SPRINGFIELD — Four months before the season opener, it would be unwise to draw any conclusions about the 2012 Wittenberg football team.
On Friday, three days before the final spring practice of the season, coach Joe Fincham was focused on picking up a corsage for a father-daughter dance. Football questions he could answer, but you can only learn so much about your players when they’re practicing without pads.
“We wanted to get to work on conditioning (in the spring),” Fincham said. “There are limits to what you can get done without gear. We wanted to spend time with our younger players to try to get them prepared to compete in the fall. We’ve had a number of kids who have really changed themselves through the offseason.”
After two straight 10-0 seasons, the Tigers finished 8-2 in 2011. Their biggest losses come on offense with the graduation of most of the top skill players, including quarterback Ben Zoeller.
Southeastern graduate Reed Florence, who will be a junior in the fall, took many snaps in short-yardage situations last year and did nothing but good things. Now he gets the chance to run the show.
“Reed’s had a real nice spring,” Fincham said. “Obviously, we have high hopes for him. At the same time, he’s never been the guy here. Not only is he going to have to be a good player, but because we lost all those offensive skill players, he’s going to have to be a leader.”
With the graduation of receivers Josh McKee and Michael Cooper, the Tigers lose 67 percent of their receiving production. The most experienced returning receiver is Brendon Cunningham, who will be a junior.
“We know Brendon can play,” Fincham said. “I think there’s a slew of other talented guys out there who haven’t had the opportunities. We’ll get snaps out of (Tecumseh grad) Garth Gilbert. (Springfield grad) Lamar Davenport has had a good spring. (Kenton Ridge grad) Ethan Sharpin has had a good spring.”
No player has yet to seize the running job vacated by three-year starters Corey Weber and Conner Warye. Jake Conrad, JaVanh Sanders, Will Stocker and Josh Bogan all took snaps in the spring.
The offensive line, the least-experienced group last year, will be more experienced this season.
“We were less than spectacular last year,” Fincham said. “I think we’ve made some strides. With linemen, you can’t tell until you get pads on them.”
On defense, the line appears to be a strength. South grad Jon Daniels has stepped into a leadership role, and he returns as a starter along with Josh Montgomery and Cory Cosby.
The secondary will also be experienced with Springfield grad Karlos Marshall, Jamaal Everett and Mark Swope all returning. Spencer Leno returns at linebacker.
New coach: Matt Vitzthum replaces Pat Welsh as quarterbacks coach. Welsh is now a graduate assistant at Notre Dame.
Vitzthum played at Wartburg College under former Wittenberg coach Rick Willis. He was an assistant coach at St. Cloud State last season.
Local players: Greenon lineman Josh Bannick, who had originally committed to Mount Union, will now play at Wittenberg. Tecumseh graduate Mike McKee, who saw some action in the secondary last season as a freshman, has left the program.
Contact this reporter at (937) 328-0351 or David.Jablonski@coxinc.com.