By Greg Vavrinec
The football team entered the 2016 season as underdogs, but proved all the experts and doubters wrong once the season was complete. The team entered the 2016 season with the expectation to build off its underwhelming 2015 season, finishing 4th in the Northeast 10 Conference, with a 7-4 record last season. Going into training camp last summer, Head football coach Bryan Collins believed his team had the capability to achieve many milestones this season. That started with the return of most of his skill position players and a new group of incoming freshman that he thought would make an immediate impact for the Pioneers this season. He was right. The season was historic. The Pioneers won more games than they ever have in one season.
Coach Collins had especially high expectations for his returning quarterback, and captain, Jeff Kidd. “I expect a lot of big things this season from Jeff this season, he has been showing a lot of great signs in camp and I think that he’s poised to have a big season this year for us,” Collins said before the season. Kidd’s season was set up for success. He knew he would have all of his offensive weapons returning, which is a dream for a quarterback no matter what level of football. “Having all of these guys come back for me this year like Shane [Hubbard], Malik [Pierre], David [White], Kyle Ward and James Higgins definitely makes me job easier since I now had a year to work with them and I’m just very excited,” Kidd said. After the preseason workouts were complete, it was time for the regular season and the journey began for the Pioneers.
The Pioneers were happy in particular to see some playmakers on defense return form injury. Secondary player Jarod Chester and defensive lineman Jess “Shark” Agbotse both returned from injuries that had kept them out for most of last season. Agbotse was ecstatic to be healthy and back with the team this year. “It’s always hard watching your brothers play and know you can’t contribute every Saturday was rough for me so I’m very excited for this year,” he said before the season.
Prior to the historic 2016 football season, the Pioneers never won more than 11 games in a single season. And, the team had only won 11 games in a season three times in history, since the football team was first established back in 1962. But this team had a different feeling to it. Even the players were ready for a long season, according to Anthony Denunzio, a junior defensive tackle. “Coach Collins said during training camp and all season that we are not going to be training for 11 games, we prepare for 16 since day one.” The reason to practice for 16 games is to be optimistic about playing the five potential rounds of playoffs should the team make it to the final round, and win the NCAA Division II Playoffs.
Once the season began, the Pioneers began winning games in dominant fashion, outscoring opponents by upwards of 20 points a week. According to the university athletic department website, the Pioneers scored a total of 480 points while allowing only 272 points to all opponents. At the season’s end, the Pioneers finished the regular season with 11 wins, and an undefeated record for the fourth time in the school’s history.
Over a dozen players on the football team, as well as Coach Collins, were rewarded for their accomplishments. Quarterback Jeff Kidd won the Northeast 10 Conference MVP. Seven players were elected to the Conference First team, and eight players were elected to the second team all-conference. Head football coach Bryan Collins was the conference Coach of the Year.
But the mindset and training in the preseason were more valuable than ever as the Pioneers entered the NCAA Division II playoffs for the second time in three years, this time as the tenth ranked team overall in Division II Football. Their first matchup was a home game against the Rams of Winston Salem State University. The matchup was the first home playoff game for the Pioneers since 2002. The Pioneers emerged as victors and made school history by being the first team to win 12 games in one season. This also was the farthest the team had gone into the NCAA Playoffs by advancing to the second round. However, the Pioneers then fell short to the Shepherd Rams, losing 40-21.
Although the final result was not what the Pioneers had hoped, this was nonetheless a season that LIU Post students and players will never forget. “This season is one season that everyone that attends this school will never forget; this truly was a special group,” said alumnus Jeff Kroll. The football team now waits to see what will happen for next season, as ten seniors will graduate this spring, including wide receiver Shane Hubbard. Hubbard recorded the best season a receiver has ever had at LIU Post by finishing the season with a school record 1,048 yards and nine touchdowns. He credited his quarterback and the coaches who have nurtured him for his four years with the program. “It all starts with the coaches, training me and making sure I know what’s expected of me every day, whether it’s in practice or during games,” Hubbard said. “I also have to thank Jeff [Kidd] because he is a great guy and an even better teammate and we just work really well together and that’s what gave us so much success.”
Hubbard was not the only member of the Pioneers to receive recognition for his hard work after this season concluded. Safety Jarod Chester came away with one of the biggest accolades of the season by being awarded “All-American Status.” The Division 2 Conference Commissioner’s Association honored Chester as a second-team selection. For Chester, it was his first All-America nod in his collegiate career. He is the first defensive player for the Pioneers to be named since 2011. Chester led the Pioneers this season and ranked third among the league’s defensive backs with 78 tackles (42 solo, 36 assist). He also paced the NE-10 in interceptions with seven.
This was truly a historic season for LIU Post football. The team won more games than it ever has in one season, had over 15 players voted to All-Conference teams, and had a select few win national collegiate awards. Fans can look back on this season with pride, despite the Pioneers not attaining the ultimate prize of an NCAA Division II Championship. The future looks bright for the Pioneers, as players and students wait for kickoff of the 2017 football season in September.