Plagued by injury, Maryville College found a blessing in disguise.
With so many key upperclassmen out due to injury this season, a lot of Scots got a chance to get into the action early in their careers, and Maryville had more in those spots than most would think.
Combined, the freshmen and sophomore classes made up 72 of the 100-man team. Maryville coach Tony Ierulli says the future looks good because of the amount of playing time they found.
“I’m very excited about the future, especially with the playing time our freshmen got,” Ierulli said. “However, it’s not an ideal situation. We’re playing too many freshmen, but we had to play them, mostly because of a lot of the injuries that were occurring on our team this year, which is more than I’ve seen in many years, especially on the offensive line.”
Maryville struggled early with its youth but finished strong, upending Ferrum on the road, 23-21, in last week’s 2010 finale.
“It doesn’t matter whether you are at Division III Maryville or whether you are at any Division I school, when you’re playing with a lot of freshmen, you’re probably going to struggle on that side of the ball,” Ierulli stated. “It’s not that freshmen are not good ball players, but it’s just that they aren’t ready. They’ve not been acclimated to the college style of playing football.”
By season’s end, those young players were finding their footing. After winning only one of their first five games, the Scots battled back for a 3-2 record in the remaining five.
“I’m probably more proud with this team than any other team I’ve been associated with. They hung together,” Ierulli said. “A lot of times, when a team starts going bad where you’re not winning like you’d want to be, the team starts breaking up from within. This was absolutely not the case with our team. They just worked hard together.
“We knew the infrastructure of our team was still very strong. That showed that we’re going to be a good football team next season.”
Three freshmen had standout seasons for the Scots. Quarterback Dustin Williams and running backs Chad Brooks and Travis Felder each factor heavily in Maryville’s future.
Williams completed 164 of his 300 passes for 1,648 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Pressed into service when senior and returning starter Tim Conner was lost for the season with shoulder injury during fall camp, Williams averaged 164.8 yards passing per game. His productivity helped Maryville junior All-American receiver Wesley Idlette become the school’s career leader in receptions, yards and touchdowns with a season yet to play.
“Dustin came in, and the first day of practice, I think he started off as the number five quarter back,” Ierulli said. “He kind of established himself as the number one guy (following injuries at the beginning of the season). Like any freshmen, we saw some ups and downs throughout the season. However, we saw a very positive progression for him throughout the season.”
The question is will Williams still have his starting role at quarterback after the return of the injured Connor, who has applied for a medical redshirt.
“It doesn’t matter whether you’re playing quarterback or nose guard, no position is given to you. Tim’s going to come back and try to earn the starting position, and Dustin’s got to fight to keep the number one position,” Ierulli said. “It looks like it’s going to be a very strong competition for that starting position, which will do nothing but bring good things for the team.”
Brooks and Felder had their time keeping the ball on the ground. With a freshmen offensive line clearing the way for them, the duo was able to combine for 602 yards on 154 attempts. Brooks managed three touchdowns, two of which came in the win over Ferrum. For his efforts, the Morristown native was named the Great South Offensive Rookie of the Week.
“With Felder and Chad Brooks, everyone knows those guys are going to be two very strong sophomore backs for us,” Ierulli said. “We struggled, especially early on, with the running game. We had a lot of freshmen offensive linemen who were trying to figure out how to be a college lineman.
“As the season progressed, we ran the ball much better the last third of the season compared to the first two thirds. The last game of the year, I think Brooks rushed for about 160 yards and Felder rushed for about 130.”
Ierulli is optimistic about Maryville future primarily because of the close knit family the Scots became this season.
“It’s a very tight team,” he said. “We don’t have all that many discipline problems. We have really good guys on the team. That, as a head coach, is what’s encouraging. I’m excited about going into next season.”