Skyhawks Became Varsity Program in 1988; Moved to Division II in 1993.
MANSFIELD, Mass. – College Football celebrates its 150th anniversary in the 2019 season, as programs at all divisions of the NCAA will commemorate this milestone with game presentations all year long – celebrating their programs' history as well as the existence of the sport at the collegiate level.
The Northeast-10 Conference will celebrate this achievement throughout the season by highlighting its nine current football programs – focusing on one each week – between now and early November. This week's highlighted team is the Stonehill Skyhawks.
The NE10 has sponsored football since 2001, but has provided football to its student-athletes since 1997 – known back then as the Eastern Collegiate Football Conference.
The actual birthday of college football is November 6, 1869, as it was a matchup between Princeton and Rutgers that marked the first collegiate football game. The NE10 enters its 23rd season in 2019 and is proud to display its history as part of the #CFB150 celebration.
The Stonehill football program emerged following an intramural all-star game at Saint Anselm College in 1969. The following year, under the direction of the team's first head coach, Dave Knight, the Stonehill "Knights" started as a club program in 1970, playing their home games at Keith Field in Brockton. The team made its debut against Worcester State and Western New England, before playing its first home game against Bristol Community College in October. The Knights' first win was a 14-12 home triumph against Saint Michael's in early November.
Stonehill football went on to enjoy a run of success in club football through the 1970s and into the 1980s under coach Vern Laws, winning the New England Collegiate Football Conference playoffs in 1980.
The program moved to varsity status in 1988 with Cliff Sherman as the head coach, posting its first varsity win with a 27-8 triumph over Brooklyn College during that first season. Stonehill competed at the NCAA Division III level for four years, posting a 6-2-1 record in 1992 before elevating to its current NCAA Division II status in 1993, under coach Connie Driscoll, who guided the team to four-straight winning seasons, including a 9-2 mark in 1995, which included a memorable 39-36 triumph at rival Bentley that was chronicled by Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan.
Stonehill went through a ten-year period without a winning season during the late 1990s and 2000s until hiring Robert Talley as the program's sixth head coach in its varsity era in 2007. The Skyhawks posted a 5-5 record in Talley's first season and would capture a share of its first NE10 Regular Season Championship in 2013 with an 8-3 record, falling to American International in the NE10 Championship.
Connie Driscoll led the Stonehill football program through its longest sustained period of success during the program's transition from Division III to Division II. Driscoll led Stonehill to four-straight winning seasons, including a 9-2 record in 1995 to earn a berth in the ECAC-IFC Bowl, hosted on what is now Skyhawk Field on the campus. He posted a 36-24 record in his six seasons as head coach, with his .600 winning percentage still tops in Stonehill's varsity era.
Robert Talley took the Stonehill football program to new levels during his nine seasons from 2007-2015. He won a program-record 48 games in that time, winning a share of the program's first NE10 regular season championship in 2013, with an 8-3 record overall, including 8-1 in NE10 play. Talley was named the d2football.com NE10 Coach of the Year in 2012 and New England Football Writers Division II/III Coach of the Year in 2013, when he was also a finalist for the Liberty Mutual Division II Coach of the Year. Stonehill produced 49 All-NE10 honorees and the first three All-Americans in program history over his time at the College.
TEAM OF DESTINY.....
Stonehill's 1995 team under coach Connie Driscoll enjoyed a magical season by posting a 9-2 record and capturing a third Eastern Collegiate Football Conference championship with an 8-0 record. The year was highlighted by what has been described as one of the best small college football games in New England history as Stonehill ended rival Bentley's 30-game winning streak, handing the Falcons their first home loss in over four years, with a dramatic 39-36 road victory in Waltham to take the conference crown and earn the program's first postseason berth. Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan covered the game and wrote about the grit, passion and competition between the two rivals. The 1995 squad set the school record for victories and scored over 35 points in six games, earning the program's first postseason berth at the ECAC IFC Bowl. The team was inducted into the Stonehill Athletic Hall of Fame in 2005.
ALL-TIME GREATS (TO NAME A FEW).....
