|Senior Adam Clark is one of two projected four-year starters on Wooster's offensive line.|
After having improved significantly in key statistical areas on both sides of the ball in recent seasons, and now with a stable mix of a consistently-strong returning nucleus and an infusion of new talent year after year, there's plenty of optimism for The College of Wooster football program heading into the 2019 season. Seventh-year head coach Frank Colaprete likes the positive mix of "attitude, talent, and work ethic" this year's Fighting Scots have, and is looking for this group to continue to build upon the upward momentum of last year's team.
"We want to take that next step and compete for the championship," stated Colaprete, who projects to have slightly shy of 100 student-athletes report when the team's preseason commences on August 13. "We need to be able to beat a team we're not supposed to beat on paper, even though we may know and believe we're better. In order for the program to move forward, we need that signature win."
While it'll take key contributions in all phases of the game to accomplish just that, Wooster's vastly improved defense could be the big difference maker at the end of the day. There, the Scots return four all-conference performers from a unit that posted the program's best points per game (27.4) and yards per game (373.7) totals since 2013.
"There's opportunities for us to get the ball back and start holding teams to under certain passing yards per game and certain completion percentages," explained Colaprete. "We need to limit completions and touchdowns, while forcing more turnovers. Then up front, we're looking to make a lot more plays in the backfield and are looking to dominate the line across from us."
Senior D'Andre Brown, a D3football.com All-North Region selection in 2018, headlines the returnees on defense. The standout defensive tackle helped the Scots post a top-30 showing in sacks per game in 2018, while Wooster's 113.0 yards per game allowed rushing marked the team's best since 2008.
"D'Andre has an incredible work ethic, and when you work that way with his talent, you should see a lot of great results," summed up Colaprete. "He didn't rest on what he did last year and should be hungry to be better."
Senior Robert Alvarez leads the returnees at defensive end, and he has "great hands and a lot of explosiveness" for the position, per Colaprete.
Wooster, which runs a 4-2-5, has three all-conference veterans returning in the back end of its defense in junior Beau Greenwood, junior Mark Herron, and senior Christian Santos. The combination of athleticism and play-making abilities from this trio should bode well for the Scots' chances of forcing turnovers.
Wooster's linebackers, led by sophomore Eric Kraus and junior Kea'Shaun Phillips, possess a plethora of talent, and the Scots now have plenty of experience there after both grew into their starting positions as the season progressed in 2018.
Offensively, Wooster projects to boast not one, but two four-year starters on its offensive line in Mick Appel and Adam Clark. Appel is likely to move over to left tackle after spending his career on the right side of the line, while Clark projects to remain at left guard, per Colaprete.
"Most programs don't want to be starting freshmen linemen, but these two showed an incredible ability to come in and play that early," added Colaprete. "Not only ability, but they had a grasp of the offense and all the moving fronts and pressures. That combination of talent and intelligence is a rare quality to have so early. That tells you the type of football players they are."
Junior Eli Lohrey rounds out the returning starters on the offensive line, and as someone who "can play inside and outside," projects to emerge from camp as the starting center, according to Colaprete.
Colaprete's confident his offense can compete to be tops in the NCAC in points and yards, and Wooster's talented receivers are a key reason why. Senior Jacob Lewis has a reputation as one of the top tight ends in NCAA Div. III, while the always-dangerous Nick Strausbaugh headlines the returnees on the outside. Rising sophomore Cole Hissong came on strong last year, while junior Cam Pollard has transitioned over to slot receiver to take advantage of his explosiveness.
"Our receivers are an extremely talented, hardworking, and coachable group," summed up Colaprete. "They've benefitted from this spring and have gotten much better at route running and getting to where they need to be. It's going to make it difficult for some defenses to match up with us."
Last year quarterback was the area to watch on offense, and rising sophomore Mateo Renteria grew into the position as the season progressed, and he ended the year ranked among the national leaders for rookie quarterbacks in yards (2,130) and touchdowns (14). Now, "he's taken on more of a leadership attitude," per Colaprete.
Running back will be the position to watch this year, as four-year starter Antonio Bailey graduated this past spring. However, Colaprete's confident that this is one of his "most talented position groups."
"We're in such a great situation at this position," said Colaprete. "The talent we have there will make up for not having that experience. It'll be an exciting time watching those guys compete for playing time."
