John Carroll is coming off an historic season in 2016, having defeated national power Mount Union and reaching the final four of the NCAA Div. III tournament.
But the Blue Streaks come in to Saturday’s game against Wilmington College fresh off a 47-21 loss to Heidelberg, a defeat that ended a 10-game Ohio Athletic Conference winning streak.
“We are expecting to see a very angry team in University Heights on Saturday. A team trying to get back on track and they are going to want to take it out on us,” WC head coach Bryan Moore said.
Wilmington is 2-1 on the year, 1-1 in the OAC. John Carroll, preseason No. 8 in the country, is 1-2 overall with a 1-1 league mark.
Kickoff is set for 1:30 p.m. Saturday.
“Let’s not be fooled here,” Moore was quick to point out. “This is still one of the premier football programs in all of D3. Their two losses were against two top 25 programs. This is a team that is going through a lot of the same things our program is going through. New head coach, new coordinators and a whole new way of doing things. The big difference is that the expectations at JCU are a lot higher than they are here. It takes time for all of that to gel.”
Though impressive given Wilmington had just one win in the last four seasons, a 2-1 mark after three weeks will not get you much more than personal satisfaction. Moore knows that. He welcomes it.
“We are kind of in some un-chartered waters right now,” Moore said. “Sitting 2-1 with an OAC win under our belts, this is all new around here. We preached this week that our approach has to stay the same at this point. Just because we won last weekend doesn’t mean we have to add any more stress. It doesn’t mean all of a sudden we have to watch more film or do any extra lifting, and it doesn’t mean that all of sudden we have to practice a hour longer each night. We still have to focus on us and how we do things. We have mentioned that we cannot have Big Win Hangover. We did a good job of forgetting the Otterbein loss and went back to focusing on us. Hopefully we can move on from the Capital win with the same mentality. It has to be about us … our culture, our expectations, and our approach to getting better.”
And getting better starts with the players. From the seniors who have won more this season than they have in the past three years, down to the incoming freshmen who maybe looked at a football career at Wilmington an easy to ticket.
“The seniors have bought in. They could very easily have been resistant to change,” Moore said. “But they have held things together and they have been coachable. I am so happy they have been able to see some early success because they have certainly earned every bit of it.”
Moore also believes the players, particularly sophomores and juniors, not recruited by his staff that are not playing have been a key to the team’s success, not only during the games but through the week in practice as well.
“They have been outstanding on the sidelines and at practice,” he said. “Not pouting, not packing it in, not sitting around complaining all game. They have been encouragers and great teammates. That has been such a pleasant surprise.”
The most important part of the player equation has been the incoming recruits. Over the years of losing, WC football has struggled to retain its freshmen. So while next season and beyond will be the true tell-tale to that issue, Moore likes what he sees so far.
“We were able to get 55 kids to join a 1-39 program and we only got the job in late January,” said Moore. “Most of those kids are still here and still fighting. That shows that we recruited the right kids the right way. Our numbers are still low, so their work-load is more than that of a typical freshman.”