Get your mind right

Meek Mill helps Averett captain Tavaras Johnson get fired up before games.
Averett athletics photo by David Conner II

Finding just the right headspace before kickoff is important. To many players, finding the perfect song to get the mind right is one of the most important pregame rituals.

A survey of players from around the Mid-Atlantic revealed a surprisingly diverse array of pump-up music. One common thread was shared by players from different positions, programs, and musical tastes--the volume must be cranked up.

Averett senior safety Tavaras Johnson listens to Dreams and Nightmares by Meek Mill. The senior captain and mathematics major finds motivation in the lyrics.

“I just love the song. It gets my blood boiling,” said Johnson. “It talks about having to grind to get what you want in life.”

For other players, the songwriting is secondary to the music. Catholic junior wide receiver Lucas Morley listens to Spirit in the Sky by Norman Greenbaum before each game. Even though the song was released 25 years before he was born, it holds up.

“I’m not sure why I listen to that song before games,” said Morley. “The beat just does something to my mind that lets me know that it's time to go.”

The song must be working, since Morley leads the ODAC with 59 receptions and is second in the conference with 106.7 receiving yards per game and nine touchdown receptions.

Connor Chess delivered one of the most important plays of the 2015 season on Saturday when he rushed for a touchdown from 26 yards out to cap Washington and Lee’s game-winning touchdown drive in the closing minutes at Randolph-Macon. Chess has one of the most unique, but fitting pregame song choices. The politics and Spanish double major gets down to salsa fusion, listening to Vivir Mi Vida (Versión Pop) by Marc Anthony.

“Spanish music gets my blood pumping, and I can't help but get up and move,” said Chess, who also minors in Latin American and Caribbean Studies. “Once I've listened to it, I'm energized and ready to go out and bust a move on the field. Plus, Marc Anthony sings with so much emotion, it’s tough not to get pumped.”

Music and football go hand-in-hand at W&L. Eight different Generals host or co-host shows on WLUR, the university’s student radio station.

Jay Bilas would approve of Shenandoah cornerback Josh White’s selection. The sophomore listens to Young Jeezy’s Put On before every contest. White leads the ODAC with a 15.8 yard punt return average, no doubt inspired by The Snowman.

“I listen to it every game because it reminds me why I play this game,” said White. “For my team, for my city, and for the last name on my back.”

Saturday can be a long day and music can also help players remain calm in the hours leading up to kickoff. After Gettysburg wide receiver Jordan Kelso finishes breakfast, he plays a compilation of Beethoven pieces.

"This relaxes my nerves and prevents me from getting too concentrated or excited too early on game day," he said.

Music plays a pivotal role for Kelso, the Bullets' leading receiver with 28 receptions and six touchdown grabs. Each week, he makes a new playlist of about 30 songs that lasts for about two hours. His go-to artists include 50 Cent, DMX, Kid Ink, Nas, Drake, Fetty Wap, and Future.

"The combination of [these] artists gives me a perfect balance of excitement, passion, and focus," Kelso said. "Despite the profanity that some of these songs include, it is more about the hard-hitting beats and feelings of the songs than it is about the accompanying lyrics."

Other players agree that words can be meaningful, but beats can be even more powerful. Ferrum kicker Hunter Ferguson clears his mind behind the stomps and claps accompanying Jorge Quintero’s instrumental 300 Violin Orchestra. Ferguson is a perfect 4-4 on field goals and 14-14 on point after tries this season.

“I like that song because there are no words, therefore, no chance for profanity or curse words,” said Ferguson. “Also, the music slowly builds up to pump up the team. This song can get any [athlete] ready to play.”

Huntingdon senior Phillip Bagley goes with Centuries by Fall Out Boy. The defensive lineman says, "the beat gets me in a great mindset."  Emory and Henry senior defensive end Mitch Carter keeps it old school, sticking with the same warmup song since his high school playing days. He knows when AC/DC's Shoot to Thrill comes through his headphones, it's almost game time.

"It's a part of my ritual of walking the field before a game," said Carter. "I know when I play that song that it's game day and it really helps me to focus."

Brady Watts describes his pregame routine exactly how you might expect it to be for the strong safety of the Centennial Conference’s top defense. The decibel level rises as Diplo & GTA’s Boy Oh Boy blasts.

“I listen to that song because when I put it on full volume in my headphones I just jump around and go wild in the locker room right before kickoff,” said Watts. “It gets me in the mood to put my head through a wall I'm so wired. And that's the intensity I play the game with.”

I would love to see some other selections from current or former players in the comments. I’ll go first: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u1prWUfkud0

Alone in first

Somewhat surprisingly, each conference has one team in sole possession of first place heading into Week 8. Johns Hopkins is the lone undefeated in the Centennial, Washington and Lee claims the same title in the ODAC, and Huntingdon (5-1 overall) is the only team without a USA South loss.

Gettysburg fell from the unbeaten ranks and fell hard, losing at home to Muhlenberg 41-13. Nick Lamb caught 11 passes for 138 yards and three touchdowns for the Mules. Mike Luby had 3.5 of the Mules’ eight sacks. Muhlenberg held the Bullets to just 86 rushing yards. Gettysburg entered the game averaging 301.2 rushing yards per contest.

The Blue Jays continued their dominance, cruising past Dickinson on Friday night. Johns Hopkins has won 49 of its last 50 regular season games. Franklin and Marshall used three quarterbacks and held off a furious second half rally from McDaniel to remain 4-1 in conference play. Andrew DeStefano caught eight passes for 130 yards to lead the Diplomats.

