|Junior Russell Boston is one of eight starters returning to Wooster's talented offense.|
Armed with experienced returnees at nearly every position, The College of Wooster football team appears poised for a big 2017 season, as fifth-year head coach Frank Colaprete welcomes back 15 starters, including eight on the offensive side of the ball.
"We had a good offseason, and we hope that carries through the preseason," said Colaprete, whose squad posted a 3-2 mark over the second half of the season while averaging 430.6 yards per game. "The student-athletes improved throughout the season last year, and then carried that over into the offseason. We're going to be counting heavily on our offense to put up some points."
Senior Gary Muntean headlines a deeply talented offense and will line up under center for the second straight season. The all-conference honoree set six single-season records last year, including total offense (3,140 yards) and passing offense (2,940), and the entire offensive line is back intact to give him plenty of time to function in the passing game.
In fact, senior Drake Schwenke projects to be a four-year starter at tackle, and Wooster has a trio of offensive linemen with at least two years of starting experience under their belts as seniors Clayton Geib and Patrick Mohorcic join Schwenke in that department, while rising sophomores Mick Appel and Adam Clark give Colaprete high hopes for the offensive line.
"They were good players, and are looking to be great," said Colaprete. "When you have a veteran group that's played together for awhile, their awareness of each other helps the confidence. They need to be a confident group. Getting older will help us in the run game, because now we'll be bigger and stronger. They've always been good pass protectors, and now will be able to be better run blockers. That's what happens in college when you grow and age, you get bigger and stronger, and that what sets us up to be able to develop a better running game to help that passing game out."
Colaprete's hopeful to establish a more consistent well-rounded run game, but the Scots running backs did have a nose for the end zone as 21 of Wooster's 36 offensive touchdowns came on the ground, including six scampers by Muntean. Junior Antonio Bailey will look to lead the way after a 7-touchdown season, and the Duluth, Ga. native led the team with 412 yards on the ground a year ago.
"The receiving game got us down there, but those running backs scored a lot of touchdowns for us last year," commented Colaprete. Our running backs have a nose for the end zone with some big-play capabilities, and that really excites us."
In the receiving game, Wooster returns four student-athletes who had at least 20 receptions and 200 yards receiving last year, as the Scots were one of the leaders in Div. III when it came to spreading the pass targets around.
"Our receivers did an incredible job last year with so many guys with 20 receptions," commented Colaprete. "Now, the returnees to that group are all juniors and have worked together, so there's that continuity in the pass game. Our guys know have the knowledge of where to go and what they're looking at."
Defensively, Wooster played better as the season progressed, especially in the takeaway department as the Scots recorded seven takeaways over the last two games, and that's really when the secondary in particular started to get comfortable with their roles.
"Our backend guys were really locked into their roles at the end of 2016, and this offseason really helped them understand our schemes and get better with their techniques," commented Colaprete.
In fact, several members of the secondary saw time at other positions throughout the season as rising sophomore Christian Santos started the year as a wide receiver, but the highly athletic athlete shifted over to the secondary for the second half of the season, and classmate K.C. Okoronkwo slid back from linebacker to safety near season's end. That duo blended nicely with the experience of two-time all-conference cornerback Patrick Johnson and junior Hunter Coia who started all 10 games at strong safely last year.
Up front, Wooster graduated three-fourths of its starting defense line, with senior Aaron Roberson as the lone holdover, and he's a formidable veteran presence up front, evidenced by his second-team all-conference certificate a year ago. Colaprete has several youngsters ready to step into bigger roles, and could shift versatile junior Marcus Bowers from linebacker to defensive line, while classmate Cornelius Gyamfi complemented Bowers at the linebacker positions in Wooster's 4-2-5 scheme last season.
"I don't really see us taking a step backwards, even though we lost the most talented part of our defense," summed up Colaprate. "These young guys are ready to step into those roles and become a dominant front."
Wooster has a talented nine-member senior class, including placekicker Trevor Bowden, who enters the year in the top 10 in career field goals at the College. Overall, the Scots have 80 players on the roster, and Colaprete notes "that puts us where this program needs to be in terms of depth to be successful."
Each week will present a tall task for Wooster, as it once again faces one of the toughest schedules in the country. Last season, four teams in the NCAC were either in or receiving votes at some point of the season in the D3football.com Top 25 poll. This season, Wittenberg University – Wooster's season-finale opponent – enters the year 16th in the D3football.com Top 25, while Wabash College is among a crowded pack of teams receiving votes.
Commented Colaprete, "These last few years, the conference has been really talented. It's one of the toughest, and the league is at a peak right now with a lot of great teams and not many teams down. You have to win every game. You can't look past anybody in this conference, which is nice, but also difficult especially for a younger roster. That's why its nice where we're finally an older group overall."
Here is a closer look at Wooster in 2017, broken down by position.
