By Tim Klapac, Senior Editor
photo courtesy of towsontigers.com
Following a historic 2018 season, the Tigers look to build on their success heading into 2019. Last season, Towson was picked to finish second in the CAA this season, a sign that expectations are higher than they’ve been in recent memory after being picked to finish 10th in last year’s preseason poll.
“It wasn’t about rankings a year ago and it’s not going to be about rankings this year,” said head coach Rob Ambrose. “We set some goals last year, wanted to get back on the national stage. We did all that, but we set the finish line too short.”
Ambrose noted how his team struggled playing in inclement weather last season and made that a focus in their spring workouts, which were held early in the spring, creating a colder climate for their practices.
“We worked hard on understanding that playoff games are played in bad weather,” Ambrose said. “It’s not like a bowl game where it’s warm, it’s a transcontinental mess to get to Frisco, so we did spring ball just like that.”
Despite the disappointing finish, the Tigers have many reasons to be optimistic about this season, especially on the offensive side of the ball. Returning under center is redshirt senior quarterback Tom Flacco. Flacco burst onto the scene at Towson as a graduate transfer last season, throwing 3,251 yards and 28 touchdowns, along with 742 yards and four touchdowns rushing.
“He’s a leader and he’s a tireless worker,” Ambrose said. “He’s made the offense better, the team better, and he’s made me better.”
Flacco was honored as the 2018 Colonial Athletic Association’s (CAA) Offensive Player of the Year for this effort and has carried that into the 2019 Preseason CAA Offensive Player of the Year.
“I’m honored, cause I won Player of the Year last year,” Flacco said. “I can’t be any more grateful for my teammates.”
Also returning on offense for the Tigers is redshirt senior running back Shane Simpson. One of five Tigers to be on the preseason all-conference team, Simpson collected more than 2,000 all-purpose yards as not only the starting running back for Towson, but also the primary kick returner, resulting in a First Team All-American selection by the Associated Press.
With other offensive weapons, such as redshirt senior wide receiver Shane Leatherbury and junior wide receiver Jabari Allen, Towson’s offensive is poised to repeat as the most productive in the CAA.
“It’s really odd and special when you take a whole bunch of talented individuals and take away their egos,” Ambrose said. “Winning and being a part of something this special is more important to them than individual statistics. They go about working and being the best they can be and to help everybody else and, low and behold, their statistics are awesome. With group success, comes individual accolades.”
On the defensive side, the Tigers struggled at times last season, giving up 389.5 yards per game to opponents, the worst in the CAA.
“The unit itself probably underachieved a little bit last year and, while there were some good strides in some ways, there were critical spots we needed help in and we worked on that in the offseason,” Ambrose said.”
However, Towson’s defense returns seven starters, including redshirt senior linebacker Robert Heyward, the team leader in tackles last season.
“We’re gonna be multiples in defense and [Heyward] is gonna tell us where to go,” Ambrose said.
On special teams, the Tigers boast senior kicker Aidan O’Neill, the school’s all-time leader in field goals. O’Neill, who also set the school record for most field goals made in a single season last year, led the CAA in scoring with 108 points last season.
“It’s an honor to get the recognition,” O’Neill said. The awards are an accumulation of taking care of every rep and every opportunity we have.”
The Tigers begin the season on Saturday, August 31 against the Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina at 3 p.m.