New Wittenberg football coach likes energy he’s seeing from team in spring practices

Jim Collins took over program in November days after Joe Fincham retired after 25 seasons

Credit: David Jablonski

Credit: David Jablonski

Jim Collins began his tenure as Wittenberg Tigers football in coach in November and December by meeting with every player — a big job in itself with a roster of close to 100 players — and talking about plans for the future and standards of the program. He also wanted to start the process of developing a relationship with each player.

More than four months later, Collins is now working on the on-field product during spring practices. The Tigers have a new coach for the first time in a quarter century after the retirement of Joe Fincham in November. A 1988 Wittenberg graduate, Collins takes over a program that finished 7-3 the last two seasons.

Wittenberg started spring practices April 1, and as of Wednesday, it had held three practices. It will hold 16 in all. At the Division III level, the players can wear helmets for 12 of the 16 practices, and they can wear shoulder pads in four practices. They don’t play a spring game as is done at the other levels of college football but will close the spring session with some on-field competitions that don’t involve tackling and game action.

“We’ve got great energy and great work ethic,” Collins said. “We really do. There hasn’t been a day in the weight room or the winter conditioning workouts or these first three spring practices where we haven’t had just really good energy and a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of pop to what we’re doing. The guys are really working hard.”

Wittenberg returns a number of its key pieces on offense, including starting quarterback Collin Brown, who is not practicing this spring because of a shoulder injury he suffered last season.

“He’s been at every practice, watching and learning and doing all he can to participate mentally,” Collins said.

Max Milton, who was a freshman last season, is getting many of the reps this spring because two other quarterbacks are playing baseball and lacrosse.

“He’s the son of a high school coach, and he’s really doing a great job,” Collins said. “He’s competing hard. He’s doing a good job of executing the offense.”

Two of the team’s top three receivers, Jake Saus and Gene Nobles, have elected to return for a fifth season, taking advantage of the extra year of eligibility they received when the 2020 season was cancelled because of the pandemic.

Wittenberg also returns its top three running backs: Bryce Anderson; Garrett Gross; and Reed Hall.

Collins, who spent the last two years with the Dayton Flyers, will also serve as offensive coordinator and is installing a new system but said it hasn’t been a big change for the players.

“We’re doing a lot of the same stuff, just calling it maybe something different,” he said. “We’re maybe teaching a few of the techniques slightly different than they were taught before. Some of it has been new stuff, but there’s some familiarity with zone blocking, gap schemes and route running. It’s been good because we’ve got a lot of guys that have experience on offense.”

The defense loses linebacker Logan Jewsikow and safety Jordan Burkey, both captains, among others but does return defensive lineman Mike Knock, a Springboro graduate who will be a fifth-year senior. He was the only Wittenberg defender named to the All-North Coast Athletic Conference first team last season.

Fincham’s defensive coordinator, David Marquis, will continue in the same position on Collins’ staff. Collins hired Clay Davie as offensive line coach and run game coordinator. He previously worked as the offensive quality control coach at Colorado State. Andre Griffin, who coached wide receivers at Ohio Northern the last two seasons, is the running backs coach and special teams coordinator.

“The three things you’re always looking for,” Collins said, “are guys that have high character and guys that are going to care about the player development, not just as football players, but as people and as students. Then you want guys that have expertise who can coach and teach. Then you want guys that can go out and recruit and have that work ethic in their personality, where they can develop relationships and evaluate good players. I really like our staff. I think we’ve put together an outstanding group of people.”

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