For the first time in quite a while, the Wilmington College football team returns 11 starters on defense.
Led by preseason All-America linebacker Tavion Bryant and Ohio Athletic Conference assistant coach of the year Corey Fillipovich, the Quakers will be a defense dominated team in 2021.
The Quakers open the 2021 fall season at Townsend Field against Southern Virginia University 1:30 p.m. Saturday.
Wilmington was 2-3 during the abbreviated spring season. The normal 2020 schedule was moved to the spring with only OAC games being played because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Southern Virginia was 1-3 in the spring.
“We gained a lot of confidence in the spring season,” WC head coach Bryan Moore said. “I felt that physically, we matched up very well with some good OAC teams in the spring. Our execution wasn’t where it needed to be, but I thought we made a lot of strides with our personnel. We should be able to build off the spring season and play faster and more physical this fall. If we can improve how we execute, especially in critical situations, we have a chance to do some things around here that have not been done in quite a while.”
Edwin Mulitalo, a 10-year veteran of the NFL and Super Bowl winner with the Baltimore Ravens in 2000-01, is in his third season as the head coach at Southern Virginia. He played collegiately at the University of Arizona.
“We certainly don’t know a ton about them,” Moore said of SVU. “There aren’t any common opponents that allow us to gauge exactly what to expect. It looks like they return a majority of their starters from the spring season. They have good size up front on the offensive line and play a lot of guys at the wide receiver position. They have several receivers in that 6-2 to 6-4 range which is always a challenge. On defense they are strong up the middle with their two inside linebackers in the 225-pound range and their nose tackle does a great job controlling the interior run game. This is well coached football program, that shows up in the film we have.”
While the defense remains intact, the offense isn’t quite the same. Moore said the Quakers must replace quarterback Kyle Barrett, who was injured in the spring and will miss the entire season. Whoever takes over as signal-caller will have two returning receivers in Itika Wynn Jr. and Ace Taylor as well as four of five starters up front, including Blanchester High School product Dylan Fawley. Other OL returnees are Dylan Gau, Ben Petrey and Caleb Deaver.
“We will be breaking in a new quarterback which is always a little nerve-racking but the wide receiver position is loaded with quality OAC talent and is probably our deepest uni,” the coach said. “We return all of our offensive line from the spring and probably have eight guys up-front that are OAC ready.”
Jasper Damewood, another BHS graduate, is one of four kickers on the WC roster.
The WC defense improved its points per game (41 to 27) and yards allowed (438 to 309) from the fall of 2019 to the spring of 2021. Also WC went from 197 yards per game against rushing to 86. Defenders Tre’Quez Parks, Brandon Weaver, Xzerious Stinnett and Jarod Lee all look for big seasons after garnering All-OAC recognition last season.
“We started four freshman in the spring that have five games under their belt,” said Moore, now in his fifth season at WC. “Our improvement on that side of the ball last spring was nothing short of incredible and I know that 5-Strong unit is playing even faster and more physical now.”
Also incredible is the job Moore and his staff have done. When he arrived on campus, Moore inherited 12 seniors and learned there was just three seniors the prior year. Now there are 22 seniors on the active roster and two more who are student coaches.
“It is a long, tough process to rebuild a program and we certainly have a long way to go, but having 24 seniors in our program is refreshing,” Moore said. “My second year here our team was 74 percent freshman and this year we are 70 percent upper-classmen.
“Twenty seniors is probably the low-end bench mark of where we hoped to be at this point. But it does show growth in our program. This is our first true recruiting class making its way through the program, so we are definitely encouraged with what we are seeing. I don’t know too many teams that can win in the conference by playing a heavy dose of freshman. We have battled that since we got here and now hopefully we are on a path to sustain between 20-30 seniors from here on out.”
The results on paper hopefully translate to the W-L column. In the OAC, youth will not be served.
“I believe our experience is the thing that sticks out the most,” said Moore. “You won’t see as many freshman on the two-deep as we have had in the previous years. There is some good talent in that freshman class and a few of them will be critical to our success, but overall, it is in the hands of the upperclassmen.”
And with a schedule that begins just 141 days after last season ended, veterans and keeping fresh are important.
”That was definitely the hot button topic at a lot of our staff meetings,” Moore said. “During camp, we cut back on the amount of total 11-on-11 plays that we usually run. We are finally in a position where we don’t have to play a lot of freshman, so we didn’t feel the need to throw a bunch of reps at our older players that had a short off-season. Our primary goal was to make it to our first game as healthy as we could be and I believe we accomplished that goal.”
Reach Mark Huber at 937-556-5765, via email firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @wnjsports