Wesley eyes return to Division III playoffs

E.J. Lee, a second-team D3football.com All-South Region pick last fall, enters his senior season with 3,046 career rushing yards — which puts him fourth on Wesley’s all-time list — and 31 total touchdowns. Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh

DOVER — Take a look at Wesley College’s four football losses from a year ago.

Any one of them was pretty cruel.

But the fact that, in a span of just six weeks, the Wolverines lost three games by only one point and another by two seems almost unimaginable.

“We had a lot of great lessons from last year about the difference between winning and losing,” said coach Chip Knapp. “We’ve got to pay attention to these details that can affect whether we win or lose a game. We’re pointing those out and we’re working on them.

“They have a real-world example of last year of how important those details are.

“You hate to say it,” the veteran offensive coordinator added. “But if you really look at it, there’s one play in each game, if we made, we’d be 11-0 and thinking we’re the best thing ever. They’re there, plain as can be.”

“We had a lot of great lessons from last year about the difference between winning and losing,” said Wolverines coach Chip Knapp. Delaware State News file photo

Those four losses left Wesley with a 7-4 record and cost the Wolverines their 13-year NCAA Division III playoff run — Wesley did, however, win an ECAC bowl game.

As the Wolverines head to New Hampshire on Saturday to open the season with a noon game at newly-Division II Franklin Pierce, they believe they’re not that far from returning to the playoffs and regaining their accustomed national stature.

Wesley is the preseason favorite to regain the New Jersey Athletic Conference crown after failing to win it last year for the first time in its four years in the league.

For one thing, Knapp feels pretty good about a defense that returns veteran starters in many positions. Wesley allowed only 15.1 points per game last fall.

Just as importantly, Knapp thinks the Wolverines are much better adjusted now to second-year defensive coordinator Joe Bottiglieri, the longtime coach who joined the program last fall.

“The defense, having that year under their belt, is going to make a big difference for us,” said Knapp. who is starting his second season as head coach.

Wesley’s offense also returns some key starters, including running back E.J. Lee and receivers Corterris Simpson and Ruhann Peele. Lee, a second-team D3football.com All-South Region pick last fall, enters his senior season with 3,046 career rushing yards — which puts him fourth on the school’s all-time list — and 31 total touchdowns.

Wesley is hoping to get some more plays out of Corterris Simpson (Sr., 5-9, 170) at punt returner where he earned preseason All-American honors after averaging 29 yards on 19 returns last year. Delaware State News file photo

But the Wolverines also enter the season pretty much untested at quarterback. Junior David Marrocco is slated to start the opener but senior Jon Mullin is also expected to see action.

Wesley also has freshman Drew Fry, the 2018 state Offensive Player of the Year from Middletown High, and Caesar Rodney grad Jared Wagenhoffer at QB.

Knapp said the situation reminds him of two years ago when veteran backups Nick Falkenberg and Dan Kesack were battling for the starting quarterback job. That battle went on to the middle of the season.

“In short preseasons, a lot of times you’re working with limited information,” said Knapp. “You have to make your best estimate who is going to be the starter and then see what happens. … It’s going to a question of how they react to the pressure of the game.
“Until you get to the game, you’re not going to find that out. That’s the big ‘X factor’ — the quarterback position.”

As difficult as last season was, the Wolverines can’t do anything about it now. Getting back to their usual winning ways could go a long way toward leaving it in the past, though.

At strong safety, Coray Williams (Sr., 6-2, 220) was not only the Wolverines’ leading tackler with 79 stops but also had three interceptions and nine passes defended. Delaware State News file photo

The slogan, ‘A winning tradition,’ which appears on their t-shirts, means something to the Wolverines. Wesley hasn’t had a losing season since 1989.

“It’s something that we feel a responsibility of maintaining the winning tradition that we’ve had for so long here,” said Knapp. “It’s part of our conversation with the team on a daily basis — doing the things that it takes to keep that winning tradition alive.”

