Cory Brandon of Husson University in Bangor helped the Eagles achieve unprecedented success with an NCAA tournament victory this season. He will return as the Eagles' quarterback in 2018. Credit: Monty J. Rand | Monty Rand Photography

If you don’t live and breathe Husson University football, you may not recognize the name Cory Brandon. But he’s likely the state’s best small-college quarterback.

Brandon’s peers know him well, naming him to the All-Eastern Collegiate Football Conference first team each of the past two years after he guided the Eagles to back-to-back league championships.

But with All-American halfback John Smith dominating the Husson headlines in recent years, Brandon’s considerable contributions have come in relative obscurity as the Eagles have soared to unprecedented heights for the program — including a first-ever NCAA Division III Tournament victory last fall and a season-ending national ranking.

Now that Smith has graduated, the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Brandon enters his senior season on the Bangor campus as the undisputed leader of Husson’s offense. Not only was he named a team captain by his peers, but he will also be the most veteran presence in the offensive backfield as the Eagles seek to make another deep postseason run.

Brandon has been one of the top quarterbacks in New England Division III football for the last two years. The Pembroke, Massachusetts, product is a two-time ECFC first-team all-star for his efforts in leading coach Gabby Price’s club to a 19-4 record during that span.

But Husson’s signature offensive player in recent years has been Smith, an All-American halfback who led all of NCAA Division III last fall with an average of 186.8 rushing yards per game — for a total of 2,242 yards in 12 contests.

“We expect great things from Cory, but everyone will continue to do their part,” said Husson head coach Gabby Price, whose team begins its 2018 schedule Sept. 1 against Union College in Schenectady, New York.

Brandon — who passed for 4,247 yards with 43 touchdowns and just 19 interceptions while Husson scored a robust 38.1 points per game and compiled a combined 19-4 record in 2016 and 2017 — is taking a similar attitude to his role in this year’s offense.

“I’m willing to do whatever it takes to help the team be better, and if that is taking on more of a role with the offense I will,” he said. “But we’re going to see what comes of our game plans come week one, and while John may be gone we’ve got some guys that can really step up at the running back position and play. We’ve got a lot of good guys at that position.”

Don’t expect a Husson team — whose foundation for success begins with rushing offense and rushing defense — to make drastic philosophical changes.

“We’re going to be the same Husson team that can run the ball and throw the ball well, and plays great defense, gets after it on the kick game and really tries to be the best team in all phases of the game,” Brandon said. “We’re going to be able to attack through the air and on the ground.”

Brandon’s experience, production and leadership qualities give the Eagles a strong chance to at least maintain the offensive balance they have produced over the past two years. In 2016 Husson averaged 243.8 rushing yards and 220.5 passing yards per outing and finished 9-2. Last fall it was 253.0 rushing yards and 170.5 passing yards per contest as the Eagles went 10-2.

“The theory is we’re probably not going to have that same amount [of rushing yards], but we want the same amount of total yards,” Price said. “We don’t need to replace 225 rushing yards hopefully, maybe just 60 or 70 yards. That’s been our theory, and we’re going to try to get it in different ways, but certainly it starts with the quarterback.”

Brandon said he benefits from the balance that exists throughout the 124-player Husson roster, including a receiving corps that features Kyle Gaudet, Ty Bassett, Quintarian Brown, Tyler Halls and tight end Aidan Hogan.

“We’ve got some great athletes on the outside who can make plays,” Brandon said. “And if I can get them the ball in space some great things are going to happen.”

The Eagles also return a veteran defense led by senior captains Elvin Suazo Jr. and Quan Soyini that yielded just 14.2 points per game in 2017.

“The biggest thing the defense gives to the offense is that because it’s such a great defense we can go out there and play free and not be worried that if we don’t get a touchdown on a drive that the other team’s going to come back and score,” Brandon said. “It gives us the ability to really cut loose and be ourselves. We don’t have to hold anything back because we know our defense has our backs.

“The defense gets to play the same way because our offense has been good the last couple of years, too. We really complement each other.”

Brandon, who spent a redshirt semester at Briar Cliff University in Sioux City, Iowa, before returning to the East Coast and enrolling at Husson, already is the school’s career leader with 48 touchdowns during his first three years with the Eagles — including two starts at quarterback as a freshman in 2015.

Brandon’s statistical presence has been impressive, but it’s just part of the reason he’s found success at Husson, according to his coach.

“First of all Cory’s just a wonderful person, and he’s a very good football player on top of it,” Price said. “He just shows up every day; he’s prepared every day. I don’t think he’s ever been late for a meeting or for a practice.

“He studies, he likes it, and he just loves football.”

Brandon, a criminal justice major, said his life beyond the gridiron may include additional studies in law school, but he also is interested in becoming a police officer.

“I really am intrigued with criminal law and civil law,” said Brandon, whose father served in the military and went on to work 20 years for the Massachusetts Department of Corrections. “I would like to be an attorney one day, but part of me would like to go to work for a while before going back to school.”

Those decisions will wait until after he graduates in December.

“I definitely want to make the most of my last opportunity to play football,” Brandon said. “I don’t know what’s to come but I know this is my last guaranteed season to play, so I’m going to leave it all out there and do whatever I can to be the best quarterback, teammate and captain this team can have.

“Whatever it takes I’m going to get after it and do what I can to make this team better.”

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Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...