Joe Fincham called it Camp Cupcake for the Wittenberg Tigers. It was rarely hot enough for the coach’s liking in August. He hoped to work his team in high temperatures for at least a few days to prepare it for potential steamy Saturdays in September.
“It’s been 75 degrees and rainy,” said Fincham, who’s entering his 21st season as coach. “It’s like we have had camp somewhere in northern Michigan. You don’t want it to be a death march, but you do need some heat through camp.”
Fortunately for Fincham and the Tigers, the high Saturday will be 81 degrees, and they don’t kick off until 7 p.m. at Edwards-Maurer Field in their season opener against the Capital Crusaders.
The Tigers finished 8-2 last season. They saw their three-year run as North Coast Athletic Conference champions end. A 42-14 loss at Wabash in the third game of the season and a 35-30 loss two weeks later at DePauw spoiled their chance to report. They closed the season with five straight victories.
Wittenberg’s depth chart features many new names. Here’s how it looks:
Quarterback: The Tigers graduated two-year starter Zack Jenkins and will start either sophomore Jake Kennedy, a Bellefontaine graduate, or junior Tanner Clarke, of Lebanon.
Kennedy appeared in three games last season. Clarke appeared in one. If Kennedy starts, it will be the first time the Tigers have opened the season with anyone younger than a junior as the starter since Aaron Huffman in 2007.
“I don’t know that we’ve necessarily named one yet,” Fincham said. “One has gotten a few more reps than the other one in recent days, but I don’t think an absolute decision has been made yet. Right now, I look at it this way. We have two able players who have taken limited varsity snaps varsity wise. We’re feeling our way around, and they’re still doing it, too.”
Running back: Wittenberg split carries the last two years between Jimmy Dehnke and Sean Gary. They lost both of those running backs to graduation and will start sophomore DeShawn Sarley, a Cincinnati Colerain graduate. Sarley rushed 25 times for 102 yards in three games.
The backups are freshmen Nick Kendall, of Highlands High School in Fort Thomas, Ky., and Jaheem Washington, of Palmetto Ridge in Naples, Fla..
Wide receiver: The Tigers lost Corey Stump and Zach Culvahouse to graduation but return two of their top four wideouts: senior Luke Landis (57 catches for 657 yards), of Brookville, and Luke Bowling (23 for 256), of Dixie High School in New Lebanon.
Providing depth are: junior Bryce Bailey, of Columbus Academy; junior Jeff Tiffner, of Kenton Ridge; and sophomore Jair Knox, of Cincinnati Purcell Marian.
Offensive line: This is Wittenberg’s most experienced unit.
“We have a good problem here,” Fincham said. “We have eight guys who have started and played football.”
Four players who started the season finale against Allegheny return: senior center Kennedy Cook, of Kings High School in Maineville; junior guard Scott Turner, of Highlands; senior tackle Keylahn Hodo, of Indianapolis Cardinal Ritter who earned All-NCAC second team honors; and junior tackle Brenden Jurden, of Newark Catholic.
Alec Nutting, who was a starter at center in 2014 and missed last season after breaking his foot in the summer, returns for a fifth year. He’s from Lakeland, Fla.
Beavercreek grad Zach Hoffman, who was supposed to start at left tackle a year ago as a junior but tore his Achilles tendon before the season opener, returns and is healthy.
Senior Jason Siler, of Milton Union, and junior Trey Ellis, of Greeneview, also started games last season.
Tight end: Junior Tyler Everidge, of Bellbrook, is the returning starter. Sophomore Logan Kirby, of Bloomington South (Ind.), is the backup.
Defensive line: The Tigers lost two starters at defensive tackle: All-NCAC first-team performer Josh Bannick and William Norelia. They return two at defensive end: All-NCAC second-team performer Chandler Ferko, of Plain City Jonathan Alder, and senior Austin Towsey, of Lima Senior.
Fincham said players will rotate at tackle. The top candidates for playing time are: junior Brandon Daniels, of Cincinnati Winton Woods; senior Bobby Saul, of Northmont; junior Alex Grashel, of Portsmouth; freshman Aaron House, of Springfield; freshman Joshua Paul, of St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
“We’ll find our rhythm at that spot,” Fincham said, “but it’s nice to have a number of guys who can play.”
Linebacker: Seniors Dustin Holmes, of Tecumseh, and Terrance Crowe, of Springfield, return. Holmes was named to the All-NCAC second team and led the Tigers with 108 tackles.
Senior Josh Link, of Granville, will also start. Junior Jack Kayser, of Notre Dame High School in Portsmouth, will play in nickel packages.
Freshmen Jonathan Seay, of Miramar, Fla., and Connor Cotterman, of DeGraff Riverside, will provide depth.
Safety: Senior Jay Mastin, of Centerville, is a returning starter. Sophomore Keenan Wilson, of Eaton, will also start. Sophomore Michael Ford will be in the mix.
Cornerback: Sophomore Rashon Edwards, of Cincinnati St. Xavier, will start. Sophomore Javin Waire, of Warren Central in Indianapolis, and sophomore Antonio McClain, of Eastern High School in Louisville, Ky., are competing for the other starting job.
Special teams: Senior Will Gingery, of Bexley, will handle placekicking and punting duties. He shared kicking duties with Ty Smith last season and made 6 of 7 field goals and 11 of 11 extra points. He averaged 42.3 yards per punt and made the All-NCAC first team.
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