Wesley notebook: Drass stresses teamwork as Division III tourney game nears

Wesley head coach Mike Drass (Wesley sports information)

DOVER — Like every other coach, Mike Drass constantly preaches to his players that team comes first.

But the Wesley College football coach is honest enough to admit that his players probably don’t buy into that idea every single day.

“There are times when you scratch your head like, ‘Man, are they hearing us when we say that?’” said Drass. “‘Or is it just lip service? Is it going in one ear and out the other?’

“Then there are times when you say, ‘Wow, these guys, not only have they heard the message, but they’re showing you with their actions that they do care about the others around them.”

The playoffs are one of those times when Drass needs the Wolverines to really buy in.

On Saturday, No. 13 Wesley (9-1) hosts unranked RPI (8-2) at noon in the opening round of the NCAA Division III playoffs.

The Wolverines have won 12 straight opening-round games since they started their remarkable playoff run a dozen years ago.

Drass said at least one piece of their success is grasping hold of the reality that every game is do or die — and that, for seniors, their next loss is their last one.

“When you talk about a playoff,” said Drass, “those seniors have got to know that the guys around them are rallying to be at their best to continue their career.”

One of Wesley’s seniors this year is linebacker Samer Manna. He’s helped the Wolverines to a 6-3 record in the playoffs during his career.

Manna said there’s a clear line between being confident and overconfident. He’d like to think Wesley’s older players have learned how to teach the younger ones the right approach.

“This is definitely a new experience for them,” said Manna. “So showing them confidence throughout the week … the personality and the charisma you give off really helps them and makes them more comfortable.

“The experience is definitely there with this group of veterans. We’ve been there before, multiple times. It’s not really being cocky, it’s just we know what we’re doing.”

Junior quarterback Khaaliq Burroughs doesn’t have that same kind of playoff experience.

He was a backup last fall in his first season at Wesley. In high school, he said his team made the playoffs all four years of his career but then lost in the first round.

“I’m excited,” said Burroughs. “It’s just win or go home. We put a lot of work in.

“They said this is the 13th consecutive year in the NCAA playoffs. You just don’t want to be the team that goes out first. We all want to go as far as we possibly can in these playoffs. We all bought into the system.”

Manna honored

Manna has played some of his best football lately.

Wesley linebacker Samer Manna (Wesley sports information)

He was named to the D3Football.com Team of the Week after posting 13 tackles, forcing two fumbles and defending a pass in last Saturday’s 31-14 win over Christopher Newport.

Manna also helped the Wolverines limit the Captains to just 32 rushing yards on 28 carries. While Drass has come to expect big games from the senior linebacker, he doesn’t take him for granted, either.

“Well, if you took him for granted, you wouldn’t after you saw the first half of last week,” said Drass, “He was a dominant force on the field. I know he doesn’t want his career to end.”

In the New Jersey Athletic Conference, Manna is second in tackles (90) and tied for the lead in forced fumbles with three.

Burroughs getting better

Saturday’s contest will mark only the 10th start of Burrough’s Wesley career.

Wolverines QB Khaaliq Burroughs (Wesley sports information)

He took over after senior Nick Falkenberg suffered a lacerated spleen in the season opener at Delaware Valley.

Burroughs would like to think he’s learned some things — especially about reading opposing defenses.

“I’m more comfortable in the pocket,” he said. “I feel as though I can stay and get to my second and third reads. Back in the beginning of the season I was into my first, maybe second read.”

Burroughs realizes that Wolverine offensive coordinator Chip Knapp has a pretty impressive record with developing quarterbacks over the years.

“He’s an offensive genius,” said Burroughs, who has thrown for 15 touchdowns and run for four. “You know what the offense is. But then sometimes he’ll put different adjustments in. It’s always interesting to see because you always learn more about the game, which is good.
“I just try to be as coachable as I can because I know he’s been here for as long as he has. He knows what he’s talking about.”

Extra points

Drass thinks starting defensive tackle Nick Glover (Dover), who’s been sidelined for a few weeks with a leg injury, should see some playing time on Saturday. … Tickets for Saturday’s game are on sale today and Friday in the Wesley College mailroom from 8:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m. The mailroom closes from noon–1 p.m. for lunch. … Ticket prices, set by the NCAA, are $10 for adults and $5 for students. Children under two are free. Only cash is accepted. … Gates open two hours prior to kickoff.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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