York, PA - The third year in the adventure that is the Northeastern football story saw the Bobcats take a step backward. After a 3-7 mark in its debut season, Northeastern went 4-6 in the second year, only to slip to a 2-8 record in 2010.
Head coach Brendan Brown, who has been the man at the helm since the program's inception, believes this is the year to take the next step. The program lost 10 players to graduation but returns nine starters on both sides of the ball.
One reason for the coach's optimism is that his line should be vastly improved. The Bobcats bring back six players with varsity experience to shuffle along both lines, and Brown is confident that will make a huge difference.
"We had a hard time last year on the line, but this group is the best line we have ever had," Brown said. "We are excited about that."
Filling the void: The toughest player to replace will be running back Aaron Greene, who was one of the top rushers in the league last season. Senior Tyrone Belgrave, who moved north from Maryland last year, is being called upon to step in and carry the load.
Varsity letters: Senior Nick Small, a three-year starter, is back to run the show from the quarterback position, and he is ready to lead the Bobcats to new heights.
"It's not about stats; it's about winning games," Small said. "Everything is set up for us, and I am excited to see what we can do."
Senior Blake Stoner, a center and defensive tackle, and also a three-year starter, will provide stability and leadership on both lines.
"This year on the line, as a unit, is going to be fun," Stoner added. "We want to be the first Northeastern team to make the playoffs."
New face in the crowd: Tanner Sweitzer, a senior, might be the biggest addition. Sweitzer used to play football when he was younger, but when he got to high school, he focused on volleyball. Stoner talked him into playing this year, and Brown is excited about his potential.
"He's an athlete, and he will give us a shot in the arm."
Mark your calendar: Dover and West York are big games every year, with the players leaning toward rival Dover as the biggest game of the year. Brown, however, said it is the Week 1 matchup with Juniata that will set the tone.
"We thought we could walk on the field and beat them last year, and we got punched in the face," Brown said. "We have to go up there this year and make a statement."
Who is the one player on your team that you wouldn't want to face? Junior guard Derrick Stahl. He can get a little crazy out there.
What practice drill do you hate the most? Downhill drill. It's a drill for linebackers, and you have to use pads. Blockers come at you, and you've got to shed them and tackle the ball carrier.
Which NFL player would you compare to yourself? Tim Tebow, not for what he does on the field, but for what he does off it.
What pregame music gets you pumped to play? Lots of rock and rap. It gets us pumped up. We listen to Disturbed in the weight room.
Do you have a nickname? Well, I've got a couple. (He laughs).
What's your favorite move on the field? When I run through somebody.
What's the best thing about playing football? Going out to battle with your brothers. (Teammates) are like your family, and you have a really close relationship by the end of the season.
Related· 2010 preview: Bobcats looking for more in Year 3