For Dayton Flyers football team, ‘it’s good to be back’

Dayton coach Rick Chamberlin talks to the team after the final football spring scrimmage against Ashland on April 17, 2021, at Welcome Stadium. David Jablonski/Staff
Caption
Dayton coach Rick Chamberlin talks to the team after the final football spring scrimmage against Ashland on April 17, 2021, at Welcome Stadium. David Jablonski/Staff

Credit: David Jablonski

Credit: David Jablonski

UD starts practice Monday and will play a season for first time since 2019

A fall without football has made the Dayton Flyers look forward to the 2021 season more than ever, and the road to the Sept. 4 opener against Robert Morris at Welcome Stadium starts Monday with the first practice.

“Players are always excited when football camp comes around,” coach Rick Chamberlin said last week. “As a football player, you get excited in the month of August because you enjoy the game of football. This year, the excitement, the appreciation is going to be even more because we didn’t have the opportunity to go through it last year at all. There was no camp, of course, no season.”

A year ago at this time, Aug. 7, to be exact, the Pioneer Football League announced there would not be a fall football season because of the coronavirus pandemic. The PFL announced a plan for a shortened spring season in November. Dayton opted not to participate, though it did hold spring practices and an exhibition game against Ashland University at Welcome Stadium.

The NCAA didn’t count the lost season against anyone’s eligibility, so seniors who would have played their final season a year ago had the option of returning. Some did. Some didn’t. Chamberlin said one player decided to go to law school at Saint Louis University, while another’s going to medical school at Ohio State.

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While Dayton was picked to finish fourth in the PFL and has not won the conference championship since tying for first in 2015, it has the talent to contend. That starts with quarterback Jack Cook, one of the seniors who elected to return for a fifth year.

“It’s just really good to be back,” Cook said. “The last time we played was against Butler in late November (of 2019). That feels like five years ago. It was more like a year and a half ago. It’s kind of weird because I kind of don’t remember what camp is like because we didn’t do it last year. But I’m really looking forward to being back and seeing the guys on the field.”

Dayton quarterback Jack Cook talks to reporters after the final football spring scrimmage against Ashland on April 17, 2021, at Welcome Stadium. David Jablonski/Staffshland on April 17, 2021, at Welcome Stadium. David Jablonski/Staff
Caption
Dayton quarterback Jack Cook talks to reporters after the final football spring scrimmage against Ashland on April 17, 2021, at Welcome Stadium. David Jablonski/Staffshland on April 17, 2021, at Welcome Stadium. David Jablonski/Staff

Credit: David Jablonski

Credit: David Jablonski

For Cook, it was “super weird” and “kind of boring” not playing football last fall as the seasons continued at the top division of college football and high school teams around Ohio played a shortened season.

“It really sucked in the springtime when the other PFL teams played,” Cook said. “But as a team, you control what you can control, and we just tried to get better at practices instead of worrying about what other teams were doing and watching their games.”

Cook is a three-year starter who enters his final season with the sixth-best career pass-efficiency rating (162.0) in Football Championship Subdivision history. Two years ago, when Dayton finished 8-2 overall and 6-2 in the PFL, he threw 33 touchdown passes, 14 of them to Adam Trautman, who’s about to begin his second season in the NFL.

“Jack’s a competitor,” Chamberlin said. “His skill level was very good in the spring. He had gotten better with decision making and just accuracy of throwing the ball. Now we get to see that against opponents. Does that carry over? I believe it will.”

Cook was one of 35 players named to the watch list for the Stats Perform Walter Payton Award, which goes annually to the best FCS offensive player. His fellow senior, safety Brandon Easterling, was named to the watch list for the Buchanan Award, which goes to the national defensive player of the year.

Cook said he will work on being a better leader this year. He didn’t have to worry about that two years ago because the offense had Trautman and an experienced offensive line.

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Now the offensive line is the biggest question mark for Chamberlin entering the start of preseason camp.

“We lost every starter on the offensive line,” Chamberlin said. “They graduated. Even a couple backups who would have been seniors this past year, they got jobs and moved on. We have some good players there, some good size, and they showed some progress through the little bit we got to do in the fall and then what we got to do in the spring. But that true game action, none of them has had that. That’s going to be the challenge. But coach (Josh) Hendershot, our offensive line coach, he’s really got them going and confident. We’ll see how we progress through camp. They’ve got to grow up fast and get ready for that Robert Morris defense.”

Hendershot joined the program in early 2020 right before the pandemic began. Jim Collins, a former head coach at Saginaw Valley State and Capital University who’s Dayton’s new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, was hired around the same time. They’ve had to wait a long time for their first game.

“Jim has been very pleased with the progress of the offense,” Chamberlin said. “They’re learning some new tweaks he has put in. I really believe when they come back this year, mentally they’ll be sharper than they were last fall when it comes to our offense with Jim and Josh being the new guys.”

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Adam Trautman speaks to Dayton Flyers

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