DOVER, Del. – In a summer filled with change, the Wesley College football team will look to continue to "Win a Game" and live on the legacy left by late head coach Mike Drass. Even with the loss of Coach, expectations remain high as the Wolverines were picked as the preseason favorite to win their fourth New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) Championship and earn a berth in their 14th consecutive NCAA Championship Tournament.
"I have big shoes to fill in the passing of my best friend Coach Drass," said head coach Chip Knapp. "I've had a learning curve in doing some of the administrative aspects of the job but having the familiarity with the team and having the experience of being around Wesley Football for so long is definitely advantage in taking over this position in the summertime."
With the graduation of All-American Matt Gono, Wesley will look to key returners in the skill positions to carry the load. Leading the way will be Preseason All-America and 2017 NJAC Offensive Player of the Year junior running back E.J. Lee. Lee rushed for 1,582 yards with 22 touchdowns and caught 26 passes for 252 yards and two receiving touchdowns in 2017. He ranked fifth in Division III in rushing touchdowns and seventh in rushing yards. Lee also collected First Team All-Eastern College Athletic Conference and D3football.com All-East Region Second Team honors a season ago. Senior Elijah Minter and sophomore Abe Mansaray also return at running back to give depth at the position.
"I believe E.J. is one of the best backs in small college football. He leads by example and is a workhorse of our offense. Along with E.J., Elijah is a big strong back that can provide a change of pace from Lee."
Returning under center will be senior Khaaliq Burroughs. An NJAC first-teamer last season, Burroughs took over the starting role early last season and led the NJAC in total offense (2,840). He also ranked second in the NJAC in total touchdowns (26), passing yards (2,483) and passing efficiency (147.1) and third in passing touchdowns (20).
"Khaaliq has a year of starting experience under his belt and that is key for a quarterback. The game starts to slow down a bit once you mature in an offense. He is also very versatile. He can outrun defenses and he has a great arm. We want to be able to utilize both aspects of his game in our offense,
Burroughs will have two of his main receiving weapons back from 2017 in three-time All-NJAC honoree senior wideout Alex Kemp and NJAC Honorable Mention pick senior tight end Andrew Eagle. Kemp led the NJAC in receiving yards (934), averaging 77.8 yards per game and placed second in the league in receptions (59) with six touchdown catches. Eagle finished third on the team in receiving yards (265) and caught 19 passes. Returners in the mix in the receiving corps will be seniors Ameer Watson junior Corterris Simpson, junior transfer from Rutgers University Ruhann Peele and sophomore Kianta Thompson.
"We are glad to have Alex back in our program. He an explosive, big-play threat that can stretch a defense. Eagle is a big tight end that has come a long way in our program and is one of the leaders of our team. He can catch and block which is very productive in our offense."
With Gono in the NFL, the offensive line will be spearheaded by seniors Devin Miller and Mujahid Manuel. Miller is moving over to center, after starting the last two seasons at tackle. Joining the two seniors are juniors Josh Hughes and Jay Johnson and sophomore transfer Angel Guerrero. The offensive line this season will look to duplicate the success of the best offense of the NJAC from last season gaining 5,295 yards, including 2,477 yards rushing.
The defense will have some fresh faces mixed with returning starters from last year's team which was the second-best scoring defense in the NJAC and recorded a program-record 200:19 minutes without giving up a point in the early part of the season.
The secondary remains largely intact from last season, led by senior free safety Cappadonna Miller. A D3football.com All-Region player in 2017, Miller picked up five passes, tied for third-most in the NJAC. Miller also collected 82 tackles to rank second on the Wolverines. Along with Miller, junior strong safety Coray Williams returns after making 44 tackles with six pass defenses, five breakups and 2.5 tackles for loss.
Returning at cornerback is senior Daquay Harris-Winbush, who finished second on the team in passes defended (7) and pass breakups (6). Harris-Winbush made 29 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss. Sophomores John Castro, Isiah Mitchell and Quaasim Glover will compete for starting roles in the secondary.
"Cappadonna is a big-time playmaker in the secondary and can play center field out on the defense. Coray is a big, physical safety which you don't get a lot in Division III. Daquay and the rest of the secondary have improved throughout camp and will be a key aspect of our defense."
The front seven features a breadth of strong returners on the defensive line and young, hungry linebackers ready to make plays. The defensive line will be led by seniors Vincent Ebron, Nick Glover and Cameron Miles. Glover was an All-NJAC Honorable Mention selection last season after collecting 24 tackles, three sacks and three tackles for loss. Ebron tallied 14 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and two sacks while Miles stepped in after an injury to Glover and recorded 11 tackles. Joining the experienced starters is junior Will Scott and sophomore Shymere Vessels, all with experience in the rotation last season.
Junior Najee Wilson and sophomores Dante Daniel and Jason Stewart return in key roles in the linebacking corps. Wilson registered 39 tackles, tied for second on the team in forced fumbles (22) and fifth in tackles for loss (9.5) in 2017. Daniel picked up 24 tackles while Stewart collected eight tackles last season. Sophomore transfer from UCONN Nazir Williams and fellow sophomores Camal Brown and Shawny'e Jones will compete for spots at linebacker.
"With the depth that we have on the defensive line, we could create lots of fits for opposing offensive lines. The leadership of Ebron is a source of stability for our defense. He's a guy that has been a key member of our team for a while and is someone that the young guys can lean on as they develop. The linebackers have had significant playing time last year and we look for them to continue to be solid contributors to our team."
Junior All-NJAC Honorable Mention selection Nick Bruhn returns as the starting kicker and punter after leading the NJAC in made field goals (12), made 49 point-after attempts and averaged 37.7 yards per punt. Junior Aaron Nelson will handle the kickoff duties after kicking off 77 times with an average of 59.7 yards per kick.
"Nick provides a feeling of security in our kicking game. He is one of the best kickers and punters in our conference and we are completely confident in his abilities to score points. Aaron has a big leg and he can put our defense in great field position"
Miller, Simpson and junior transfer Marcellus Pack will return kicks and punts for Wesley this season.
The 2018 schedule looks similar to the 2017 slate with the Wolverines opening up the season on Friday, Aug. 31 with nationally-ranked Delaware Valley.
"DelVal is a great team but we have to limit mistakes and turnovers to win the game."
Another key home matchup of the year is the battle of the two ranked teams in the NJAC when Frostburg St. comes to town on Saturday, Oct. 6.
"Our goal is to win football games, win the conference and compete for a national championship. We have a tough schedule, but we are prepared to make a run in the playoffs."