Finding a freshman phenom

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Twin brothers Joshua and Jacob Doolan give Maine Maritime two of its three options in the backfield.
Maine Maritime athletics photo

Six years ago, one of the greatest rushers in Division III history talked to me about what it was like to arrive on campus as a freshman and play football with guys who were larger, more disciplined and more mature than your average 18-year-old. He talked about intimidation and the feeling that, as a newcomer, he needed to play harder and smarter than the guy next to him just to stand out.

Everyone, he said, playing collegiate football was All-District or All-State in high school. Your résumé is meaningless once camp starts that first season — your worth is decided then and there on the field. It’s where the sports clichés and reality come together, and those who know how to bring to life the clichés will succeed.

That freshman ended up being a key factor to Mount Union winning its eighth Stagg Bowl, and he ultimately went on to set the career record for rushing yards in all divisions.

Most teams don’t get to have a Nate Kmic on the roster, and players who are close to that caliber don’t come along often. But when a team does get an athlete — a freshman — who can make an impact almost from Day 1, there is a lot for the team to be excited about. Four years of consistency and skill in one position can go far in developing others in proximity and can signal what the team’s future leadership will look like.

Maine Maritime running back Jacob Doolan has been a force from the moment he stepped onto the field. And his coach, more than usual, had a pretty good idea what he was getting out of a first-year player.

Why? Because Jacob’s twin brother, Joshua, has been on the team as a running back since last fall.

“They make each other work hard, and that’s a good thing,” coach Chris McKenney said. “They compete with each other, but they’re obviously close. Having them both here, working against each other and working with each other, is a good thing.”

Jacob Doolan spent last year at the University of Maine and didn’t play football. The 19-year-old has excelled in his return to the game, leading the triple-option team with 647 yards rushing. He also is tops in receiving yards with 146 and has a total of seven touchdowns to his name. He has started every game.

Getting there wasn’t easy. During the summer, he studied film from his brother’s 2013 season, and he learned an offense that was unlike anything he had experienced in high school.

He said, “Taking a year off from football, going to the University of Maine-Orono, I knew in the offseason this summer that I had to work a little bit harder than everyone else because it kind of felt like I was going to be a year behind, and I was.

“When I got on the field, everything started clicking. I had good chemistry with my bother again and was just running as hard as I can, like every game is my last.”

Despite having his brother there, Doolan admits that it was “weird” to be in an environment of so many new faces and a new playbook.

Kenneth Bradley stepped into a big role on a key unit for a playoff contender when he became an Ithaca linebacker.
Ithaca athletics photo 

Ithaca freshman Kenneth Bradley also encountered all new faces when he arrived at camp this year, but, like Doolan, he had help from someone to get him through it. Fellow linebacker, Chris Williams, a senior, became Bradley’s “big brother” to help him learn things like play calls, terminology and responsibilities.

“Intimidation. There was a little bit coming into a program that had a legacy like Ithaca,” said Bradley, 19. “There was definitely pressure to come in and excel. But a lot of the older guys and coaches helped me out.”

The communications major now leads the team with 43 tackles. And after a 10-tackle performance against Alfred in Week 4, Bradley was named to the D3football.com Team of the Week.

Being a starter “was definitely one of my goals,” he said. “But coming in, some of the older guys, I saw where they were on the depth chart, and they knew the defense very well, so I was a little nervous in the beginning. But as camp went on and I kept getting more reps in practice … coach came and told me that I was going to be starting the game in the second game of the season, I was very pleased.”

Bradley’s growth is particularly valuable to the Bombers after they graduated All-Region linebackers Jake Santora and Will Carter last season. So often, teams have to rebuild rather than reload, and they rely on their younger players to help shoulder the weight of game day and the daily grind of practice.

Back at Maine Maritime, McKenney, who’s in his 14th season at the helm of the Mariners, said he recognized Doolan’s potential right away – his vision and speed that would be such an asset to the team.

“We run the triple option, so you never know which of the three guys are going to get the ball. He’s made some tremendous runs and broken some tackles, as his brother has too. Sometimes it looks like we’re featuring one over the other, but really it comes down to the reads and what’s happening defense-wise,” the coach said, noting the potential of both of the Doolan brothers.

Doolan hopes to keep improving and learning from past mistakes. He and his brother and are in positions to feed off of each other.

“It is a little bit competitive, being a twin and both being starting running backs. Sometimes he gets mad that I’m getting most of the carries, but he’s our best cut blocker on the team, and it comes down to his blocks. Without those, my runs aren’t there.”

For athletes with three more years of playing time, it’s nice to have the path to the future paved so clearly.

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Adam Turer

Adam Turer graduated in 2006 from Washington and Lee University, where he was a two-year starter at free safety. He lives in Cincinnati and covers area high school sports in addition to his full-time job as an attorney. Adam has contributed to D3football.com since 2007 and is in his third season writing Around the Nation after spending four seasons writing Around the Mid-Atlantic.

2014-2015 columnist: Ryan Tipps.
2001-2013 columnist: Keith McMillan.

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