- By Michael Cooper Contributing Writer
Entering his 23rd season, Wittenberg football coach Joe Fincham knows you can’t look at the big picture in August.
The storylines entering the season are similar to what they’ve been in the past – Wittenberg opens the season ranked 14th in the d3football.com poll and were also picked to repeat as the North Coast Athletic Conference champions.
“We’ve got a hard-working team,” Fincham said. “I hope it will translate into to some good things for them in the next 10 to 12 weeks.”
Last season the Tigers went 10-0 and won their 15th NCAC title. The Tigers’ senior class has made back-to-back playoff appearances, advancing to the second round in 2016.
In football, however, you have to live in the moment, Fincham said.
“If you look at it too big picture, it can be a little heavy,” he said. “We try to prepare and compete each day. I think for the most part our guys have done those things.”
He’s not letting his Tigers look past its Week 1 opponent, Westminster College. The Tigers squeaked out a 20-14 victory on the road last season in Wilmington, Pa.
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This year, Wittenberg will open its season at home against Westminster at 1 p.m. Saturday at Edwards-Maurer Field.
“We won’t play a team any more physical or athletic than Westminster will be when they come here,” he said. “It’ll be an awesome challenge for us and hopefully it will pay dividends as our season rolls along.”
Here’s a look at the Tigers position groups:
The Tigers return senior quarterback Jake Kennedy, a two-year starter who threw for 2,674 yards and 24 touchdowns while completing nearly 60 percent of his passes last season.
The coaching staff had high hopes for Kennedy when he arrived on campus from Bellefontaine High School, where he played for Wittenberg alum Toby Smith.
“He’s different than all the quarterbacks we’ve had in the last 10 years,” Fincham said. “He’s had a really good camp. He’s shown the command over the offense that you’d expect a senior would show. We’re excited about him.”
Sophomore Bobby Froehlich will be the backup quarterback.
Wittenberg returns its backfield duo of senior DeShawn Sarley (794 yards, 6 TDs) and junior Nick Kendall (394 yards, 2 TDs). Juniors Jaheem Washington (375 yards, 5 TDs) and Troy Clay, a Tiffin University transfer from Northeastern High School, may also see time in the Tigers’ backfield.
“We’ve been running back by committee since (Tecumseh grad) Tristan Murray graduated,” Fincham said. “It’ll be by committee again (this year).”
The group is one of the deepest the team has had in nearly a decade, Fincham said.
The Tigers return seniors Liam Duncan (34 catches, 623 yards, 9 TDs) and Jeff Tiffner (37-570-2) as well as juniors Thaddeus Snodgrass (20-412-5), Bryce Bailey (37-449-4) and Sam Kayser (20-238-1).
They’re joined by Tristan Davis, a Wayne grad who recently transferred from Bowling Green State University. Senior Noah Dehnke will be the team’s tight end after moving from both fullback and defensive line during his career.
The Tigers graduated four seniors who had each started at one point in their career, a trend over the past few years, Fincham said. They’ve lost at least three linemen to graduation each of the past three season.
Tommy Gerhard is the lone returner. He’ll move from guard to center this season.
Nick Treboni-Hogan will be the team’s right guard. Noah Hobson will start at right tackle after injuring his elbow during spring practice in 2017, which kept him out the entire season.
Chris Reisiger, Bryson Owens, Gunnar Doran and Josh Baker are also gunning for spots on the offensive line.
“It’s a group that’s gotten better as camp has gone on and I don’t mean that as a sideways compliment,” he said. “When you’ve got five guys that are trying to play together for the first time, it takes a little bit time.”
Senior Terrance Crowe, a Springfield High School graduate, and junior Jonathan Seay return at inside linebacker for the Tigers. The duo combined for 185 total tackles last season.
“Those guys can play,” Fincham said. “Seay had a great camp. He’s cut some weight and is faster. Crowe is a guy who’s seen it all.”
The Tigers lost Chandler Ferko, the NCAC Defensive Player of the Year, to graduation.
The defensive line returns both senior Brandon Daniels and junior Trevor Good, but will use a strong rotation of fresh players throughout the game, Fincham said.
Senior Donald Hefelfinger, sophomore Tavian Crowe and junior Aaron House will also see time, along with Micah Vann, Grant Sparks, Donte Ashcraft and sophomore Nasir Carter.
The Tigers lost three key seniors from its defensive backfield to graduation – Jay Mastin, Keenan Wilson and Jack Kayser.
Junior Troy Jones will see time at one safety spot, while sophomores William Woolridge and Jordan Burkey are battling for the other safety position.
Senior Michael Ford and Sophomore Michael Fiessinger will each see time at cornerback. Danny Foster and Gabe Shroyer may also see time at the other cornerback.
Juniors Tommy Scholl and Joe Sweet and sophomore Tony Thomas are battling to be the nickel back position, Fincham said.
Adam Acquista returns for his second season as the kicker. He went 6-for-10 on field goals last season with a long of 39 yards. He also went 44-for-45 on extra points.
Bailey will be the punter. He averaged 38.8 yards per punt last season.
Tiffner, Kendall, Davis and Kayser are all expected to return punts and kickoffs this fall.