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Fincham faces ‘great challenge’ in 19th season at Wittenberg

Nineteen seasons and 164 victories into his career as Wittenberg football head coach, Joe Fincham hasn’t lost his touch. He still knows his way around the football field — four North Coast Athletic Conference championships in the last five seasons — and also around a good quote.

“In a month from now, maybe we catch fire,” Fincham said Monday. “In a month from now, maybe we’re a dumpster fire. We’ll see.”

Fincham has had that same self-deprecating — or team-deprecating — sense of humor since he took over the program in 1996, the same year many of his current freshmen were born, and he may need it more than ever this season.

The Tigers began practice last week as the 13th-ranked team in the poll, but they graduated their biggest class ever (3o seniors) last season. They have a lot of questions to answer before the season begins Sept. 6 against Butler at Edwards-Maurer Field.

This is a transition year, Fincham said. The Tigers have 12 seniors. Three of those are fifth-year seniors: offensive lineman Aaron Coeling and linebackers Evan Killilea and Dwight Hill.

“Nobody’s feeling sorry for us,” Fincham said. “It’s important we don’t feel sorry for us. As a coach, it’s a great challenge. It is and it is going to continue to be uncomfortable at times. We’re going to have ups and downs. We’re going to have times where we look OK, and we’re going to have times where it doesn’t look like we’ve been coached. What you hope is the fabric of your team is tough enough that they’ll be able to fight through and win some close games.”

The biggest question mark revolves around the starting quarterback job. Junior Zack Jenkins, of Frostproof, Fla., is the favorite to win the job, but three freshmen are also in the running: Timmy Bates, of Westerville South; Noah Durst, of Lewis Center Olentangy; and Andrew Houliston, of Fort Thomas (Ky.) Highlands.

Wittenberg lost the 2013 NCAC Offensive Player of the Year and two two-year starter, Reed Florence, to graduation. Before Florence, Ben Zoeller started for two seasons and was twice named the NCAC’s top offensive player. In the four seasons before Zoeller, Aaron Huffman held the job, and he was the last freshman to begin the season as the starting quarterback.

Huffman, Florence and Zoeller rank first, second and third, respectively, at Wittenberg in career passing yards. Whoever wins the job this season has big shoes to fill.

Jenkins has the edge over the freshman because he’s had two years to learn the system. He appeared in seven games last season and attempted 11 passes.

“I would say (Jenkins) has come in and looked like a kid who’s worked pretty hard through the spring and summer, and he’s done all right so far,” Fincham said. “Now there’s some young kids who we think have very good ability, but they’re freshman, and they’ve had five practices, and things are piling up on them a little bit.”

Jenkins credited Florence for getting him ready for his chance this season.

“He taught me a lot,” Jenkins said. “He taught me how to be a leader. He taught me how to run the offense with confidence and just to lead by example. You’ve got to be a voice, too, especially at this position, but you definitely got to lead by example. You’ve got to be the first in sprints and congratulate the line on everything they do. They’re the main guys.”

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