CHAROLOTTE, NC – Two-time defending Big South Conference champion Monmouth University was selected as the overwhelming favorite to capture its third straight conference title Tuesday at the annual Big South Conference Media Day held a the Charlotte Marriott South Park Hotel in Charlotte, North Carolina.
The Hawks garnered 16 of a possible 18 first-place votes (141 points) while rival Kennesaw State was picked second with 117 points and one first-place vote. Big South newcomer North Carolina A&T was third with 100 points and Charleston South was fourth with 85 points including the remaining first-place vote.
The days of sneaking up on an opponent are long gone for the Hawks; they are now the hunted. They finished ranked 10th nationally following the 2021 spring season and enter the upcoming fall season ranked No.10 nationally in the FCS Coaches Preseason Poll.
“Where we’re picked doesn’t change a thing we do,” said Kevin Callahan, who is entering his 29th season as the head guy and is the only coach in the history of Monmouth University. “We have a plan on how we’re going to attack the preseason and how we’re going to prepare and practice and we follow that plan. One thing I’ve learned in 28 years is you can’t worry about all the noise on the outside. You have just worry about what’s going on within your program, do what you know works and do what you do well.
“It’s very nice to be recognized for what people think you will be able to do,” added Callahan. “And it’s very nice to be recognized for what you’ve done in the past. It’s great for our players to be honored and recognized but at the end of the day it comes down to what you’ve done on the field.”
If people weren’t already aware of what Callahan and his crew have been building down at the Jersey Shore they most assuredly took notice of the Hawks performance in last spring’s FCS playoffs. Monmouth fell just short of upsetting eventual national champion Sam Houston State when they had a first-and-goal at the Bearkats 9-yard line trailing 21-15 with just over a minute to play.
Sam Houston State finished the season 10-0, beating top-seeded South Dakota State to win the national championship.
So the target is now firmly entrenched on their backs and with winning comes lofty expectations and the Hawks certainly have their fair share of expectations. Especially after a school record 15 players earned first-team Preseason All-Big South conference honors and return 21 of 22 starters on offense and defense from the spring season.
“We have a lot of guys who are going into their fourth year as starters for us,” said Callahan. “They are guys that started playing in 2016 or 2017 and as we grew as a program and they gained experience on the field we’re seeing the fruits of that growth.
“I think we have the respect of the coaches in the conference and as I said at the luncheon we’re honored by that but we’re also humbled by that. We also understand that that’s based on last year and we’ll be measured by what we do this fall going forward.”
The Hawks talent level is definitely there but just as importantly so is the soaring level confidence that they gained last season after proving to themselves and everyone else that they can play with anyone.
You can never underestimate the level of confidence a team has as it attempts to break new barriers, as the Hawks did last season and will attempt to do again this season.
Should Monmouth be included in this seasons national champion conversation – absolutely, they’ve earned it. It’s no longer about them just being on the same field as the big boys, they are now one of the big boys that boasts a program that other schools will strive to emulate.
Monmouth’s redshirt-junior running back Juwon Farri and fifth-year senior free safety Anthony Budd were selected as the Big South Conference’s 2021 Preseason Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year, respectively.
“It’s very important to us at Monmouth to make sure we attract and bring in the right people for our program and that’s more important to me than the talent level,” said Callahan. “Both Juwon and Anthony are outstanding young men but what’s special about them is their development during the time they’ve been with us. To see where they are right now, they deserve to be recognized as potential candidates for players of the year.”
Farri, a first-team All-Big South selection in 2019 prior to sitting out the 2020 season, rushed for league-best 520 yards on 104 attempts (5.0 yards per carry) and averaged 130 yards per game – second in all of FCS - in the 2021 Spring season. He was the league’s Offensive Player of the Year and received All-American recognition from STATS (second team), AFCA (second team) and Phil Steele (third team).
“I try not to think about it to much,” said Farri when asked about all the recognition he’s been getting. “I don’t let the success get into my head. I just go day by day and do what my strength and conditioning coach tells me what to do, do what my family tells me what to do and that’s just to stay focused and stay concentrated on the road ahead.”
Farri also knows that the Hawks are the hunted now but feels his team is up to the challenge. “Our coaches have ingrained in our head that we’re going to get everybody’s best so we have to come with a chip on our shoulders, give it our best every game and just stay focused on the mission ahead.”
Budd has led the Big South in interceptions the past two seasons (5 in 2019, 2 in spring 2021) while being selected first-team All-Big South both years. He’s the Hawks first player to win the conference’s preseason defensive award and first defensive back to garner the award since 2012. Budd has started 26 games over the last three seasons and was Monmouth’s third leading tackler with 26 stops (14 solo) and had three pass break-ups along with his two picks.
As a defensive leader, Budd feels the Hawks have the right mind set to deal with all the expectations heaped on the team. “Honestly we don’t think to much about it. Preseason accolades mean something but it’s the work we put in this summer that has us confident heading into the season.”
Along with Farri, sophomore quarterback Tony Muskett, graduate student wide receiver Lonnie Moore IV, senior wide receiver Terrance Greene Jr., fifth-year senior tight end Gene Scott, graduate student center A.J. Farris, senior right tackle Justin Szuba, graduate student left tackle Mahmoud Shabana and graduate student left guard Manny Christian were first-team offensive selections.
On defense, Budd was joined by graduate student defensive end Kahari Scarlett, graduate student linebackers Da’Quan Grimes and Eddie Hahn and redshirt senior cornerback Justin Terry.
Monmouth senior long snapper, Kent Vines, was a first-team special teams selection.
The Hawks also had four players earn honorable mention Preseason All-Big South for five spots. Senior cornerback Eddie Morales III was picked at both defensive back and punt returner with graduate student Erik Massey on the defensive line, Moore IV at kick returner and junior punter Ryan Kost all gaining honorable mention honors.
Monmouth Opens Camp August 6
The Hawks begin summer camp on Friday, August 6, 2021 and will open the season at FBS school Middle Tennessee State – a Conference USA member – on September 4, 2021.
“It’s the first time we’ve played a Conference USA team and we know obviously it’s an FBS opponent,” said Callahan. “We’ve played FBS opponents in the past and it’s always a game in which you have to step up and do things better than you normally would. They have the advantage of greater depth, more scholarships, a lot of experience and a coach that’s been around a long time. So we know we’re going to have to be at our best and be ready to go.”