Pollard earned all-conference honors as a punt returner last year, while junior Henry Whyte handled the kicking duties. With those two leaders back in the fold, Colaprete's expecting Wooster's special teams to make major strides in 2019.
"Special teams is a big part of the game," summed up Colaprete. "We're getting much better and more consistent in those areas."
Wooster will have a tall task each week on the gridiron with the NCAC as tough as ever. Just last year, the conference had a three-way tie for first-place.
"There's so much capability with all the teams this year," said Colaprete. "A lot of teams have great players coming back and a lot of experience. It'll be exciting to see what we can do."
Fifty-one returning letterwinners dot this year's roster, while 44 newcomers are expected to join the team this fall, giving the program one of the largest squad sizes in program history.
"The guys in our program like being here, like playing, and like their Wooster experience," said Colaprete. "We've been able to retain a good amount and continue to bring in great depth. Now we've sustained a good roster. We are where we want to be, between 90-100. It's an exciting time having the talent and depth and being able to build on it."
Here is a closer look at Wooster's 2019 returnees, broken down by position.
Renteria delivered a memorable first start with 388 yards passing and two touchdowns versus DePauw University, and went on to start the final seven games of the season as a rookie. Now with a season of experience under his belt, he's continued to progress this spring and is becoming more of a leader, per the staff.
The Scots' depth at running back will be tested early, but as eluded to earlier, Colaprete's confident Wooster has the talent to replace Bailey, a four-year starter.
Sophomore Chase Flanagan contributed in a multitude of roles, and did play well when in the Scots' backfield. There, he averaged 6.2 yards per tote over limited carries.
Senior Kamal Morgan rounds out the returnees at running back.
Strausbaugh, coming off back-to-back seasons with over 900 yards, is one of the most explosive receivers in Div. III. Despite only playing two years, the speedster has Wooster's career leaders' list in his sight, as he's less than 600 yards and six touchdowns away from being the Scots' all-time leader.
The likes of sophomore Julian Ballesteros, sophomore Kristian Coleman, junior Bryce Gresham, junior Keetrone Singleton, and sophomore Kwami Wilborn give Colaprete plenty of veteran experience at the position, while sophomore Harvey Briscoe is transitioning over to receiver after spending last year in the defensive backfield.
Wooster's system utilizes the tight end extensively, and the Scots' may be the deepest they've ever been at that position. Lewis has averaged a healthy 15.9 yards per catch during his two seasons as the starter, during which he's amassed 1,115 yards, 70 receptions, and 10 touchdowns. In fact, the Scots could line up two tight ends from time to time with Hissong's emergence as a go-to target, and the fact that he was third among returnees in receptions last year.
Three starters are back in the fold in Appel, Clark, and Lohrey. With Appel and Lohrey projected to move to left tackle and center, respectively, Wooster will have new starters at both positions on the right side of its line. That's where senior Justin Robinson and junior Artemus Scissum spent time working last season, as the duo spent the season listed as the No. 2 right guard and right tackle, respectively, while the likes of sophomore Conor Greene, junior Willem Mills, sophomore Mateus Nunes, and sophomore Biagio Shipman are in the mix as well.
Led by its line, Wooster finished last year with 32 sacks, the most by the team in 18 years. Thanks to the rotation instilled by the defensive coaching staff, the Scots remain strong in this area despite losing a pair of starters to graduation.
Colaprete and defensive coordinator Sam Bauman had to revamp the Scots' starting linebackers midway through the 2018 season due to injury. Enter Kraus and Phillips, who are both back in the fold. The duo solidified the position with Phillips ranking fifth and Kraus 10th on the team in tackles.
Junior Drake Pence and sophomore Angelo Petracci have both contributed in a multitude of roles on defense and special teams in the past, while sophomore Jacob Brooks is making the transition from quarterback to linebacker, and sophomore Joseph Zagales rounds out the returning letterwinners.
A majority of the back-end core of Wooster's 4-2-5 defense returns intact with Greenwood, Herron, and Santos set to line up back there. Greenwood projects to transition to a more natural position of cornerback, while Herron will do likewise at safety. Santos, a force to be reckoned with at strong safety, earned all-conference honors there in 2018.
Whyte returns as the Scots' specialist and Colaprete notes "he has an incredible leg, but needs to improve his accuracy."