The Dayton Flyers football team runs through warm-ups prior to the Flyers’ first game at Welcome Stadium in 511 days. Photo courtesy of Peter Burtnett, Flyer News.
The Dayton Flyers football team returned to Welcome Stadium on Saturday for an exhibition match against Ashland. The Flyers lost the game 31-20, but former Flyer and current New Orleans Saints tight end Adam Trautman was in attendance.
While the Flyers would normally open the season with a Red and White scrimmage game, head coach Rick Chamberlin said the exhibition game brought energy and excitement as the team took the field against an opponent outside their own team since Nov. 23, 2019.
“(The spring game) has energy and can get competitive, but it’s not the same going against a completely different school. And our guys said they were looking forward to this.”
Before the game started, the team captains were announced: senior quarterback Jack Cook, junior running back Jake Chisholm and senior safety Brandon Easterling.
On the first drive for the Flyers after an Eagles missed field goal on the game’s opening drive, Cook and Chisholm were heavily featured.
On a snap from around the Eagles’ 40-yard-line, Cook was pressured and tried to evade pressure and fell back 15 yards from the line of scrimmage. But he was able to avoid the pressure and find Chisholm down the sideline for a big play to put the Flyers at the 7. Cook found Chisholm on a wheel route for a touchdown on the next play.
After the game, Chisholm said it felt good to score a touchdown for the first time in 16 months after catching 3 touchdown passes in 2019.
“It just felt like back to our old ways,” Chisholm said. “It was kind of a broken play, Cook did a great job scrambling and found me down the sideline. He threw it up for me and I just had to make the catch, and I did. So, it was nice to finally get back in (the end zone), I enjoyed it.”
The Flyers punted on the next 5 drives before halftime, and gave up 6- and 10-yard touchdown runs and touchdown passes of 80 and 63 yards. Trailing 28-6 at the half, some deficiencies in pass coverage had been exposed.
Chamberlin said the team was “playing good defense” but had a technique problem that allowed the Eagles to go over the top.
“They got on our corners on a couple of moves there,” Chamberlin said. “That’s the best I’ve seen Ashland’s quarterback throw the ball.”
The Flyers were able to cut into the lead with a pair of touchdowns from redshirt freshman quarterback Cole Dow, one on a scramble and another on a pass to freshman wide receiver Joe Swanson. Chamberlin and the team captains alike were thrilled to see the young players make an immediate difference by trimming the deficit to 28-20 midway through the third quarter.
“It’s awesome seeing the young guys do well,” Cook said. “A lot of those guys haven’t played a single snap since high school. I know, like Cole Dow hasn’t played since (he was) a senior in high school 3 years ago, so I was really happy to see him go out there and have some success. Being a young offense, we need guys to step up. So those young freshman receivers, we need to make big catches, big runs and so forth. They did really well and I hope it goes on to the fall.”
Another area where the Flyers’ young players will need to step up is the offensive line. Losing all five starters from last year, leading passer Cook and leading rusher Chisholm will help the line with the experience they have.
“(Cook and Chisholm) make up for a lot of deficiencies,” Chamberlin said. “They can make something out of nothing. And they’re special… Like I said, they can make up for a lot of mistakes.”
“I just have to be encouraging,” Chisholm said. “Because last year, we had such an experienced line. They mostly knew pretty much everything they were doing, and it was more them encouraging me because I was still kind of a puppy out there… I know there’s probably going to be some difficult times out there just because of lack of experience, but I think they’ve been doing a good job and they’ve really improved.”
Cook said the team has not only faced losing five starters to graduation, but also had a prospective starter get “banged up” in spring ball.
“I’ve played in 22 games now, so I do help them see the field better, maybe help pick up a blitz here and there. But as of right now, they’ve done an awesome job this spring, just getting better. They’re all working, really grinding this spring.”
As the work continues, the opportunity to get back on the field against an opponent other than their own teammates was “unreal” for Easterling.
“Last night, we were sitting down and trying to count how many days it was (since the last game) and we got around the number 500. So it’s been about 500 days since we went against another colored jersey, so it felt great.”
Chamberlin said the different opponent brought energy and excitement, while Cook said it was “awesome” and Chisholm said it felt “great” to be back at Welcome Stadium for a game.”
“I was very excited this whole week,” Chisholm said. “I mean, I was super nervous last night. I haven’t been that nervous in a while, probably since before my first college football game, just because the last time we played, it was November 23rd, 2019 when we played Butler here. I was super excited and we went through fall ball last semester and all through spring ball, we’d just been lining up against each other. So it was really nice to finally get to see somebody else.”
Another guest at the game also felt great to be back at Welcome Stadium to see some Flyer football. That guest would be current New Orleans Saints tight end Adam Trautman, who was drafted No. 105 overall out of Dayton in the 2020 NFL Draft.
Trautman (blue hoodie) talks to the Flyers after Saturday’s 31-20 loss to Ashland. Photo courtesy of Peter Burtnett, Flyer News.
“It feels great,” said Trautman, who had a record-breaking career at UD. “Like I told the guys, it’s always good to be around your ex-teammates and guys that you played with, because there’s still guys on the team that I played with. It’s always good to be back and watch Dayton football.”
Trautman also said the bond created at Dayton is special.
“You come back here and I can really just text them guys and be like, Hey, let’s all go back to the game or let’s all go hang out. It’s a connection you never lose and you’ll have for the rest of your life. And I remember older guys when I was here telling us that’s how it is and they didn’t lie about that. So that’s exactly how it is. The bonds you make here, when your blood, sweat, tears all together, that’s what builds the tightest relationships.”
With Trautman making it to the NFL, the Dayton football program has been boosted by his success. Chamberlin said Trautman coming back to UD shows the strong connection between current and former players.
“That’s what is so special about the Dayton football program that you heard Adam talk about, is the family. And I know that’s a term thrown out a lot amongst athletics and colleges, but here at Dayton, it is really meaningful. That word, whether you graduated in 1972 or you graduated last year, you’re connected. That’s why our motto this year is the link. And that’s that key link that connects everybody together in this state and football player.”
Easterling said Trautman has created a path for the Flyers to the NFL and boosted team morale, while Cook said it’s cool to see someone again who others look up to and is a friend to him. Chisholm said it’s crazy to think that last year, he was the one running behind Trautman, and now it’s Pro Bowler Alvin Kamara.
“It’s pretty cool to have that guy come back, and he’s such a great guy,” Chisholm said. “I mean, when he was here, he was such a great leader, great person on the field and off the field.”
While Trautman prepares to start at tight end for the Saints, the Flyers go into final team meetings and an exit meeting before taking some time off for the summer. When they return to the field, their opening game against Robert Morris at home on Sept. 4 will be around the corner.
“What will make it especially a special day will be that it’s a home game,” Chamberlin said. “And to be able to run out with a huge crowd out there, that’ll be very exciting. But we’ve got a lot of work to do before we hit Robert Morris.”