Jack Heneghan '18 leads Big Green options at quarterback position

| 9/15/17 1:55am

The start of classes and the dropping temperatures can only mean one thing — the start of football season. While many students only recently arrived in Hanover, Dartmouth’s football team has been hard at work the past few weeks training.

“Preseason training has been going well — guys have been working hard and capitalizing on a lot of hard work we put in in the offseason,” co-captain and quarterback Jack Heneghan ’18 said. “The team is coming together after a productive couple of weeks.”

Dartmouth’s football team looks to improve on what head coach Buddy Teevens ’79 referred to as a “disappointing” season last fall. In 2016, the Big Green swept its non-conference rivals but only mustered one Ivy League win against Cornell University to finish at the bottom of the conference standings. The Big Green come into this season with a simple goal in mind.

“This season, the goal is to win games — as many as possible,” Teevens said.

The team returns 15 starters from last season, along with some veterans returning from injury, giving the Big Green an experienced squad on the field. However, one of the more exciting storylines of this season is at the quarterback position.

Heneghan returns after a breakout junior season last year, which saw him throw 2,725 yards, third-best in Dartmouth history. He also had the second-most completions (247) and attempts (414) in Dartmouth history.

“[Heneghan] is coming in with a year under his belt, so we’re hoping that that level of maturity will play out well for us on the field,” Teevens said. “We’ve already seen improvements in practice.”

Despite such a stellar past season, however, Heneghan is facing competition for the starting spot.

One of the contenders is Jimmy Fitzgerald ’20, a transfer student from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Ranked the 27th best quarterback in high school by ESPN in 2015, Fitzgerald was highly sought by many top collegiate programs, including Dartmouth.

“We recruited [Fitzgerald] out of high school, so we knew what we were getting,” Teevens said. “He’s a great guy, very hard working, very intelligent.”

Teevens also mentioned the adjustments that Fitzgerald has had to make upon joining the Big Green, noting that Fitzgerald had not played football in over a year after taking a gap year following his freshman campaign in Illinois.

“He’s had to adjust to playing football again, as well as adjusting to a new team, new system, new coaching staff,” Teevens said. “And then there are the social aspects, and of course adjusting to life at Dartmouth. But he seems to have taken to it well and has been improving every day.”

Another top contender for the starting position is Jake Pallotta ’20. The sophomore saw limited action in his first season for the Big Green but has impressed both Teevens and Heneghan in preseason training thus far. Sophomore Cole Douglas ’20 and freshman Derek Kyler ’21 are also in the mix for the position.

“We have a good group of five quarterbacks in contention,” Teevens said. “They get along really well but are all very competitive — they’re all fighting for a starting spot.”

Another change to the offense is the addition of a new offensive coordinator, Kevin Daft,who comes to Dartmouth with over a decade of experience coaching college football, most recently for the University of California, Davis. Former offensive coordinator Keith Clark has stepped into a new role as the assistant coach for the offensive line.

Per Teevens, the adjustment to a new offensive coordinator has been very smooth. Working with the team’s quarterbacks, Daft has focused his work on rectifying weaknesses from last season.

“We moved the ball well last year but didn’t get it into the end zone as much as we would have liked,” Teevens said. “This year, we’re focusing on protecting the football better and working on decision-making in different schemes.”

Improving field sense has been Heneghan’s focus this preseason, putting in extra work after practice with the receivers and the rest of the offense.

“I’ve been spending a lot of time with our coaching staff and with our teammates reviewing our offensive system and scheme, as well as the different defenses we might face,” Heneghan said.

Indeed, these are the traits that Teevens and the coaching staff consider most when determining who will start. With preseason training coming to a close, Teevens has an idea of what his starting lineup for quarterbacks will look like.

“Our top three is definitely [Heneghan] and then Jake Pallotta slash Jimmy Fitzgerald,” Teevens said, considering Pallotta and Fitzgerald to be tied for the second slot. However, Teevens was quick to qualify his statement.

“We’ve played against our own defense for the past two weeks,” Teevens said. “I want to look at how they play against guys from other teams. That will help to iron out who is in that starting spot.”

Currently, it looks like Heneghan will be the starting quarterback in the Big Green’s season opener on Sept. 16 against Stetson University in DeLand, Florida. But anything can happen during the season.

“We’ve been working hard together and have a really competitive but supportive relationship among us,” Heneghan said. “It’s helped us in the preseason, and it’s only going to help us more during the season.”