When the Wilmington College football team takes the field Saturday, the Fightin’ Quakers will be looking to snap a couple of skids.
Wilmington is in the midst of a 23-game losing streak, and a 12-game skid in season openers. The last season-opening victory came in 2002 when WC knocked off Mount St. Joseph, 45-20.
Despite the yearning for a win, the Fightin’ Quakers aren’t holding onto the pressures of past failures. Wilmington head coach Stacey Hairston believes the 2015 Quakers are poised to continue taking steps forward.
“The biggest thing about our team, we are better than we were at any point last season,” said Hairston. “We are making progress. It is still a rebuilding process, and as much as I want to speed it up, as much as I want to leap a couple things; reality is our rebuilding isn’t complete until I get to the senior class. We have made a lot of strides.”
Bluffton comes to town with a stout defense, led by defensive end Ryan Aelker. The senior was the first Bluffton defender to earn HCAC Defensive Player of the Year after leading the country with 13 sacks.
Middle linebacker Brad Swavel, a first team HCAC selection, also returns after leading the team with 83 tackles, including seven tackles for loss. He added three fumble recoveries and a forced fumble.
“Defensively, they are going to bring some pressure, and try to not make mistakes,” said Hairston. “They have some athletes, and they were able to get some pressure on the quarterback last season.”
For the third straight season, Wilmington will have a new signal caller as sophomore Luke Creditt (Waynesville) won the job, beating out last year’s starter Austin Jarbo (Preble Shawnee) and sophomore Brandon Mitchell (Pittsburgh, Pa.).
“Luke Creditt gives us a little more consistency,” said Hairston. “It’s about who gives us the best chance to win, and Luke Creditt gives us the best chance. He is still going to go through his growing pains, but he has shown us he is the type of quarterback we want back there.”
A young offensive line, which will feature two freshmen starters, will be given the task of keeping Creditt upright and provide him with time to find the plethora of weapons at his disposal.
Senior Justin Lee (Middletown Madison), who led WC with 32 receptions in 2014, is the leader of the receiving corps. Sophomores Tyler Tarnowski (Brecksville-Broadview Heights), Aroyal Wright (Newport Ky.), Mitch Haasz (Malvern) and P.J. Meyer (Cincinnati Elder) could all find time.
“Justin Lee is one of the premier receivers in this conference, if not the nation,” said Hairston. “Once we put some weapons around him and a consistent offensive unit, we will see him take the next step.”
Offensively, the Beavers turn to junior Conner Sheehan to take the snaps after playing receiver in 2014 as his older brother Nick Sheehan played the position. As a freshman, he threw for 1,158 yards on 90-of-175 passing with 10 touchdowns — replacing an injured Nick Sheehan.
Junior Micah Roberson will be the primary target after the graduation of two All-HCAC performers. He finished with 55 receptions for 541 yards and three touchdowns. A quartet of ball-carriers, led by Devante Thomas-Wright, will pace Bluffton’s ground attack.
Seniors Tarrell Starckey (Richmond, Va.) and Nick Williams (Fairview) pace a Wilmington defense that features five seniors.
Hairston has been pleased with the physicality the defense showed in camp and in last week’s scrimmage against Earlham.
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