Four quarterbacks dot the 2017 roster, giving the Scots numerous capable options. One of those is Muntean who turned in a 234-for-386 line with 2,940 yards last year – all single-season school records – while throwing for 15 touchdowns. Classmate Jack Marousek serves as a capable backup, and he's 20-for-39 for 220 yards and a touchdown during his time at the College. Sophomore Grady McHugh gives the Scots plenty of returning experience at this position.
Bailey enters camp as the only student-athlete listed at running back with significant experience at the position, although Colaprete does have plenty of talented options between returnees and newcomers alike. Bailey, who led the team in rushing yards in each of the last two seasons, is also a threat in Wooster's multi-dimension passing game, as the junior had 20 receptions a year ago, including an 87-yard scree pass for a touchdown at Wabash.
Rising sophomore Nick Barto-Brown is also back in the fold, and he came on late in the season with contributions in two contests out of the Scots' backfield.
Wooster's receiving core was one of the deepest in the country, as including running backs and tight ends, nine players had at least 20 receptions and 200 yards receiving in 2016, and four of them are back in the fold for 2017.
Shifty juniors Connor Allan and Russell Boston transitioned from running backs to wide receivers full time last year and combined for 50 receptions and nearly 700 yards out of the slot. On the outside, junior Christian Pinnock gives the Scots plenty of length and he averaged 11.5 yards per catch over 23 receptions in 2016.
Tight end is the position to keep an eye on early in the season as all-conference honoree Nate Huwar graduated, but Colaprete does have several talented players vying for the starting role, including sophomore Jacob Lewis who projects to move over to the offensive side of the ball after rapidly working his way up the defensive backfield depth chart a year ago.
Other returning letterwinners include sophomore Steve Maryo and junior Conor Shimabukuro. Maryo overcame a major injury and started to work his way into the mix late in the season, while Shimabukuro slides up to tight end after spending most of last year working with the quarterbacks.
Perhaps the deepest position on the team, the offensive line has a combined nine years of starting experience. As mentioned earlier, the Scots return all five starters from an offense that averaged just over 400 yards and 26.8 points per game a year ago. In fact, the Scots have three returning starters (Geib, Mohorcic, and Schwenke) with at least 20 games of starting experience on the offensive line.
Geib led the way on the offensive line from his right guard position as the senior earned Academic All-District® and all-conference certificates, while Mohorcic made the successful transition from tackle to center during fall camp last year. Schwenke continued to hold down the left tackle spot, and he was joined on the left side of the line by Clark, while Appel won the right tackle spot in fall camp and never looked back.
The Scots have solid depth in this area with rising sophomores Tyler Poeschel, Justin Robinson, and Jake Stewart all spending significant portions of the season on the two-deep as first-years, while junior Matt Hartzell and sophomore Nick Godsey continue to press for more time.
Several first-years are also in the mix for time on the offensive line and in special teams blocking protection roles.
Roberson parlayed a career-high into second-team all-conference honors as the lone returning starter on the defensive line logged career-highs in tackles (50) and tackles for loss (11.5), all while shifting to the more natural role of defensive end. Sticking on the edges, the likes of Bowers and sophomores Robert Alvarez, Jacob Bueter, and Clark Morin give Colaprete plenty of returning speed to defensive front.
Shifting to the interior of the line, rising sophomore D'Andre Brown saw time in all 10 games and logged 35 tackles, including 5.5 for loss as a first year, while junior transfer Trent Leggett projects to be featured prominently at a tackle position.
Several first-years will complete the Scots returnees in the trenches and will be in the mix for significant time.
Wooster had a pair of talented linebackers in 2016 in Bowers and Gyamfi who ranked first and tied for fourth on the team respectively with 86 and 50 tackles. However, Colaprete projects Bowers to shift back to the defensive line where he started out as a freshman leaving Gyamfi as the only student-athlete with significant experience at the position.
Johnson and Coia were the two constants in last year's secondary as the former earned all-conference honors from his corner position and the latter started in all 10 games. Piece-by-piece the rest of the secondary came into fruition as the season progressed as Santos moved from receiver to corner at the midway point of the season, and he now projects to slide over to a safety spot. Then, Okoronkwo shifted from linebacker to strong safety late in the season, and both talented sophomores possess a lot of athleticism to the unit.
Sophomore Jordan Patterson played well as a first-year and will be vying for more time in the defensive backfield. Other letterwinners competing for time in the backfield include senior Roger An, sophomore Nick Lines, and junior Cody Park, while a talented cast of newcomers will push Wooster's veterans for time.
Bowden handled the majority of the place-kicking duties last year, while sophomore Adam Deeley made the most of his opportunities, going 9-for-11 on extra point tries. First-year Henry Whyte is also in the mix for time on special teams at place-kicker and punter.