Wesley Notebook: Offensive line shows solid progress

DOVER — Jeff Braxton doesn’t want his players to simply say they’re going to work to be the best.

The Wesley College offensive line coach has them put in writing.

Before each season, Braxton has the Wolverines’ linemen sign a contract that they’re committed to trying to be the top offensive front in the country.

“It was funny,” said sophomore guard Mo Manuel. “I was like, ‘Oh man, is he serious?’ But then I was like, ‘This is a good idea.’”

Wesley’s linemen are still trying to live up to that preseason agreement.

But certainly the Wolverines are a lot closer to having a really good line than they were at the beginning of the season.

Wesley sophomore guard Mo Manuel (79), a 6-foot-1, 290-pounder, knew he had to prove himself as a newcomer. “Being a younger guy, everybody’s going to look at you not to make mistakes,” he said. “I’m still learning the offense. I just like that we’ve been running the ball more. A lot of people are looking at the offensive line now, what we’re doing and how we’ve been looking.” (Wesley sports information)

Wesley sophomore guard Mo Manuel (79), a 6-foot-1, 290-pounder, knew he had to prove himself as a newcomer. “Being a younger guy, everybody’s going to look at you not to make mistakes,” he said. “I’m still learning the offense. I just like that we’ve been running the ball more. A lot of people are looking at the offensive line now, what we’re doing and how we’ve been looking.” (Wesley sports information)

Wesley (5-1 NJAC, 5-2 overall) takes a five-game winning streak into Saturday’s home New Jersey Athletic Conference matchup with Montclair State (3-3, 4-3). Kickoff is at 1 p.m. in Miller Stadium.

Mo Manuel

Mo Manuel

Coach Mike Drass said the offensive line’s growth is really starting to show. Besides standout tackle Mike Gono and center Austin Eagle, the Wolverines had to find three new starters up front this year.

“We had three positions where we really were in unchartered waters with guys who hadn’t been on the field,” said Drass. “Right now these guys are providing some serious consistency to the offensive line.

“I’m real proud to see them do that. It wasn’t an easy thing to step on the field and provide that.”

Blake Roberts

Blake Roberts

Drass is especially proud of Wesley’s two starting guards, Manuel and junior Blake Roberts. Last season, Roberts did see regular playing time as a reserve but Manuel, a sophomore, was mostly on the JV squad.

Senior Kristoff Reeves is the starter at the other tackle spot.

The 5-foot-11, 280-pound Roberts said really his only goal is to keep getting better.

“I’m feeling pretty good,” he said. “I’m taking a step forward every week.

“It takes time,” Roberts said about developing chemistry. “We had a bunch of guys stay (in Dover) over the summer. I think that really helped. … We did sign a document, with Coach Braxton, agreeing that we want to be the best that we can be.”

Manuel, a 6-foot-1, 290-pounder, knew he had to prove himself as a newcomer.

“Being a younger guy, everybody’s going to look at you not to make mistakes,” he said. “I’m still learning the offense.

“I just like that we’ve been running the ball more. A lot of people are looking at the offensive line now, what we’re doing and how we’ve been looking.”

You’ll get no complaints from Drass.

Seeing players like Roberts and Manuel getting better is what it’s all about for the veteran coach.

“Over the course of the last seven weeks, you’ve seen such improvement from both of them,” said Drass. “It makes you feel good to be a coach when you’re sitting there and, at the end of the (Rowan) game, we had to run the clock out and Jamar (Baynard) is churning it out and the guys are driving people.

“That’s a good way to win a game.”

Getting the point(s)

Wesley’s 24-17 win over No. 21 Rowan last Saturday was clearly a big one.

Drass just wishes it had been an easier one.

The Wolverines had to hang on after building a 24-3 halftime lead.

Of Wesley’s seven second-half possessions, five started in Rowan territory. Two drives were stopped by turnovers, two were halted by fourth-down stops and another by a blocked field goal.

“We could have put that team away,” said Drass. “To Rowan’s credit — they’re a good football team — they fought back. (But) it never should have come down to the last series.”

Because Christopher Newport lost on Saturday, the Wolverines can now take the NJAC’s automatic NCAA Division III playoff berth if they win their final three games.

Balancing act

Drass is a big fan of Wesley’s balanced offense this season.

While the Wolverines lead the NJAC in passing (258.9 yards per game), they’re also third in rushing offense (207.4 yards).

The Wolverines’ ability to run the ball showed up in the fact that they held the ball for three minutes more than Rowan on Saturday.

“I think that we really went into the season, thinking we’re going to throw the football,” said Drass. “I think we’ve come up with a pretty good balance. We strive for that every year, but I don’t think we knew that going into the season.”

Wesley’s rushing average is 15 yards better than last season while its time of possession has gone up two minutes per game.

Extra points

Wesley is still only receiving votes in this week’s D3football.com Top 25. But the Wolverines did move up to the 27th spot in the poll. … No. 19 Salisbury is now the only NJAC team ranked ahead of Wesley. … The Wolverines had a tough situation before Saturday’s game when starting linebacker Roderick Caine felt a migraine headache coming on. The senior had to lay down in the locker room for the first half before splitting time with Mike Sabino in the second half.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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