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PREVIEW: Football takes steps in rebuilding process

August 23, 2013

The 2013 season is destined to mark the first steps of a rebuilding process that hopes to return the Wilmington College football team back to near the top of the Ohio Athletic Conference.

The new coaching staff, led by head coach Stacey Hairston, realizes its not going to happen overnight. Just don’t try to tell them that on Saturdays.

“Reality tells me you have to take baby steps, you can’t just go out there from 1-9 to 9-1,” said Hairston. “That is what reality is, but on game day, I have a false sense of reality. I don’t have a reality. For me, it’s real simple. I am trying to win. The whole rebuilding thing is a process. You have to take baby steps, but on game day, there is no such thing as baby steps – I am trying to win.”

While the ultimate goal is wins, and improving on the 1-29 record over the last three seasons, Hairston has other ways of determining whether the 2013 season is successful.

“When I try to evaluate a successful season, it’s not exactly wins and losses,” said Hairston. “What are your mental thoughts going into the game, and going into the fourth quarter, do we have a chance to win. That is all I can ask. We have 10 games on the schedule, and in 10 games, if going to the fourth quarter we have a chance to win – that is a huge success because that is a big turnaround. That’s my goal. We play well enough through three quarters that the game is still in doubt in the fourth. Some games you are going to win, some you are going to lose – that is part of it. But if we don’t have a chance in the fourth quarter, something is wrong. It means we have some work to do.”

The biggest challenge for the team will come in the trenches where the offensive line has been one of the most maligned position groups over the past couple of seasons.

They return six players that have made multiple starts along the line. Sophomores Tyler Johnson and Matt Buell anchor the line from the tackle position. Junior Jeremy Welch has started 20 straight games at center, while juniors Tyler DeVore and Scott Duncan have manned the guard positions. Junior Matt Stooksbury, who moved to tackle late in the season, moves back to his natural tight end position.

However, despite having the experience, the offensive line could have the most turnover.

“Reality tells me I will have at least two freshmen starting and it’s possible three,” said Hairston. “I understand the trials and tribulations in having a freshman start on the offensive line. But talent-wise and skill-wise, they are an upgrade from what we had in the past.”

Sophomore Ian Stewart could also push his way into making an impact.

Who ever comes out of the camp battles will be given the main responsibility of protecting senior quarterback Brandon Arehart. The three-year starter comes into the season as the only non-freshman signal caller on the roster.

“I have been extremely impressed with Brandon,” said Hairston. “Reality is reality, and he is our saving grace right now. He is such an intelligent man. He is truly a blessing for us. Bringing in a new offense, it’s not simple to pick up and it’s not simple to have success right away, and he gives us that chance.”

He comes into his final collegiate season ranked fifth in nearly every Wilmington career passing category with 4,414 yards on 387 completions with 789 attempts and 27 touchdowns. He is sixth with 34 interceptions.

Hairston added that he expected Arehart to have the best season of his career.

While the quarterback gets much of the blame for loss and much of the credit for wins, Arehart needs weapons to ultimately be successful.

“The wide receiver group is, offensively, our best position,” said Hairston. “The talent we have there can potentially make life easier for the offensive line, quarterbacks and even the running backs. There is some skill there, and we have to use it to our best advantage.”

Wilmington returns its top receiving threat in sophomore Jeremy Duncan. The 6-5 receiver led the team with 24 catches for 405 yards and two touchdowns. His 405 yards were more that twice as much as his nearest teammate.

The coaching staff thinks Duncan has only scratched the surface of his ability,

“My thing is for him to get into his mind and have him realize the threat that he poses to any defense in the nation,” Hairston added. “Standing at 6-4, 6-5, 215 pounds, he is never covered. Most defensive backs stand at 5-9, 5-10, he should be dominating these guys. Any team that lines up one-on-one against us, we have to win. We will take our shot right there, and I will put my money on him.”

Duncan isn’t the only receiver that will turn heads this season. Seniors Antonio Turner, Stephen Donoghue and Kyle Akers bring a physical presence to the position, while sophomore Cody Reigelsperger made the greatest impression during the spring camp.

The Fightin’ Quakers will turn to someone not on the roster at the end of last season at running back. Sophomore Alex Koyfis moves to fullback after leading the team in rushing, and the graduation of its two other rushers, have left the spot almost bare. Freshman Zach Cooper joined the team at the start of the winter semester, and participated in spring practice.

Sophomore Zach Cumby and freshman Jerry Williams III join Koyfis in the fullback battle.

Defensively, Wilmington has a solid foundation along the defensive line. Two-time All-OAC performer Donnie Ary is joined by All-OAC selection Chris Ferguson, senior Aaron Day and sophomore Linden Ayoki to form a formidable foursome.

Ary led all WC defensive linemen with 54 tackles and was second with 12 tackles for loss, while Ferguson added team-highs with 13 tackles for loss and five sacks to go along with 31 tackles. Day chipped in with 29 tackles.

However, their main duty in the new defensive scheme is to eat up blockers and enable the linebackers to make plays.

The main playmaker is sophomore Nick Williams, who will be moving from outside linebacker to the middle. In his five games last season, Williams was probably the best player on the team. He finished seventh with 43 tackles while playing just half the season. His 8.6 tackles per game was the highest average on the team.

“Based on what he has shown me in his limited time, going into spring ball, I want my best defensive guy in the middle,” said Hairston. “He has turned into a true leader of this defense.”

Moving Williams to the middle isn’t the only change to the unit as sophomore Amari Bryant moves from cornerback to weakside linebacker. He played in all 10 games last season with 21 tackles. The hottest position battle will be on the strongside, where juniors Jared Burson and Dakota Hruby, along with sophomore Jacob Fugate will battle a host of incoming freshman for the position.

Junior Jason Phillips returns to the other middle linebacker position after leading the team in four forced fumbles, while registering 59 tackles. Hairston said his physical nature and run stopping ability is key to the ‘Bob’ linebacker position.

Senior Trevor Hooker and junior Joe Joe Knecht return to the defensive backfield after starting all 10 games at free safety and cornerback, respectively.

Hooker, a two-year starter, finished the season with 59 tackles and brings intangibles and skill to the position.

“Trevor is clearly the most technically sound defensive back we have,” said Hairston. “After watching him this spring, I am very happy to have him. He is the quarterback of the defense. He has to be able to run the defense, and when the quarterbacks make mistakes, and try to thread the ball where it’s not supposed to be, he has to make them pay for it.”

Knecht led the team with 76 tackles and his lone interception sealed Wilmington’s Homecoming victory over Marietta.

Junior Eric Watts moves to strong safety, and has the inside track on beginning the season as the starter. Juniors Drew Dutoi and R.J. Zygarowski, along with sophomore Olof Eriksson are competing at the other corner position.

While there are no questions Hruby will be the team’s long snapper, the Quakers have plenty of questions to answer in the kicking game. A true freshman will have to handle the punting duties, while sophomore kickers Cole Voltz and Geremie Dart have yet to appear in a college game.

Wilmington opens the season 1:30 p.m. September 7th as the Fightin’ Quakers host Olivet in non-conference action.