By Jason Dobkin
Team: Johns Hopkins
Head Coach: Jim Margraff
2014 record: 11-1 overall, 9-0 conference
Key returners: LB Keith Corliss, SS Brady Watts, OL Colin Egan, OL Rowan Cade, RB Brandon Cherry, RB Stuart Walters, WR Bradley Munday, WR Quinn Donaldson, WR Ryan Finkel
Key games: Sept. 26 vs. Muhlenberg, Oct. 31 vs. Ursinus
The Johns Hopkins football team is coming off a perfect regular season, a sixth straight Centennial Conference championship and its fifth NCAA playoff appearance since 2009. In 2014, the then-sixth-ranked Blue Jays won a school-record 11 games before falling to then-seventh-ranked Hobart, 24-21, during the second round of the NCAA Division III playoffs.
This season, Hopkins will try to build on last year and work through the losses of some key defensive linemen. Head coach Jim Margraff said those losses will be the biggest challenge for the team to overcome, and that replacing quarterback Braden Anderson is a "huge question mark."
However, Margraff said he's used to being in this situation.
"We've been down this road before," Margraff said. "It's just whether this group is talented enough and can put the work in to get the job done."
The Blue Jays are no strangers to Centennial Conference success and postseason play, but there's room to grow after making two second-round exits (2014, 2012) and one first-round exit (2013)during the past three years they've participated in the postseason. Senior running back Brandon Cherry said his biggest area of focus is ensuring the team executes to the best of its ability and listens to the coaches.
"The last two years when we lost, we've been right there," Cherry said. "It's been little mistakes that have been the difference-makers."
Margraff agreed, and he said it's important to "come out hard" for every practice and every game the same way and to focus on "fine-tuning the little details" to get the best results and extend their season.
Hopkins earned a No. 13 preseason ranking from D3football.com, which is the highest ranking it's received from the website since it started publishing preseason polls. The Blue Jays have also earned impressive preseason accolades from a couple of other organizations. Lindy's magazine ranked them No. 17, and The Sporting News ranked them No. 11 in Division III.
Lindy's named senior guard Colin Egan to the preseason All-America first team and senior tackle Rowan Cade to the second team. Only two other programs had two offensive players on the teams. Egan was also named a preseason first-team All-American by The Sporting News and D3football.com.
But Cherry and Margraff said the team doesn't put much stock in preseason rankings, no matter if they're good or bad.
"Coach says ratings don't give you an extra two points or an extra 15 yards," Cherry said. "It's good to be recognized for recent success, but we must continue that success."
Margraff said aside from the postseason, the conference is a challenge in itself, and the Blue Jays have a lot of work ahead of them to stay on top of the other programs. He said the goal for now is to win the Centennial Conference championship, get to the postseason and then "figure things out."
Hopkins will kick off the regular season against nonconference opponent Randolph-Macon in Ashland, Va., at 1 p.m. Sept. 5.
"We're looking to start off 1-0," Cherry said. "You can't get to 11-0, 12-0 if you don't go 1-0 first."