A lot of buzz is surrounding The College of Wooster football team as it gears up to start the season at Bluffton University on Saturday, Sept. 1. Kickoff from the 3,000-seat Salzman Stadium is set for 1:30 p.m. Wooster is coming off of its first winning season since 2013, and the program was widely recognized for its academic success and student-athletes' commitment to community service over the past year. Wooster is in search of winning its season lid-lifter in back-to-back years for the first time since the Scots won five straight openers from 2002-06.
On the Air: Fans can listen to this week's contest on WKVX 960 AM and online at http://wqkt.com. There is no video stream for this week's game.
All-Time Series: Wooster leads the all-time series 2-0, including last season's contest 45-21, in what marked the program's first season-opening win since 2008. Last year marked a renewal of a series that was first played in 1931, a game also won by Wooster 12-0.
Last Meeting: Junior Nick Strausbaugh (Fredericksburg, Ohio/Waynedale) made a spectacular catch and broke free from Bluffton's defense for a 56-yard touchdown to put Wooster up two scores, and the Scots' defense clamped down from there with a fourth-down stop and three takeaways - including one returned for a touchdown - as the Black & Gold topped the Beavers 45-21 in the teams' season-opener.
Clinging to a 24-21 lead late in the third quarter, alumnus Patrick Johnson (Homewood, Ill./Homewood-Flossmoor) came up with the first of Wooster's four second-half interceptions in the end zone, and darted out to the Scots' 26-yard line. Four plays later, alumnus Gary Muntean (Poland, Ohio/Struthers) found Strausbaugh down the sideline, and that made it 31-21 with :24 left in the third quarter.
Wooster's four interceptions marked the most since the Scots picked off Kenyon College four times on Nov. 9, 2013. Noteworthy, in 2016, it took Wooster until game No. 8 to record four interceptions.
Offense Notes: Wooster projects to have eight returning offensive starters take the field on Saturday, and nine starters overall with the shifting of senior Trent Leggett (Waynesburg, Ohio/Carrollton) over to center from defensive tackle. Sophomore Caden Croft (Coshocton, Ohio/Riverview) is projected to get the start under center for the first time in his career, while junior Tyler Poeschel (Columbus, Ohio/Briggs) is the projected starter at right guard, and it'll mark his second career start. Strausbaugh headlines the returnees as a D3football.com Preseason All-America second-team selection. Strausbaugh is coming off a season in which he earned second-team D3football.com All-North Region, North Coast Athletic Conference Newcomer-of-the-Year, and first-team All-NCAC accolades. Strausbaugh broke the College's single-season records with 1,315 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns, the latter of which tied the NCAC single-season benchmark. Senior Antonio Bailey (Duluth, Ga./Meadowcreek) enters his fourth season as the Scots' No. 1 running back, and he rushed for 536 yards over the final five games in 2017.
Defense Notes: Just like the offense, Wooster projects to have eight returning starters line up against Bluffton on Saturday, including four-year staple Marcus Bowers (Roseville, Mich./Fraser), who is expected to play defensive tackle, after spending two years at linebacker and a season primarily at defensive end. Six of Wooster's top seven tacklers are back, as is the team's leading pass rusher, junior Robert Alvarez (Fort Washington, Md./Riverdale Baptist School), who finished last year tops on the team with 9.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. The Scots could receive a big boost defensively with the return of sophomore Kea'Shaun Phillips (Toledo, Ohio/Toledo Central Catholic), who is listed as a No. 2 linebacker on this week's two-deep. Phillips exploded onto the scene as a rookie in 2016, started all 10 games at defensive back, and finished the year second on the team with 63 tackles.
Special Teams Notes: Rising sophomore Cam Pollard (Cleveland, Ohio/John Hay) is projected to lead the way on special teams as Wooster's No. 1 kick returner. Pollard emerged as a runback threat last year and averaged 22.2 yards over 24 returns, including a school-record 97-yard kick return at Hiram College to open the game. Saturday marks the debut of sophomore Henry Whyte (North Huntington, Pa./Norwin) as the team's kicker and punter.
This and That: Saturday marks the kickoff of the 120th season of Wooster football. Among the returnees, junior Kamal Morgan (Randallstown, Md./Calvert Hall College) is back at running back after spending time this camp at defensive back, sophomores DeShaun Jones (Macedonia, Ohio/St. Edward) and Artemus Scissum (Youngstown, Ohio/Boardman) are now offensive linemen after entering camp as defensive linemen, and junior Jake Stewart (South Park, Pa./South Park) is now listed as a defensive lineman after entering camp in the mix for time on the offensive line. First-year offensive lineman Cameron Papp (Grand Rapids, Mich./East Grand Rapids) is the son of the late Dr. John P. Papp, for whom the College's football stadium is dedicated in honor of. Papp was one of the nation's leading gastroenterologists, and spent 18 years as a trustee at the College.