Wesley notebook: Senior LB Sabino a key for Wolverines’ defense

Mike Sabino is currently second on the Wesley squad with 21 tackles. That gives him 103 stops for his career. (Delaware State News file photo)

DOVER — Mike Sabino still vividly remembers his first day of preseason football camp as a freshman.

The Lake Forest High grad couldn’t help but notice Matt Gono, one of his new Wesley College teammates.

An offensive lineman, Gono stood about 6-foot-4, 305 pounds.

“I was thinking, ‘Oh, he must be like a senior,’” Sabinio recalled. “I asked somebody about it and they’re like, ‘No, he’s a freshman.’

Mike Sabino

“I started to think, ‘Maybe I can’t play college football.’ I was 180 pounds soaking wet at that time. I was a lot smaller.”

Now listed at 6-foot-2, 225 pounds, Sabino has gotten a lot bigger since then. And the senior linebacker has long since proven he can play college football.

Sabino is one of the veteran defensive players that coach Mike Drass will be counting on when the No. 19 Wolverines (3-0 NJAC, 3-1 overall) travel to No. 11 Frostburg State (3-0 NJAC, 4-0) o Saturday for a 1 p.m. New Jersey Athletic Conference showdown.

A veteran of 36 college games, Sabino is currently second on the squad with 21 tackles. That gives him 103 stops for his career.

When the Wolverines were watching film on Tuesday, coach Mike Drass said Mike Sabino was the one answering all his defensive questions. (Wesley sports information photo)

When the Wolverines were watching film on Tuesday, coach Mike Drass said Sabino was the one answering all his defensive questions.

“I was kind of getting mad at him because I wanted some of the other guys to speak up,” Drass joked. “He’s playing exceptionally well right now. I think it’s because he’s very comfortable in the defense and he understands not just his role, but the people around him.

“On Saturday (in a 49-0 win over Southern Virginia), he made three unbelievable plays with hits. … Those guys got up not wanting to get back in the huddle.”

But Drass also said he always had confidence in Sabino. Even when he was a skinny freshman, the youngster still made Wesley’s 58-man playoff roster by the end of the season.

“I tell you what, he was a scrapper,” said Drass. “He worked hard.

“One thing about Sabino, his attitude is infectious. I think he’s a great teammate and his teammates really can see that about him. He cares about the team and about them. That’s stuff you can’t fake.”

Sabino says it’s funny now to think back to his freshman year. Coming in at the same time as fellow linebacker Samer Manna, the two players butted heads at first.

Now, with Manna in the middle and Sabino on the outside, they’re the backbone of a Wesley defense that has posted three straight shutouts. The Wolverines are ranked second nationally in Division III in scoring defense at 6.0 points per game.

“We didn’t really like each other in the beginning,” Sabino said with a smile. “With competition, that’s always how it is. Now we’re best friends, we’re inseperable, we live together. It’s always weird how it works that way.”

There are probably any number of things about his football career Sabino would change if he could. But not that much.

He thinks he’d like to get into coaching after he graduates.

“I remember being a senior in high school, I could go to my coach, Lou Copio, the (Lake Forest) defensive coordinator, and we would go over things on defense,” said Sabino. “I really had a good understanding of the defense. I could tell you what everybody was doing on each play.

“I think that’s almost the same thing now. I wish I knew the defense this way my freshman year. I would probably be a whole different player.”

A lot on the line

When Wesley downed Frostburg State, 43-7, in the second game of the season last year, there was nothing remarkable about it.

The victory was the Wolverines’ 10th straight in the series.

But, when the Bobcats didn’t lose again the rest of the way, that win gave Wesley the NJAC’s automatic NCAA Division III playoff bid after the two teams tied for the league title.

Frostburg still hasn’t lost since, bringing a 13-game winning streak into Saturday’s matchup in western Maryland. The Bobcats are also the higher-ranked squad, meaning the outcome could end up carrying a lot of weight this season, too.

“This is where you make a name for yourself, playing in a game like this,” said Drass. “As team, this is what you want. You want to play in big games.”

Sabino said he hopes the Wolverines’ experience in must-win games pays off in contests like this. Wesley has made 12 straight NCAA playoff appearances.

“Frostburg has had great success since we played them last time,” said Sabino. “It’s hard to even look back and watch our film of how they played then vs. how they’re playing now. They’ve grown a lot.

“I think everybody that’s playing now (for Wesley) has been in those big games. We’re not shy of them.”

Extra points

Sussex Central High grad Deshawn Sheppard has had his season ended by a torn knee ligament. He suffered the injury after running for 47 yards on six carries in the Wolverines’ win at William Paterson two weeks ago. … Wesley moved up four spots to No. 19 in this week’s D3football.com poll. In the coaches’ rankings, the Wolverines are No. 20 while Frostburg is No. 9.. … Wesley running back E.J. Lee is 11th in the country in rushing yards per game (145.5) and tied for fifth in rushing touchdowns with 11.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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