Lake grad Sabino steps up for Wesley

DOVER — Mike Sabino looked like he’d been in a fight.

His right hand was scraped up and swollen. His bicep was swollen, too.

And somehow Sabino had torn the nail off of one of his big toes.

“I was pretty sore,” admitted the Wesley College linebacker. “(But) I think it’s just part of the game.”

Sabino also took it as a sign that he must have been involved in a lot of action in the Wolverines’ hard-fought 38-25 win over Rowan on Saturday.Wesley football-Mike Sabino by .

Fourth-ranked Wesley (6-0 NJAC, 7-0 overall) expects another physical encounter when it goes to Montclair State (3-3, 3-4) on Saturday for a 1 p.m. New Jersey Athletic Conference matchup.

Sabino, a Lake Forest High grad, would like to think he’s already come a long way since becoming a starter a few weeks ago.

Only a sophomore, he moved up in the rotation after senior Julian Jones went down with a season-ending knee injury in the third game of the season.

“I was just kind of running around out there and everybody was flying around,” Sabino said about his first action. “For linebackers, reading our keys is a big thing. Sometimes you get caught up in the game, forget to read your keys and end up in the wrong spot.

“It’s gotten a lot better — a complete transformation from the first game.”

“His first game — and he’ll tell you this — he made more mistakes than, I think, any linebacker in the country,” said coach Mike Drass, who is also Wesley’s defensive coordinator. “But this past game, against Rowan, he played outstanding.

“After the game, he was battered black and blue. His hand was twice the size. I walked back by where the trainers are and he just looked like he had truly been through the grinder. What I love about him is he’s a fighter. He’s just going to bring his best every day.”

Of Sabino’s 20 tackles this season, 18 have come in the last four games. He’s also broken up a pair of passes and recovered a fumble.

With Montclair State on the schedule Saturday, the 6-foot-1, 210-pound Sabino knows he’ll probably have a few more bruises after the game.

But he’s not complaining.

“They’re a little bit more of a smashmouth team, just like Rowan was,” he said about Montclair. “They’re just trying to punch you in the face. I don’t really mind that.

“It’s more of a fight and I kind of like it.”

Eagle takes flight

There’s this play that Austin Eagle made — or rather didn’t make — that they still give him a hard time about.

Except for Eagle, the other 10 Wesley players involved all knew the snap count. The trouble way, Eagle was the center on the play.

So everybody else moved but the ball didn’t get snapped.

“It was bad,” said Eagle. “They still rib me today.”

Now a junior center for the Wolverines, however, Eagle has come a long way from the nervous freshman he was back then.

Even though that’s the way it’s supposed to work, Drass said it’s been exciting to watch the player that Eagle has grown into.

“Every action he’s ever given us, whether it’s in the classroom, in his social life, on the field, has been nothing but what you want your program to emulate,” said Drass.

“You just feel so good for him right now because he’s playing so well,” Drass continued. “To me, that should happen naturally. If we recruit you and we think you have talent and you do all the things that we ask you to do, this is the natural progression. … It’s been a work in progress but it’s been progress the whole way through.”

Like the rest of Wesley’s offensive lineman, Eagle’s progress has been aided by the addition of position coach Jeff Braxton in the offseason.

That line has helped the Wolverines lead Division III nationally with an average of 593.6 offensive yards per contest. With the Rowan game up in the air, Wesley ran the ball on five straight plays on a 33-yard scoring drive that clinched the victory.

The 6-foot-3, 280-pound Eagle admits he had some doubts about his own abilities when he first arrived at Wesley.

“But I really bought into the program,” he said. “And I really worked hard to try to become better — because I wanted to play. I love football and I really wanted to play. I had to make myself a lot better than I began.

“I’ve always been my harshest critic,” Eagle added. “I get down on myself when I have a bad play. I’ve had to learn to think, ‘Next play, next play.’ … I feel like I can always get better.”

Back to the drawing board

One of the things that kept Rowan in the game was Jamel Smith’s 83-yard kickoff return for a touchdown with 8:52 remaining.

Drass said film of the play showed that only two of Wesley’s 11 defenders were in the right position.

“You need more than two out of 11 to do their job in a crucial part of the game,” he said. “I look at that and say, ‘Hey, we should have won 38-16.’”

At the same time, Drass liked the way the Wolverines handled adversity in crunch time. It was only the second close game they’ve had this season.

“We had to make something happen on both sides of the ball to seal that win,” said Drass.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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