Wesley notebook: Line opens season with big game

DOVER — Devin Filliben admits it.

There are times that the Wesley College senior would rather still be a defensive lineman.

“Tackling the quarterback, tackling the running back, you get up and you get to hear the cheer of the crowd,” said Filliben. “But, on offense, you don’t get to hear the cheer of the crowd until we get in the end zone. It’s bittersweet.”

After switching to offensive guard at the end of his freshman year, Filliben has learned to adjust.

Wesley coach Mike Drass

Mike Drass will have the field at Miller Stadium officially named after him before Saturday’s home opener. (Wesley College sports information photo),

Certainly the 6-foot-2, 290-pound senior got a great deal of satisfaction out of the Wolverines’ season-opening 44-3 win at Frostburg State last Saturday.

And, after rolling up 704 yards and 31 first downs in that contest, coach Mike Drass is feeling pretty good about his offensive line as fifth-ranked Wesley (1-0 NJAC, 1-0) gets ready to host Christopher Newport (1-0 NJAC, 1-1) at 1 p.m. on Saturday.

With this being the Wolverines’ home opener, the playing surface in Miller Stadium will officially be dedicated as ‘Drass Field’ before the game.
Fittingly enough, Drass will also be trying to earn his 200th victory as Wesley’s head coach.

Whether it gets credit or not, Drass knows the offensive line can make or break the whole thing.

“It’s one part of a team where, if they’re not playing well, it sticks out like a sore thumb,” he said. “We thought Frostburg was a pretty good team. They had two defensive linemen that we looked at and said, ‘These might be the two best defensive tackles we saw.’ Our guys did a good job against them.”

Like Filliben, fellow senior guard Matt Schmidt is another Wesley lineman who’s really developped his skills over the last four years.

He’s started in 24 games in the past two seasons. Drass calls Schmidt “the hardest-working and toughest kid.”

Schmidt has gone from a freshman just worried about what he was doing to a veteran who thinks in terms of what the entire line has to do.

“Experience does play a big factor in that,” said the 6-foot-2, 265-pounder, who has also played center. “We try to gel together as a team. We all like to hang out together, communicate and all be on the same page out there. It definitely plays a huge part.”

Drass said the offensive line also got a big boost this season by the return of veteran coach Jeff Braxton in the spring. Braxton has been an assistant at both Delaware State and Wesley, among other schools, over the years.

“Coach Braxton working with the ‘O’ line has been a Godsend for us,” said Drass.

Filliben has fought through injuries the last two seasons. He’s healthy now, though, and graded out as the top lineman in the win over Frostburg.

When he was a freshman, he can remember having seniors lining up on either side of him.

“But now I’m the senior and my experience is helping out the young guys around me,” said Filliben. “I’ve definitely picked up a step from my experience and knowing where to be. I can play 100 percent, full throttle on every play.”

Big day for Drass

Understandably, Drass feels a little uncomfortable being honored before a game.

The last thing he wants is for anything to take away from his players’ focus. As for notching his 200th victory, he knows there’s no guarantee that it will happen on Saturday against a Christopher Newport team that has been to the NCAA Division III playoffs in eight of the last 10 years.

Drass said he hasn’t even talked to his players about it.

“I certainly appreciate it and recognize it as a great honor,” said Drass. “But our goal is to try to beat Christopher Newport. That’s the only thing that is on anyone’s mind that is on our sideline.”

Still, you’d be hard-pressed to find anybody who’s played for or coached with Drass that isn’t happy for him. To many people, Wesley football and Mike Drass are synonomous.

“I had a lot of schools (recruiting him) but there really wasn’t that connection that you had with them,” sophomore defensive end Isaiah Ingram said about Wesley’s coaching staff. “You can tell who really cares about you and who just cares about you being an athlete. I just knew where I wanted to be.”

Happy to be back

Maybe nobody was more excited to be on the field against Frostburg than Ingram.

He missed all last year after injuring his right knee in the season opener.

Ingram admits he had his doubts during the rehab process. He credits defensive tackle Dan LaGuerre for keeping him going.

“For a person who had never been injured, I just thought I would never be able to play again,” said Ingram. “I expected the worst.

“I’m the type of person who gets down on myself a lot,” he added. “People picked me up and I picked myself up after a while.”

In his first game back, Ingram had six tackles, including a sack for an 11-yard loss. More than anything, though, he was glad to be healthy again.

“I’m just happy that I lasted the first game,” Ingram said with a laugh. “I valued it a lot more than if I wasn’t injured.”

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