A light at the end of the football tunnel?

Junior halfback Connor Bourque runs past a defender. Picture by Norwich Athletics

The Norwich Cadets football team has been coming up short this season, recording just two wins against five losses so far.
But last weekend Norwich saw encouraging signs when it hit the road to take on Maine Maritime in a NEWMAC Conference battle in Castine, with the maroon and gold pulling off the 15-7 victory.
It’s been a year for rebuilding confidence and for a new game plan with new coaches. “Success and winning are hard, winning will always be hard,” said assistant and defensive backs coach Grantham Raymond. “Someone has to win and someone has to lose, and unfortunately we’ve been coming up a little short.”
The Cadets were able to pull off their first win, 40-0, against intra-state rival Castleton University, where the team was able to reclaim the Maple Sap Bucket trophy.
The team, which has only 11 returning seniors, is a young group and along with the team being young there are also several coaches that are new to Norwich’s staff.

According to Norwich Athletics, the new coaches include Grantham Raymond, the defensive backs coach; Sam Chaves, the running backs coach; Greg Vreeland, the wide receivers coach; Kyle Smesko, the offensive line coach and the recruiting coordinator; and Brian Hayes, who previously was a member of the coaching staff back in 2015, is now the offensive coordinator and quarterback coach.
Captain Bo Phillips, 21, a senior criminal justice major from Chappaqua, N.Y., and a defensive back for the team, explained that “while the team seems new, aside from the freshmen, most of the players are returners, so they don’t have to learn everything from scratch.”
Junior Ferron Green, 20, a communications major from Suitland, Md., and defensive tackle, said that it still has taken time to bring along the young squad, noting, “a lot of them didn’t have much playing experience in a varsity football game until last year when they started playing for the team.”
“Being a young team isn’t necessarily a bad thing,” coach Raymond said. “There’s nothing worse than coming into a program, and you have these great guys to work with and you only get them for a season”
Brian Hayes, the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, said that having a young team can be a plus because players are “very receptive” to the new coaches. When things are “new and different” there tends to be resistance coming from people who don’t want change, he said.
Losing five games has not been easy, especially because the Cadets have put a lot of points on the board. The team is “not having the success” they want but “that’s just a part of changing the culture,” Hayes said. “We have to learn to finish and just continue to do the little things they need to win.”
In three out of the five losses the Cadets have had a lead but they weren’t able to hang on to it. Against the U.S Coast Guard Academy the Cadets lost 38-35 when the Coast Guard scored with nine seconds left in the game. “Coaches have to do a good job motivating and getting them to the point where they realize, no matter what the situation, every game is winnable until that clock says zero,” Raymond said.
Hayes, for one, said that the team is “so young” they can “see the light at the end of the tunnel” but that the team is “not really good enough to overcome the mistakes to get to the end of the tunnel.”
Hayes is the one who on game day is responsible for calling plays and is sometimes faced with the self-scrutiny of “maybe I should have called something else” for the offensive team to run, he said.
“You don’t ever think you can go into a game and it’s a cakewalk” Raymond said. “Our scores don’t necessarily reflect what actually went down in a game.”

Sophomore wide receiver Manni Romero blocking a defensive back. Picture by Norwich Athletics

He explained there are many different factors when looking at a game. It might be that the team had to “stop a 20-play drive” and the opposing team still scored, but it didn’t turn into a “blowout.”
Quarterback Matt Dunn, 20, a sophomore criminal justice major, from Rockland, Mass., admitted that “it’s definitely tough at times” being the leader on the field, but he likes to take on that leadership role.
When Dunn started off as a freshman on the team, he was playing as a receiver. It wasn’t until starting this season at the first game against St. Lawrence that he was put in as a quarterback. He played quarterback his “whole life” before his freshman year.
As for his first year being quarterback, Dunn has already surpassed the Norwich passing yards’ record. He makes sure to share the credit with the other players on the team who “helped him get there.”
The Cadets had a bye week the weekend of Oct. 12-13, which may have helped them turn things around in Maine. This bye week was “huge to be able to take a break right around the middle of the season,” said Dunn. Bye weeks allow the Cadets to “look at what has been done so far. Look at the positives, build on the positives and correct the negatives.” Coach Raymond also said that bye weeks are good to “take a step back and work on fundamentals and techniques” because limited time during the week means “constantly going after game planning and game planning.”
Before their road game against Maine Maritime, Raymond explained how he felt the match-up would be a “great opportunity” to come out of the bye-week to see if the team has the “motivation and success to get the job done,” Raymond said. His faith was rewarded with Norwich able to pull out their second win of the season against Maine Maritime.

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