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Dartmouth football out of the woods, ready for season

  • Dartmouth College Football holds its second practice of the season at the Graham Indoor Practice Facility in Hanover, N.H., Monday, August 23, 2021. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — James M. Patterson

  • Dartmouth quarterback Nick Howard runs the offense during an instrasquad scrimmage in Hanover, N.H., on Sept. 9, 2021. The team opens their season at Valparaiso on Sept. 18. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News / report for america — Alex Driehaus

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 9/16/2021 7:44:12 PM
Modified: 9/16/2021 7:44:17 PM

HANOVER — For the first time in nearly two years, Dartmouth College football is set to play a game.

The Big Green will its 2021 season on Saturday at Valparaiso, set to kick off at 2 p.m.

Dartmouth’s first home game is a week later, Sept. 25, against Sacred Heart. The Big Green’s 10-game schedule includes three Friday night dates, two of which are at Memorial Field. The Big Green plays at Penn in its Ivy League opener on Oct. 1, hosts Columbia on Oct. 22 and welcomes Princeton on Nov. 5. Dartmouth’s homecoming game will be Oct. 9 against Yale.

Dartmouth was picked third in the Ivy League preseason poll, but Big Green coaches believe they have a roster capable of repeating as Ivy League champions. After missing the 2020 season to the COVID-19 pandemic, the team is relying on a lot players making leaps into bigger roles or with little to no prior game action.

But that inexperience doesn’t concern head coach Buddy Teevens. He said consistency will be the key to returning to the top of the league, but he’s confident in the program he’s built and the players that currently comprise it.

“We’ve had a pretty good run in terms of success in the last seven years. There’s an expectation to continue that,” Teevens said on the season preview episode of the Inside The Woods podcast. “Every year, people say, ‘Well, you’ve got a young team.’ Yes. But a lot of the guys we’ve had were young, and they stepped up. It’s really important that a lot of these young guys step up and perform and play at a high level.

“We think we’ve got talent. We’ve gotta now see that perform on Saturdays.”

The roster lacks returning starters in most spots, but it has one at the most important position on the field: quarterback. Fifth-year Derek Kyler is back for his third season as Dartmouth’s starting QB. He was named to the preseason All-Ivy League second team by sports analyst Phil Steele. Kyler owns the best completion percentage in program history at 68.2%. He’s 14th in program history with 2,437 passing yards, and eighth in passing touchdowns with 25.

Teevens has lauded Kyler’s intangibles and leadership.

“To have a guy that has some seasoning and confidence, you can just see,” Teevens said at the beginning of preseason practice. “He’s just relaxed, comfortable, cool, very adept with the offense. That composure, it’s experience. What he can draw from settles the team down a bit.”

Kyler was selected one of Dartmouth’s four team captains — it’s just the third time ever that the team has four captains (they usually have three). The others are senior tight end Robbie Mangas, fifth-year linebacker Tanner Cross and fifth-year safety Niko Mermigas.

One of the team’s bigger questions is at wide receiver. Dartmouth will rely on a largely new group of wideouts — senior running back Zack Bair is the team’s active leader in receptions. Several players, such as juniors Jamal Cooney and Dale Chesson and sophomores Paxton Scott, Isaac Boston, and Wade Williams, impressed coaches at points during camp. But it remains to be seen who the go-to guys will be in games.

Two Dartmouth offensive linemen, senior left tackle John Paul Flores and fifth-year center Evan Hecimovich, were also named to the preseason All-Ivy second team. Both started every game in 2019, and Hecimovich was an All-Ivy second-team selection that season as a junior.

Mermigas is the only returning defensive starter from the 2019 team. He’s Dartmouth’s lone preseason All-Ivy first-team selection by Phil Steele. Graduate student cornerback D.J. Terry started all 10 games in 2018 and began 2019 as a starter before moving to another role mid-season.

A potential game-changer for Dartmouth’s defense is junior defensive lineman Shane Cokes. He was a standout performer throughout preseason camp, and coaches are cautiously excited about him. He appeared in only two games as a freshman in 2019, so the staff is eager to see how he performs with more regular action. But Cokes could be a key pass-rusher for the Big Green if he plays up to his potential.

“He has all the skills that you want in a defensive end (and) defensive lineman,” defensive coordinator Don Dobes said after the Big Green’s second intrasquad scrimmage last week. “I feel like he’s got a great future. He’s got to get some experience. There’s only so much you can do in practice. I just want to see him continue to be alright. I think he’s got a chance to be a really good player.”

On special teams, senior placekicker Connor Davis enters his third year as the starter. He was limited for a period during preseason, and didn’t kick in either of Dartmouth’s intrasquad scrimmages. But Teevens continually said it was a minor issue and wasn’t concerned about Davis’ status, and he was reportedly kicking in practice during the week. He’s another preseason second-team All-Ivy selection.

Going into this season, Davis is riding a streak of 45 consecutive converted extra points, just six away from the Dartmouth record. He’s 12-for-20 on field goals during his Dartmouth career, with a long of 44 yards during his freshman season.

Punting was a concern for Teevens during camp, as he constantly preached needing consistency. He named junior Cameron Baller the starting punter ahead of the Valparaiso game after a tight competition with freshman Davis Golick and junior Zach Drescher. Teevens said on the podcast that he doesn’t want players to feel like they’re on the chopping block every time they kick, but he’s also not afraid to ride the hot hand and make changes from game to game.

Valpo has played two games already, both losses. The Beacons are coming off a 64-0 beatdown against No. 4 North Dakota State.

There are some advantages and disadvantages for the Big Green in facing a team that’s already played while they haven’t. Dartmouth will have current film on Valpo from their games, but the Beacons have those games to make adjustments and learn more about itself that Dartmouth doesn’t know yet.

That’s essentially a microcosm of the Big Green going into the opener. Its year away and bevy of inexperience could be a negative, but Teevens and his staff are looking at it more positively. But nobody will know which view is accurate until the season gets underway.

In a lot of ways, Saturday will be enlightening.

Seth Tow can be reached at stow@vnews.com.




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