890 yards and nine TDs despite being slowed by a foot injury. He was the Big South Freshman of the Year in 2008 when he rushed for 1,310 yards and 11 touchdowns on an incredible 9.4 yards per carry.
"We got hit pretty hard by graduation and we were able to get some kids who had some college experience, that played in the CAA (Colonial Athletic Association) or played at a higher level, and can help us immediately," Priore said.
"We've got to be able to perform and we've got to be better than a 6-5 team, a 5-6 team. Certainly, if you said what is the one goal for me as a football program, is we have to hit that seven-win mark, hit that eight-win mark. That's what recruiting is all about. Hopefully, the playoffs are attached to that now that we have an opportunity."
Stony Brook's season-opening visit to Big East program South Florida on Sept. 4 is a daunting start to the season. The other non-conference games are against Lafayette, Brown, Massachusetts and American International.