Wesley Football

2019 position-by-position outlook:

OFFENSE

QUARTERBACK: Between them, Dave Marrocco (Jr., 6-1, 215) and Jon Mullin (Sr., 6-2, 210) threw a total of only 19 passes last season so it’s difficult to know what to expect from either of the two most veteran QBs. On the other hand, they’ve both been in the program for a while and know the offense.

Whether former Middletown High standout Drew Fry (Fr., 6-2, 210) or Jared Wagenhoffer (So., 5-10, 195) push for playing time probably depends on how Marrocco and Mullin play.

RUNNING BACK: A foot injury held E.J. Lee (Sr., 5-8, 185) under 1,000 yards last season. But the career 3,000-yard rusher is still one of the top offensive players in the NJAC.

Abe Mansaray (Jr., 5-7, 170) is also a veteran while Sussex Tech High grad Xavier Drummond (So., 5-10, 225) returns after missing most of last season with a knee injury. Wesley also hopes it can get some big plays from former Dover standout Marcellus Pack (Sr., 5-8, 170), who is switching back to offense after playing mostly defensive back last fall.

RECEIVER/TIGHT END: Former Rutgers transfer Ruhann Peele (Sr., 6-2, 210) is ready to take an even bigger role after catching 45 passes for 667 yards and 7 TDs a year ago. Corterris Simpson (Sr., 5-9, 170) added 32 receptions for 442 yards with 5 TDs last fall.

Relative-newcomer Mike Credle (So., 6-0, 180) will start at the other receiver spot with Rick Hess (Sr., 6-5, 255) getting the start at tight end.

OFFENSIVE LINE: Size shouldn’t be a problem up front where all five projected starters weigh at least 300 pounds. But experience could be an issue with left guard Josh Hughes (Sr., 6-6, 320) the only senior in a group that includes four sophomores.

The other starters are Andrew Risper (So., 6-1, 300) at right tackle, Ty-key Moore (So., 6-3, 315) at right guard, Gregg Clark (So., 6-2, 305) at center and Brandon Bradford (So., 6-3, 325) at left tackle. Risper, from Laurel, was the squad’s top rookie last year.

DEFENSE

DEFENSIVE LINE: The defensive front is probably Wesley’s most experienced position after defensive tackles Nick Glover (Sr., 6-1, 300) and Rock Hunter (Sr., 6-1, 265) both returned this fall after coming back from knee injuries.

The Wolverines also like their defensive ends where Shymere Vessels (Jr., 6-1, 260), Tom Tanner (So., 6-3, 220) and Will Scott (Sr., 6-2, 225) have all looked good. Scott, the Dover High grad, had a team-high six sacks last season.

LINEBACKER: Wesley’s defense really seemed to improve when Dante Daniels (Jr., 6-0, 200) moved into the ‘WILL’ spot midway through last season. He finished third on the squad with 70 tackles. A pair of underclassmen, Jalund Johnson (So., 5-11, 220) and Jay Holmes (So., 5-11, 210) will man the two starting outside spots.

SECONDARY: At strong safety, Coray Williams (Sr., 6-2, 220) was not only the Wolverines’ leading tackler with 79 stops but also had three interceptions and nine passes defended. Cornerback Isiah Mitchell (Sr., 5-11, 180) was also one of Wesley’s top defensive backs last fall with a team-high five interceptions and 11 passes defended.

Marcus Gaspard (Jr., 6-0, 180) will be a full-time starter at free safety after rotating in last year with Myles James (So., 6-1, 180) starting at the other cornerback spot.

SPECIAL TEAMS: The Wolverines know they have to execute better at place-kicking where they were just 4-of-10 on field goals and 40-of-47 on PAT kicks last season, Nick Bruhn (Sr., 6-2, 180) will handle both place kicking and punting, where he averaged 35 yards per kick.

Wesley is hoping to get some more plays out of Corterris Simpson (Sr., 5-9, 170) at punt returner where he earned preseason All-American honors after averaging 29 yards on 19 returns last year. He was the 2018 NJAC Special Teams Player of the Year.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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