The sounds of Wittenberg’s last spring football practice drifted at least five blocks from Edwards-Maurer Field on Tuesday night. At 11 p.m, you could hear the Tigers working, even if you couldn’t see them.
The 2013 season won’t begin for real until August practices begin, but in some ways, Wittenberg’s season never ends. That’s how a senior class that numbers 36 — the largest in head coach Joe Fincham’s now 18-year tenure — likes it.
Quarterback Reed Florence, one of those seniors, didn’t mind getting up for the 6 a.m. practices this spring or staying up late. Those were the only times the team could get on the field. He made a point of being excited to be there to work so his younger teammates would feel the same.
“This year was a lot easier than my past years,” he said. “I was ready to go. I know I had to increase my leadership role. I had to bring a lot of energy to practice. I couldn’t show if I was tired.”
The Tigers finished 9-1 in the regular season last fall and tied Ohio Wesleyan for the North Coast Athletic Conference championship. They beat Heidelberg in the first round of the Division III playoffs, rallying from a 31-13 deficit, and then lost 35-10 at Hobart in the second round.
Wittenberg doesn’t open the 2013 season until Sept. 7 at Butler, but it had 13 practices this spring over the last month.
“I think our guys worked pretty hard,” Fincham said. “They’ve been pretty consistent. Every team, we’ve had here has hit a stretch in the middle or late in the spring where they get kind of bored and stale. You hope like crazy they see the light at the end of the tunnel. We have such a big senior class. We have some big leadership from our guys, bringing the young guys along.”
Graduation hit the defense hard. The Tigers lose senior defensive linemen Jon Daniels, Justin Barlett and Cory Cosby and cornerbacks Jamaal Everett and Karlos Marshall. Kicker Sean Williams, a three-year starter, is another big loss.
On offense, though, the only starters lost to graduation are wide receiver Garth Gilbert and offensive lineman A.J. Owen.
Florence returns with a number of weapons around him, including his top two targets, Brendon Cunningham and Desi Kirkman, and the team’s fifth-leading receiver, Jonathan Stoner. All three missed practice time in the spring because of injuries or were limited in practice.
The silver lining there was Florence had to work with different receivers and developed a relationship with some younger ones, like freshman Zach Culvahouse, who wouldn’t have gotten as many snaps if not for the injuries.
“We had to put in some freshmen who had to really step up quick,” Florence said. “They did a heck of a job out there.”
The spring practices are more important for the underclassmen than the the seniors.
“It’s geared to maybe experimenting with some new ideas and concepts,” Fincham said. “As much as anything else, it’s about taking those guys who were backups or on the scout teams and getting them introduced to the playbook.”