Stephan Neville, '12
Stonehill's first All-American, with his selection to the AFCA Division II Coaches' All-America team as a return specialist his junior year. The program's most decorated player, Neville earned first team All-NE10 honors three-straight years and All-New England status from the New England Football Writers as a junior senior. He earned six All-NE-10 awards over the course of his four years, earning four as a return specialist (three first team) and two as a cornerback (one first team). Neville set an NCAA Division II record with ten career kickoff returns for touchdowns, leading the NE10 three-straight years for kick return average, finishing with a program-record 32.01 career average. Neville tied the NCAA All-Division record with his 11 career kick return touchdowns (10 KO/ 1 PR) and matched the Division II mark for total scoring runbacks with 12. Neville led all of Division II when he averaged 36.7 yards per return his sophomore season and matched a Division II record with four kickoff returns for touchdowns in 2010. Neville totaled 164 tackles (114 solo) over his career on defense for Stonehill, posting 5.5 career tackles for a loss, 12 interceptions with another 25 pass breakups, three forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries. He signed a contract with the Montreal Alouettes in the Canadian Football League after his playing days at Stonehill.
Mike Tosone, '85
One of the top players of Stonehill's club era, Tosone played four years as a nose guard, establishing all tackling and assist records. He was selected Defensive Player of the Year as a senior by the National Club Football Association. He was named to the New England College Football Conference first-team all-star team for four consecutive years. He was Stonehill's MVP as a senior and Lineman of the Year as a junior and senior. As a senior, Mike had two games when he recorded 15 unassisted tackles, and received the Edward E. Martin Senior Scholar-Athlete Award.
P.J. Fernandes, '94
Helped Stonehill to the Eastern Collegiate Football Conference Championship in 1991. Fernandes posted 191 total tackles during his career and graduated third on Stonehill's career sack list with 15. P.J. led a Stonehill defensive unit that recorded a school record three shutouts in 1992 and allowed the second fewest points in one season (117). Fernandes was also part of an impressive defensive unit that allowed the fewest total yards in one game in school history (91 vs. Curry in 1992). During P.J.'s years Stonehill achieved a 21-12-2 record that included 5-0 ECFC slate in 1992 and a 6-2 league mark during his senior season.
Dan Cahill '96
Led Stonehill football to their best varsity season in school history during his senior campaign of 1995. Cahill graduated with both career records for receptions (125) and receiving yards (2,245). He ranked second on the single-season career receptions list with 46 catches during the 1995 season, which saw Stonehill post a 9-2 record. That season the College won their third Eastern Football Collegiate Conference Championship with a thrilling 37-36 come-from-behind win at Bentley, snapping the Falcons' 37 game regular season winning streak. A native of Marshfield, Mass., Dan was named as the ECAC/IFC Player of the Year for his efforts during his senior season, in which he caught eight touchdown passes for Head Coach Connie Driscoll. Cahill also held the Stonehill record for single season receiving yards (822 in 1994) and career touchdown receptions (22).
Nate Robitaille, '15
Robitaille was a three-time All-NE10 performer over his career, earning the honors as a wide receiver and kick returner his senior year. Robitaille was the first receiver in program history to post over 1,000-yards in a season, doing so two-straight years, including a school-record 1,229 yards as a junior in helping lead the Skyhawks to the 2013 NE10 regular season championship. Robitaille earned All-NE10 first team honors as well as Daktronics and Don Hansen All-Super Region 1 second team accolades as a junior, finished his career as the program's all-time leader with 196 receptions, 2,744 receiving yards and 25 touchdown receptions – which now rank second all-time to current standout Andrew Jamiel. Robitaille, an All-New England pick by the New England Football Writers in 2013, has gone on to enjoy a championship career in Germany, reaching three-straight German Bowls with the Schwäbisch Hall Unicorns, including championships seasons in 2017 and 2018, scoring five touchdowns in the 2018 German Bowl win.
UPCOMING FOOTBALL SCHEDULE.....
The 23rd season of NE10 football continues on Saturday, Nov. 2, as Stonehill hosts Southern Connecticut (1:00 p.m.). The rest of the Week 9 schedule is below and all games will be streamed on NE10 NOW:
Saturday, November 2
American Int'l at Pace - 12 p.m.
Saint Anselm at Bentley - 1 p.m.
Franklin Pierce at New Haven - 1 p.m.
So. Connecticut at Stonehill - 1 p.m.
ABOUT THE NE10
The NE10 is an association of 14 diverse institutions serving student-athletes across 24 NCAA Division II sports. Together we build brilliant futures by embracing the journey of every student-athlete.
Each year, 4,500 student-athletes compete in conference championships, making the NE10 the largest DII conference in the country in terms of sport sponsorship. Leading the way in the classroom, on the field and within the community, the NE10 is proud of its comprehensive program and the experience it provides student-athletes.