By Tris Wykes

Copyright Octopus Athletics 2021

HANOVER – Small clouds of smoke drifted over the Dartmouth College softball field at the base of Velvet Rocks on Sunday afternoon. First one, then another wafted past, carrying with them the smell of burning wood. 

Football coach Buddy Teevens, conducting his first practice session of the preseason on the adjacent Blackman Fields, called the school’s security staff out of an abundance of caution. Several members arrived in SUVs and reported back that an unhoused gentleman was cooking hot dogs near the Appalachian Trail entrance.

Ejike Adele, left, rag dolls Andrew Paxton. Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.

“I didn’t know what it was,” Teevens said with a chuckle. “Safety and Security said he was really nice… and offered to cook some hot dogs for the football team. Just one of the adventures of being out here in the woods.”

Given that Dartmouth has a record 122 players on its roster, it seems unlikely the cook would have had enough frankfurters on hand. The NCAA awarded all of last year’s football seniors an extra year of eligibility because of the Covid-19 pandemic, so the Big Green has its usual 110 competitors, plus 12 “super seniors” who took advantage of the offer.

“There are a lot of bodies and a lot of competition out there,” said Teevens, whose squad shared the 2019 Ivy League title. “It’s good to have the guys back and to see the energy and enthusiasm. But we have to run to the ball better, get off the ball better and catch the ball better.”

There was certainly, as the coach likes to say, rust in the pipes. Numerous players fell during the non-contact team segments and the throwing and catching was often ragged. Alignment was an issue at several points, but Dartmouth doesn’t open the season until its visit to Valparaiso (Ind.) University on Sept. 18.

“We have a lot of guys and only so many snaps and so much time,” Teevens said. “Who makes the most of when they’re in there? I’ve always said we’re fair but not equal. You’re not going to all get the same number of snaps.”

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Fifth-year senior Derek Kyler is Dartmouth’s starting quarterback. But who’s the backup if the Big Green had to play tomorrow? Teevens said junior Nick Howard, who made one, brief appearance as a freshman, is the man.

“Just because he’s done it more,” said the coach, who views the 6-foot-2, 220-pound Green Bay, Wisc., native along the lines of graduated signal-caller and power runner Jared Gerbino. “But that’s what preseason is for. He’s more the physical, run-capable guy and Allen is more the passing guy.”

Jace Henry, right, pulls back a handoff fake from Keegan McHugh. Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.

That would be fourth-year senior Jake Allen, who transferred from the University of Florida in 2018 but has appeared in only three games since, completing 1 of 2 pass attempts. Allen didn’t have a great showing Sunday, throwing a floating pass that was intercepted and chucking another that rotated more like a helicopter’s blade than a spiral. 

The group behind Howard and Allen includes junior Gavin Muir, a geographically widespread, sophomore trio of Dylan Cadwallader (Texas), Devon Lingle (Florida) and Jace Henry (Alaska) and freshmen Jackson Proctor. There have been recent seasons where Dartmouth only had a couple of viable quarterbacks, but that’s certainly not the case now, although one or two of the current crowd is likely to be moved to another position.

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The most impressive player Sunday? It was clearly fourth-year senior running back Zack Bair, a New Jersey product who lost most of the 2019 campaign after suffering a serious knee injury at Pennsylvania that later required surgery. Bair was Dartmouth’s best freshman player in 2018 and averages a whopping 6.9 yards per carry in his college career.

Muscled and fast, No. 22 accelerated through holes, turned the corners sharply on sweeps and generally looked ready to explode.

“He obviously worked very, very hard and the time off helped him,” Teevens said. “He got himself in shape to come out and do something he hadn’t done in an extended period of time.”

The coach was also impressed by true freshmen Isaiah Golonka, a defensive lineman who played first at Huntsville (Ala.) High, then at the Baylor School in Chattanooga, Tenn., and finally at the Canterbury School, a boarding establishment in Connecticut.

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If you’re looking for Dartmouth’s weakness, it might be on special teams, where it needs a new long snapper and punter. Neither area was above reproach Sunday, but Teevens said junior Floridian Josh Greene, listed at 5-foot-10 and 240 pounds, is atop the current depth chart at the former position.

The Big Green’s recent long snappers were also good, overall athletes and Teevens said he has confidence in Greene.

Equipment manager Ryan Finley, a 2017 Hanover High graduate, works to tighten a helmet screw. Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.

“He was a linebacker in high school,” the coach said. “He’s a strong kid and well weight-trained and he moves his feet well enough. The big thing with (punt snappers) is get down there and make (the return man) go sideways.

Greene “might not be the first one down the field, but he’s good enough that they’ll have to assign a blocker to him.”

There’s only one pure punter on the roster and that’s touted freshman Davis Golick from Georgia. He was hot and cold Sunday but the other booters, who are also listed as placekickers, looked worse. It’s at least a good bet Golick won’t fold under pressure: he has his airplane pilot’s license.

Notes: In addition to Josh Greene, Dartmouth has three players with the surname Green… Senior placekicker Connor Davis worked in Seattle as an Amazon intern this summer and might land a job with the company, Teevens said… The Big Green has outfitted most of its linemen and some linebackers with soft, padded helmet covers in its continued efforts against head trauma. Teevens said he was convinced by an NFL study that the products, manufactured by a company named Guardian, would be worthwhile… Dartmouth has had two previous, entry-level women assistant coaches and has another now in Mickey Grace, who was previously an “apprentice coach” with the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams. The franchise’s front office has a strong Dartmouth flavor and Teevens said Grace, who works with the defensive line, came highly recommended by it… Freshman offensive lineman James Coslet is the son of a former Dartmouth player and the grandson of onetime NFL head coach Bruce Coslet, who guided Cincinnati and the New York Jets… Junior defensive lineman Shayne Cokes is wearing No. 0, which is now allowed by the NCAA. “Cokes Zero,” Teevens quipped, obviously pleased with himself.

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Evan Hecimovich (61) and Donald Carty perform footwork drills. Copyright Octopus Athletics. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to ctwykes@aol.com.