Moravian remained in the Centennial hunt by defeating Susquehanna 21-14. Mike Hayes passed for 173 yards and a touchdown and rushed for the go-ahead score. Chris Negron added 101 yards on the ground for the Greyhounds. Steve Ewald led the Moravian defense with 13 tackles.

The Bullets and Dips still have their chance to knock off the Blue Jays, starting this Saturday when Gettysburg hosts Johns Hopkins.

Last week’s thriller must have taken a lot out of both Hampden-Sydney and Washington and Lee. The Tigers and Generals struggled to move the ball in the first half of their games against Emory and Henry and Randolph-Macon, respectively. Both rallied for second half comebacks to score big road wins.

Charlie Wilson led W&L on a 97-yard scoring drive, capped by Connor Chess’s 26-yard touchdown run with 1:35 to play as the Generals came back from a 10-0 halftime deficit on the road to defeat the Yellow Jackets. The defense picked off three passes, two by John Carrick and one by Michael Shields. The Generals remain the only undefeated team in the ODAC and have wins over two of the three teams tied for second place in the conference standings.

Washington and Lee is also now in sole possession of first place in the ODAC race, thanks to a remarkable comeback by Hampden-Sydney. The Tigers trailed at Emory and Henry 21-0 before getting on the board in the final minute of the first half. Kyree Koonce’s third quarter score gave the Tigers their first lead of the game going into the fourth quarter. The Wasps responded to tie the game before Liam Hedge’s 22-yard field goal with five seconds left gave the Tigers the win. It was a nice bounce back for Hedge after last week’s struggles. Edgar Moore passed for 460 yards, but threw three interceptions. Cam Johnson had another big day, catching 11 passes for 158 yards.  

Huntingdon remained atop the USA South standings and avenged two straight years of heartbreaking losses to LaGrange. The Hawks defeated the Panthers, 31-14. John Iwaniec rushed 22 times for 126 yards and a touchdown. Austin Washington had five tackles and returned an interception for a touchdown.

Maryville bounced back from last week’s seven point, six turnover performance to hang 70 on Ferrum. It was the most points scored by the Scots since 1927. Evan Pittenger passed for 166 yards and two scores, both to Stevorious Kimball, and added 151 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. Deshjion Whitlock added 94 yards and three rushing touchdowns.

There were a pair of thrillers in the USA South. Greensboro jumped out to a 21-6 lead, but Averett answered by running up 26 unanswered points. The Pride regained the lead on Cortez Vernon’s touchdown with 3:56 remaining, and created some separation on the Cougars’ next possession. Micah McMaster returned an interception 58 yards for his second pick-six of the day to give Greensboro an eight-point advantage. Averett quickly struck back, scoring one minute later on Ray Brown’s second rushing touchdown of the day. A two-point conversion would have tied the game, but the Pride stopped Kelly Hall short. The Cougars were 1-4 on two-point conversion attempts and missed an extra point kick.

N.C. Wesleyan could not replicate its brilliant defensive effort against Maryville. Sometimes, the ball just doesn’t bounce your way. Methodist fumbled four times, but the Battling Bishops were unable to recover any of them. The teams traded scores all afternoon, but the Monarchs struck last. Emontie Dears made his only reception of the day count, hauling in a 13-yard scoring pass from Dylan DeGroot with 29 seconds to play to give Methodist the 31-28 win.

Making history

De’Eric Bell continues his assault on the record books. The Guilford sophomore returned a kickoff for a touchdown for the second week in a row. After housing one from 92 yards against Shenandoah, he returned the opening kick against Bridgewater for 100 yards. Bell currently ranks second in D-III with a 38.4 yard kickoff return average. He is also second in the nation in all-purpose yards, averaging 238.5 yards per game. He also has a 93-yard punt return touchdown, a receiving touchdown, and six rushing touchdowns. Bell has put up at least 194 all-purpose yards in every game this season. His 254 all-purpose yards led the Quakers to a 23-20 win over Bridgewater.

Shenandoah’s Michael Messick set a program record by notching 24 tackles in a win over Catholic. Messick currently ranks second in D-III with 14 tackles per game.  

Kyle Wilczynski returned an interception for a score for the second week in a row, becoming the first Muhlenberg player to accomplish that feat since 1947.

Moravian junior running back Chris Negron ranks seventh in the conference in rushing yards—among all teams. With 757 yards, he has outgained the entire rosters of Susquehanna, Juniata, and Ursinus.

Catholic quarterback T.J. Tutone is leading D-III with 32.67 pass completions per game. 

What do you know? Do you know things? Let's find out!

Do you know about any upcoming milestones, big games, or new names in the Mid-Atlantic? Please share them with me. If you have suggestions for next week's column, please reach out to me on Twitter at @adamturer or via email at adam.turer@d3sports.com.


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Andrew Lovell

Andrew Lovell is a writer based in Connecticut and a former online news editor for ESPN.com, as well as a former sports staff writer/editor for the New Britain Herald (Conn.). He has written feature stories for ESPN.com, currently contributes fantasy football content to RotoBaller.com, and has been a regular contributor to D3sports.com sites since 2007. Andrew has also written for a number of daily newspapers in New York, including the Poughkeepsie Journal, Ithaca Journal and Auburn Citizen. He graduated from Ithaca College in 2008 with B.A. in Sport Media and a minor in writing.

2012-2015 columnist: Adam Turer
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2003-2006: Pat Cummings
2000: Keith McMillan
1999: Pat Coleman

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