Football team racks up postseason awards following 9-1 season

by Andrew Wright | 1/14/19 2:10am

Looking back at Dartmouth football’s 9-1 fall campaign, there is little doubt that the team’s season was a great one. Among the team’s nine victories were a 49-7 shellacking of Brown University, a 41-18 defeat of Yale University and a 24-17 win over Harvard University, the first for the Big Green against the Crimson in 15 years. Despite the one loss (a 5-point fall to eventual Ivy League champions Princeton University), the team’s historic campaign was capped by being named No. 15 in the American Football Coaches Association FCS postseason poll and No. 18 in the STATS poll, the best end of the year finish for the Big Green since 1978. Dartmouth was powered to this success on both sides of the ball, allowing the fourth fewest yards and second fewest points, while the Big Green offense matched with 17th in points per game. These statistics demonstrate Dartmouth’s success as a team, but the individuals behind those numbers stand out on their own, and several were honored to that extent in the time since the season ended.

Isiah Swann ’20 described the experience of being named as the winner of the Bushnell Cup — the Ivy League defensive MVP — as simply being “indescribable.” The junior cornerback led the nation with nine interceptions and was third in passes defended per game, leading to consensus All-American honors, along with all-Ivy and All-New England. Dartmouth has had players in recent years earning the award, with the most recent being Folarin Orimolade ’16.

“Watching Flo get that award, I was just thinking to myself how amazing it would be to receive an honor like that,” Swann said.

At that point, though, it was only an ambition. Even going into the fall, Swann didn’t see things playing out how they did.

“I think all the cards just fell into place,” said the junior, adding that he “always worked to be the best, but it’s so hard to come out of sophomore year into this type of season.”

Swann is quick to note that the defense had a historic season as well.

“I got the award, but it’s a team achievement,” he said.

This statement is backed up by the other Big Green players honored as All-Americans: left tackle Matt Kaskey ’19 and defensive end Rocco Di Leo ’18. Kaskey was named to the AFCA Second Team and the STATS Third Team, along with unanimous All-Ivy League honors and All-New England. In a previous interview from October, when the Big Green were 5-0 and coming off of a 42-0 defeat of Sacred Heart University, Kaskey reflected on the attitude that perhaps led himself and his teammates to be in the position that they are in now.

“What the difference has been this year, and what has made us so good, is what we put into it, and we care a lot more than we did two years ago,” Kaskey said. “I think that’s really shown in how hard guys are playing on the field and the success we’ve had with things.”

Through the hard work in his (and the team’s) performances throughout the season, Kaskey followed up on his preseason FCS All-American selection with a postseason selection as well.

Di Leo, a fifth-year senior defensive end, had a stellar season on the other side of the line, leading the conference in tackles for a loss with 12.5 and finishing in second for total sacks with 8.5. Along with being named a unanimous All-Ivy League selection and a member of the All-New England team, like Swann and Kaskey, Di Leo was named to the AFCA All-America second-team and the STATS All-America third team.

Outside of the standard honors for on the field performance, though, perhaps the most notable and worthy postseason award was Seth Simmer ’20’s naming as one of three Mayo Clinic Comeback Player of the Year winners. After being diagnosed with a brain tumor during his first year, Simmer was told by some doctors he might never be able to play football again. Despite this, Simmer found a second opinion from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, which told him that if he had the surgery to remove the tumor and recuperated well, the prospect was still very much there. In July of 2017, he had the surgery, which also led to the loss of his balance nerve and his hearing in his left ear, forcing him to effectively relearn how to walk. While Simmer missed being on the field in the fall of 2017 as a result of this, he finally returned for the Big Green this past fall, with 11 tackles on the season. With luck, Simmer should continue to show this in the season to come.

As a junior, Swann will again be a key part of this upcoming fall, and noted that there are some expectations being placed on himself and his teammates, with people, he said, “expecting a repeat performance.” Despite this pressure, Swann doesn’t doubt himself or those alongside him.

“The defense will be just as good, if not better,” he was quick to say.

Either way, postseason honors are incidental in comparison to the real prize.

“If it ends with a championship,” Swann said, “then it’s all worth it.”