Johns Hopkins Football’s 2015 Success Fueled by High-Octane Offense

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Photo: Johns Hopkins Athletics
Photo: Johns Hopkins Athletics

by Justin Silberman/Pressbox — For years, one of Jim Margraff’s closest friends asked him a simple question before the start of every season: “Who’s going to score your touchdowns?” 

The Johns Hopkins football coach has taken that question to heart since taking over the reins of the program, and he’s done his part to ensure the Blue Jays wouldn’t be short on options.

This season — his 26th as the school’s head coach — Margraff unleashed a high-octane offensive attack that packed plenty of scoring punch. The Blue Jays, who finished 11-1 and reached the second round of the Division III playoffs, averaged a program-record 45.7 points per game, surpassing the 2013 squad’s mark of 40.1.

“Some years, you only have one or two guys who really have the ability to make a special play and get themselves into the end zone,” Margraff said. “We have several guys who can make a big play and get there. … The bottom line is that the offense got into the end zone [this season], so that’s something to be excited about moving forward.”

Hopkins, which amassed 76 touchdowns, rode the most prolific offense in school history to an 11th Centennial Conference title since 2002. In becoming the first team to accumulate that many league championships, the Blue Jays led the conference in passing offense (278.7 yards per game), total offense (505.8 yards) and finished second in rushing offense (227.1 yards).

Magraff, a four-year starting quarterback at Hopkins from 1978-1982, strives to find a balance between the run and the pass in his fast-paced, up-tempo system. Like most coaches, though, Margraff said he puts an added emphasis on establishing the run to dictate the pace of a game while opening up the pass.

“Obviously, we want to stay away from being a one-dimensional offense,” said Margraff, whose 189 career victories are the most by a college football coach in Maryland. “But sometimes, you have to be, so in some cases, you have to be good enough to run the ball or throw the ball. I will start with our run game first, because you want to have a certain toughness as a team, and if you can run the ball effectively, it opens our pass game.”

This season, no Blue Jay had more success on the ground and reached the end zone more times than running back Stuart Walters. During his first season as the team’s primary ball carrier, the 5-foot-11, 215-pound junior scored a team-high 21 touchdowns (17 rushing, four receiving) to go along with 953 rushing yards and 220 receiving yards.

Walters, one of five Hopkins offensive players to earn first-team All-Centennial Conference honors, gave credit to senior running back Brandon Cherry, as well as the Blue Jays’ stout offensive line.

“In high school, I was able to use my speed to run by a lot of guys,” Walters said. “But when I came in and saw how shifty Brandon was and how patient he is behind the offensive line … it taught me a lot on how to become a better running back.

“Also, when I came in as a freshman, we had three All-American offensive linemen. So, as a freshman, I learned right away how to run behind a good offensive line, which has stayed the same my three years here.”

Hopkins’ passing game, led by first-year starting quarterback Jonathan Germano, was equally impressive and kept opposing defensive backfields on their heels. The junior signal-caller, who beat out senior Will Nunn for the starting job during an offseason competition, tossed 35 touchdowns to shatter the program’s previous single-season benchmark of 25, set by Braden Anderson last year.

In addition to his passing prowess, Germano, a dual threat, also proved his value with his legs. The 5-foot-11, 190-pounder racked up 388 rushing yards — third most on the team — on 112 attempts with four scores.

“I think [Germano] made great decisions this year,” Margraff said. “He’s very athletic, and he was very good off the play-action pass and getting out on the edge. You know, I think that was a big reason in why our offense was so successful on the ground and through the air.”

Germano’s top receiving target, junior wide receiver Bradley Munday, had one of the most decorated campaigns for a Blue Jays pass-catcher. He ranked among the top six on Hopkins’ single-season lists for receptions (83), receiving yards (1,083) and touchdowns (12).

Margraff believes the rapport his players built with the team’s five offensive assistants — four of whom played at the school — early during spring practices went a long way in their collective results.

“We’ve got a lot of Hopkins guys working on the offensive side of the ball, so there’s a lot of familiarity with that and what we do,” Margraff said. “It’s been a real plus, because once spring ball starts, we’ll have everyone on the same page almost immediately.”

With Germano, Munday and Walters all expected to return for one last go-around as seniors next season under Margraff and Co., Hopkins’ best may still lie ahead.

“There’s been a very small learning curve with our guys since they are able to communicate so well, and they all feed off each other and their success,” Margraff said.

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