This year, Colgate finds itself in an unusual spot in the Patriot League football polls: favorite.
Going 9-5 (6-0 in the league) and advancing to the FCS quarterfinals, the Raiders return 18 of 22 starters. “We lost some key pieces from last year,” said Colgate’s preseason All-League running back, James Holland. “But the four people that replaced those we’ve lost have stepped in and done a great job this spring and in camp so far.”
Primary among the offensive returners is Holland, a junior, and quarterback Jake Melville. Also back is senior linebacker Kyle Diener who had 129 tackles in 2015 and was selected as the preseason Patriot League Player of the Year this summer.
“We’re looking forward to having a good year; we return 18 starters from last year, but we know that doesn’t really mean anything — we still have to play and perform,” said Holland.
Opening at Syracuse on Sept. 2 is all the motivation Colgate needs.
“We know the competition we’re playing in week one against Syracuse. It’s been emphasized in camp that we’re going to have to take our game to the next level if we’re going to shock some people. Just like against JMU [in the 2015 FCS playoffs] we’re underdogs,” he added.
Along with Holland, Melville was outstanding in both of the Raiders’ 2015 FCS playoff wins. In the first, a 27-20 victory over the CAA’s New Hampshire, he threw for 188 yards and ran for another 71 while Holland scampered for 98 yards and four touchdowns. It was the Raiders’ first playoff win since 2003.
Against JMU, Melville ran for 163 yards and two touchdowns and passed for two more. Holland added 165 yards rushing and two scores on the road as the Raiders won, 44-38.
“Jake does a great job being the general and commander of the offense,” Holland said. “It makes it a lot easier for the rest of us — the receiver, the linemen. This is my third year with him and my third year in the offense, so things are clicking and we’re hoping to show that week one.”
Along with those who chose them to top the league, Colgate has high expectations.
“We’re looking forward to hopefully repeating the conference championship. We know that our league is one that you have to win every game, and every game is important,” said Holland.
Patriot League rival Fordham also returns a host of starters that include consensus All-American Chase Edmonds at running back.
“Fordham is returning players, too, and we know that’s not going to be easy; we’re going to have to play our best,” Holland said. “That includes against other teams like Lehigh or Bucknell; they’re all strong.”
In a league filled with top academic schools, Holland chose Colgate after he was offered a full scholarship during his junior year of high school.
“My family and I looked into it and we saw a great academic school and a great football school. After college, it’s important to have both,” said Holland. “I looked forward to it and accepted the challenge.”
As an educational studies major, Holland has his sights on a job combining higher education and athletics.
“The teachers are phenomenal, and I really enjoy the classes. The end goal I’m hoping is to be an athletic director,” he said.
As far as the NFL, Holland has things in perspective.
“That’s something that obviously everyone thinks about. If it presents itself and it’s God’s will that’s something that I, of course, would love to do; I love the game,” he said. “But I just want to stay healthy, and hopefully we get another Patriot League championship under our belts and make another playoff run. That’s the focus right now.”
Regardless of career choice, his time in Hamilton will pay both near and distant dividends.
“We’re students first, athletes second. It’s not an easy route being at Colgate, but that’s a challenge that we love. Our coaches preach that we’re ‘tough’ guys in the classroom, and we’re also tough on the field. And I think that’s an advantage come the weekend,” said Holland.