Wolverines notebook: Vessels set to shoulder starting role for Wesley

Sophomore DE Shymere Vessels is slated to make his third-straight start on Saturday as the No. 8 Wolverines (4-1 NJAC, 5-1 overall) travels to Rowan (3-2 NJAC, 4-2 overall) for a 2 p.m. conference matchup. (Wesley sports information)

DOVER — Shymere Vessels was talented enough to start as a freshman on the Woodbridge High football team.

But that doesn’t mean he was ready for it right from the start.

Vessels can still remember getting knocked on his butt by one of the seniors, Dajon Emory, on the first day of practice.

“At that point, I knew I had to step my game up,” he said. “(But) I really don’t fear the competition at all. I actually welcome it. To me, it’s a new challenge each and every week.”

Shymere Vessels

So even now, as a sophomore defensive end on the Wesley College football team, Vessels is excited about starting. The 6-foot-1, 260-pounder is slated to make his third-straight start on Saturday as the No. 8 Wolverines (4-1 NJAC, 5-1 overall) travels to Rowan (3-2 NJAC, 4-2 overall) for a 2 p.m. conference matchup.

Vessels became a starter after season-ending injuries to Wesley’s top two defensive tackles led to some shuffling of players up front.

“Shymere is a guy we can count on to do his job and give great effort every game,” said Wesley coach Chip Knapp. “Now he’s a major player on our defense. … We look at him as a future captain of our team. He’s a leader.

“He’s very coachable. He listens and he applies what is coached to him to his game. That’s the one thing — he’s always trying to get better. He asks great questions. He’s a great guy to coach — he’s easy to coach.”

Vessels said one thing the Wolverines don’t want to do is look at injuries as excuses.

There’s no question sidelined defensive tackle Nick Glover (Dover) could have helped in Wesley’s 35-34 loss to Frostburg State two weeks ago. But Vessels, who had a career-high eight tackles in the contest, said the Wolverines have only themselves to blame.

“It was a shock for all of us,” Vessels said about Glover’s injury. “But we didn’t know it was pretty bad until he got his MRI that following week.

“It was sad to see Nick get hurt. But we all still have that goal. We dedicated this season to Coach (Mike) Drass. We want to get a Stagg Bowl in his honor. But what happens through the season happens. That’s just adversity. We’ve always got to remember what’s at stake.”

A native of Seaford, Vessels came to Wesley with some big expectations. He was a first-team All-Stater on Woodbridge’s DIAA Division II state championship squad in 2016.

Vessels played in 11 of 12 games for the Wolverines, with 12 tackles, as a freshman. This season he’s played in all six games, with 22 tackles, including a pair of sacks, and a forced fumble.

“I don’t want to say I have more pressure on me,” said Vessels. “But I have more responsibility to do my job every day and help my team win each and every game.”

Lee in the spotlight

E.J. Lee (Wesley sports information)

E.J. Lee is an easy guy to overlook sometimes.

It’s not that the junior running back isn’t talented. The 5-foot-8, 185-pounder is just a pretty unassuming guy who quietly does his job.

But Lee reminded Wesley what he’s capable of when he scored three-straight touchdowns in Wesley’s 54-6 victory at Kean. He was named the New Jersey Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Week after running for 117 yards on 16 carries and pulling in a 40-yard TD reception.

“E.J.’s not going to have a slump,” said Knapp. “He’s very difficult to tackle, he always plays hard. If he has the blocking, he’s going to have an outstanding game. And, even without the blocking, he makes plays. He makes the first guy miss almost every time.

“He leads by example on the practice field. He’s a perfect player for us. We’re up at Kean and I said, ‘You know, you’ve got over 100 yards.’ He said, ‘Coach, I don’t care about that. Put in the other guys, give them some opportunities.’ He’s a team player. He really understands the big picture of playing football here.”

While Saturday’s game marked only Lee’s second 100-yard game of the season, he’s run for at least 79 yards in all but one contest this fall. Lee leads the team with 701 all-purpose yards.

Injury issues

Injuries continue to eat away at Wesley’s depth this season.

Now No. 2 running back, Elijah Minter, is sidelined with a knee injury.

Sophomore Abe Mansaray, who moves up into the backup spot, is a capable ball carrier. But at 5-7, 170, he’s even smaller than Lee.

So Knapp is looking at reserve quarterback Kevin Sheckells, a 6-foot-4, 240-pounder, as a possible backup running back when the Wolverines’ need somebody bigger.

“He looked like (former NFL fullback) Mike Alstott a couple times yesterday and the day before,” joked Knapp. “He’s a real big, athletic guy. He’s tough. I’m hoping, if it works out, to give Kevin a couple carries. The guys were having fun with it this week.”

Reserve cornerback Jon Castro (Dover) is also out with a broken hand.

Respecting Rowan

There was a time when Rowan was as good as any Division III program on the East Coast.

With Delaware’s K.C. Keeler as their coach, the Profs were a perennial national title contender. Wesley could never beat them.

But even though Rowan still leads the all-time series, 7-4, the Wolverines have won the last four meetings. Rowan hasn’t beaten Wesley since 2013.

“We always have that respect for them that they’re a team that has the talent, has the tradition and they’re a force to be reckoned with every year we play them,” said Knapp. “We have some familiarity with each other — the players have played against each other (in high school).”

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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