This Saturday, Dartmouth football will take the field at home against Valparaiso University to kick off its 2022 season. The Big Green has its sights set on its third championship in four years and three full seasons.
When the seniors on this year’s team first joined the program in 2019, they were part of a 9-1 championship season, splitting the title with Yale University, also 9-1. After Ivy League play was canceled in 2020, the Big Green returned with a fury in 2021, matching its 9-1 record despite the layoff and this time splitting the championship with Princeton University.
Now, those seniors are the leaders of a young team with many “new faces,” according to head coach Buddy Teevens ’79, and are looking to complete the three-peat.
“It’s tough to win a championship, it’s harder to repeat a championship,” Teevens said. “As I tell our players, the only poll that matters is the one at the end of the year … I also tell them it’s not the best team on Saturday that wins. It’s the team that plays best on Saturday that wins. We learned that from [Cornell University] and [Columbia University] the past two years, so we gotta come out and play.”
The team certainly understands the expectations facing them this year, after being voted (along with Harvard University) as the preseason conference favorite in an Ivy League media poll.
“Everybody’s got our name written on their board. We’ve got a target on our back,” linebacker Marques White ’23 said. “But, at the end of the day, it comes down to us and how we play. We know that the game is on us and we’re not worried about who we’re playing, who’s wearing the other jerseys. It’s about who’s wearing our jerseys.”
Leading the charge under center will be quarterback Nick Howard ’23. Howard had a breakout campaign last year splitting snaps with Derek Kyler ’21, now a redshirt senior at the University of Pittsburgh. In 2021, Howard operated primarily in the wildcat, rushing the ball from the quarterback spot for career numbers across the board. He paced the team with 787 yards on 125 attempts for a 6.3 yards per attempt rate. He also found the end zone 15 times, accounting for over 70% of the Big Green’s rushing touchdowns as a team.
With Kyler now graduated, Howard’s role is expected to change to see him used more in the traditional passing game as well as continuing to take advantage of his talents as a runner. Although Howard put up gaudy numbers despite defenses knowing to expect the run when he was the one under center, Teevens expects the added versatility to be a benefit to the offense.
“The thing that I’ve really been impressed with is how rapidly [Howard] progresses from one to two to three to four, and he’s unselfish,” Teevens said. “He doesn't have to throw the ball downfield … but he also has demonstrated that ability to throw the ball downfield.”
Howard only threw 18 pass attempts in 2021 for 126 yards, one touchdown and one interception. His transition to the passing game will be a storyline to monitor this season. For what it’s worth, preseason expectations are high for Howard; he was named to sports writer Phil Steele’s preseason All-Ivy first team.
“I think in practice it’s been a lot of just exploring a wider expanse of the offense, doing things that I probably wasn’t asked to do last year,” Howard said. “Really just letting [Quarterback Coach Kevin Daft] throw more stuff at me, just in terms of opening up the offense altogether. I’ve said it before, I’m very confident in my ability to run and pass the ball, and I’m just really, really excited to get out on Saturday and see what we can do.”
One thing that will help Howard and the Dartmouth offense is that the Big Green will return many of its primary contributors at the skill positions. In the receiving corps, the major players are projected to be Paxton Scott ’24, Dale Chesson ’23, Jonny Barrett ’23, Zion Carter ’23 at tight end and Jamal Cooney ’23, who also made Phil Steele’s first team as a punt returner.
Running the ball, Zack Bair ’22 will return for a fifth year, as well as senior running back Noah Roper ’23, giving Howard plenty of weapons with which to attack opposing defenses.
“We have a lot of experience [in the receiving corps], so that’s really helpful on the outside,” Howard said. “[Bair] and Roper [have] tons of experience at running back.”
The offensive area with the most new faces this year will be the line, and Teevens identified the group’s play as one of the determining factors of this season.
“We have solid players in those areas, but we have to gel as a group,” Teevens said. “Senior leadership will be very, very important. Guys that maybe have not been asked to lead so much in the past, it’s their time.”
On defense, Dartmouth returns some standouts from 2021, but will also have to integrate some less experienced players. White, also named to Phil Steele’s first team preseason All-Ivy roster, returns at linebacker after a strong 2021 campaign along with Shane Cokes ’23 on the defensive line and Quinten Arello ’23 in the secondary.
The defense in particular has the added challenge of navigating a collection of injuries. White suffered a minor meniscus tear in the preseason that will sideline him until the start of Ivy League play against the University of Pennsylvania. Other experienced players in fifth-year Bobby Jefferson ’22 and Sam Koscho ’23 sustained season-ending injuries. Still, White expressed his confidence in the group that the Big Green will field on that side of the ball.
“We have a lot of faith in all of our guys, regardless of grade, so I’m excited to see those young guys step up,” White said. “The leaders on the defense, we’re able to keep control of those guys and get ’em lined up and that's all we need. Once we get lined up, it’s all action after that.”
The Big Green’s first test of the season comes at home this Saturday against the Crusaders, a matchup Dartmouth won 28-18 last season.
“The standard has been set here by Coach Teevens and the rest of the coaching staff, and we expect to compete for a championship every season,” Howard said. “There’s a lot of stuff that can happen over the course of 10 weeks, 10 games, but I feel really good about the team and I fully expect us to be right in the mix competing for a third championship.”