No. 1-ranked Wesley offense features plenty of receiver options

Bryce Shade (85) may stand only 5-foot-8, 175 pounds, but Wesley's junior slot receiver is often asked to make the tough catches over the middle. With 413 yards and six touchdowns on 16 receptions, he’s averaging 25.8 yards per catch. (Wesley sports information)

Bryce Shade (85) may stand only 5-foot-8, 175 pounds, but Wesley’s junior slot receiver is often asked to make the tough catches over the middle. With 413 yards and six touchdowns on 16 receptions, he’s averaging 25.8 yards per catch. (Wesley sports information)

DOVER — Everybody in Miller Stadium could see Bryce Shade running all alone down the middle of the field on Monday afternoon.

Well, almost everyone.

Instead of finding the wide-open receiver, Wesley College quarterback Joe Callahan threw the ball to another wideout.

It turned out to be only a temporary oversight. A little while later, Shade was again open down the middle and this time Callahan found him for a 53-yard touchdown pass in the Wolverines’ 59-6 rout of Southern Virginia.

“I just saw nobody around me,” Shade said about the first play. “I could have walked into the end zone. (But) Joe’s the leader of the offense, that’s his decision. Just get back on the line and run the next play.”

As Monday proved, with Wesley’s high-powered offense, another opportunity almost always comes along.

And certainly Shade knows that having plenty of pass-catching options for Callahan only makes his job that much easier.

The fifth-ranked Wolverines (3-0 NJAC, 4-0 overall) go into Saturday’s New Jersey Athletic Conference game at the College of New Jersey (0-2, 0-3) with the No. 1 Division III offense in the country at 622.8 yards per game.

They’re also fourth in passing offense (371.3 yards) and 11th in scoring offense (49.3 points).

Having five players with at least 10 receptions each is a big reason for that success. Opposing defenses really can’t overlook any of Wesley’s offensive players.

“You’ve got the No. 1 offense in the country because of the threats that you have,” said coach Mike Drass. “As a defensive coordinator — the way I look at it — you’re making me defend the whole field.”

“I feel like nobody can beat us but ourselves on offense,” said Shade. “The only way we’re going to get three-and-outs all the time is if we put ourselves in bad situations. We have Coach (Chip) Knapp, who calls the best plays at the best times, and we have so many guys out there who can make plays at any given moment. If we go, nobody’s going to stop us.”

Shade may stand only 5-foot-8, 175 pounds, but the junior slot receiver is often asked to make the tough catches over the middle. With 413 yards and six touchdowns on 16 receptions, he’s averaging 25.8 yards per catch.

Players like Shade and tight end Kyle George in the middle of the field are the perfect complement to receivers like James Okike and Alex Kemp on the outside.

“I think his attitude’s a big deal,” safety Craig Pettit said about Shade. “He’s a fighter. Since he’s a shorter guy, you have that mentality. He’s wants to keep working every day and be the best he can be.”

Pettit said Shade is also really good about helping the players around him get better — even the ones on defense.

“There’s times when we’ll go one-on-ones and he’ll beat us,” said Pettit. “He’ll tell us exactly what we did wrong to help us fix our technique.”

Of course, there are still things that Shade can get better at, too. He thinks running routes has become much more instinctive for him now.

“When I got here, I was like, just do what the coaches say,” said Shade. “But now I put the game together. … You can see it in the game. When safeties do certain things or linebackers do certain things, it changes up what I have to do. I can do it on the go now without double-thinking it and slowing myself down out there.”

Linebacker shuffle

The season-ending knee injury suffered by senior linebacker Julian Jones two weeks ago has caused Drass to move around several players.

Junior Ben Robinson has switched from the starting ‘Sam’ spot to the starting ‘Will’ linebacker job. Sophomore Mike Sabino (Lake Forest) then moved into the ‘Sam’ starting spot.

Drass has also moved a pair of backup defensive ends — senior Rich Logan and junior Dylan Cohill — to linebacker.

“It’s definitely a work in progress,” said Drass. “But we feel more confident stepping on the field.”

Rivalries take time

Drass knows Wesley is going to develop some good rivalries after it’s been in the NJAC for a little while.

But, right now, it’s still too new for this year’s Wolverines.

Wesley hasn’t faced the College of New Jersey since 1997, when the Lions posted a 31-14 victory.

“I don’t know if our guys have gotten it yet,” said Drass. “I talk about it in practice, we talk about it in film, we talk about the importance. But I haven’t gotten the feeling that they get it 100 percent yet.

“I’m thinking that each week, as we get further into it, that they’re going to start to really grab that feeling for it,”

Wesley, Rowan and Salisbury are still unbeaten in the NJAC right now. The Wolverines host Rowan on Oct. 24 and Salisbury on Nov. 7.

“We like to play everybody like they’re a top 25 team,” said Pettit. “We understand that, being at the top of the food chain for so many years,
that everybody — no matter who they are — is going to bring their best game towards us. We’ve got to bring ours.”

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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