After a 5-5 season a year ago, Brown football’s upperclassmen decided the team would take a new mentality to bring the Ivy League title to College Hill for the first time since 2008.
Thus, “thru the wall,” the team’s new rallying cry for the 2016 season, was born.
“We’ve been going through a culture change on our team,” said defensive back Jordan Ferguson ’17. “It’s something that the older guys started doing in January and February with winter workouts and into spring practice.”
Despite being picked to finish sixth in the Ancient Eight in the pre-season media poll, the Bears return 15 starters from last season and hope to conquer a crowded field of contenders in Head Coach Phil Estes’s 19th year. The conference crown was shared by Harvard, Penn and Dartmouth in 2015, while Brown finished fifth with a 3-4 conference record.
Kyle Moreno ’17 will take the reins as a dual-threat quarterback in the Bears’ read-option attack. Moreno saw limited action last season but impressed in a loss at Harvard, throwing for 308 yards and two touchdowns and rushing for two more.
Moreno will have to take care of the ball for Brown to find more success on offense, as the team was tied for the most turnovers in the nation last year with 34. But Estes believes that Moreno is equipped to remedy the team’s struggles with turnovers.
“Kyle has the confidence; he’s been doing this his whole life,” Estes said.
Moreno stressed fixing the turnover woes from last season as the offense’s number-one priority and offered a simple prescription: “staying within the scheme, not trying to do too much and knowing my opponent inside and out.”
The team performs numerous drills during practice to work on handling the ball well, Estes said.
There will be no shortage of weapons for Moreno to rely on offensively, starting with 2015 All-Ivy receivers Troy Doles ’17 and Alex Jette ’17. Last season, Doles totaled 66 receptions for 963 yards and seven touchdowns, while Jette recorded 68 receptions for 928 yards and four touchdowns. The pair figures to be one of the more formidable duos in the league and will play a key role on special teams as well, with Doles returning kicks and Jette as the team’s punter.
The Bears expect to use several players in the running game, with Johnny Pena ’17 — who ran for 310 yards and scored six touchdowns last season — returning with the most game experience.
There was room for improvement on defense for Bruno as well. In the 2015 season, the Bears allowed 32.9 points per game, the highest in the Ivy League, and placed in the middle of the pack in both rushing defense and passing defense.
Seven players return from that defensive unit, led by Ferguson and co-captain defensive end Robert Hughes ’17. Other key players include linebackers Will Twyman ’17 and Max Tylki ’17, who combined for 139 total tackles and 10.5 tackles for loss in 2015.
“We’ve got some speed on defense,” Estes said. “Up front, those guys can run.”
The veterans will take a personal stake in the improvement of the defense from last season, Ferguson said.
“Sometimes when you’re put in tough situations you have to step up, and there were times when we didn’t do that,” he said. “If we trust each other to do our jobs, then we’ll definitely come out with Ws.”
Following Saturday’s opener at Bryant (1-1), the Bears will run through the seven-game Ivy League slate and two non-conference games against Stetson and rival Rhode Island in the annual Governor’s Cup game.
Brown’s opener will be the third game for the Bulldogs, a unique reality of playing in the Ivy League for the Bears. But without any film for Bryant to study on the new schemes Bruno plans to run, the difference could prove an advantage, Ferguson said.
“We’re a much different team than last year, and we’ve definitely evolved in terms of the defenses that we run,” he said.
The starters have yet to play 60 minutes of football as a unit, but they did play Yale, another potential contender for the Ivy title, in a pre-season scrimmage.
“The Yale scrimmage was good for us to get us ready as far as game mentality and getting the first hits out of the way,” Moreno said. “I think we’ll be ready.”