Joe Fincham was on a beach in Florida with his family in the second week of March when the sports world shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The crisis also slowed down the recruiting process for about three weeks as he and his staff tried to put the finishing touches on their 2020 class.
“The thing I kept trying to tell our coaches was, ‘Don’t get disappointed or frustrated,’” Fincham said. “They’re still going to go to college somewhere. There was just so much uncertainty. Everyone was scared to make a decision.”
Recruiting picked back up in mid-April, Fincham said, and Wittenberg’s class was mostly finished in May. He announced a 65-man class in June that includes one late addition: Springfield High School graduate Tavion Smoot, who rushed for 815 yards and 11 touchdowns last season.
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“He’s a Jerome Bettis-type runner,” Fincham said. “He can get behind his pads really well and can run through a lot of arms, but he can be a little deceptive too in his ability with his feet.”
Smoot planned to play at Urbana University but had to find a new home after the university announced in the spring it would close its doors. One other player who would have been a freshman at Urbana also switched to Wittenberg: Bellefontaine running back Garrett Gross, who rushed for 1,019 yards and 14 touchdowns last season.
Fincham said he and his coaches focused on three positions this year: quarterback, running back and defensive back. There was also an emphasis on tight end and defensive end, two positions Wittenberg had had trouble recruiting, Fincham said.
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Among the quarterbacks is Moeller’s Drew Altemuehle, Mason’s Collin Brown and Northmont’s Keaton Kesling, who had shoulder surgery after his senior season and may not be able to play this season.
“All three of those kids are guys we like,” Fincham said, “and there are some other guys in there that are good players who are, if they don’t end up getting in the mix (at quarterback), athletic enough and good enough football players they can help us elsewhere.”
Fincham mentioned former players Michael Aljancic and Liam Duncan as players who were recruited as quarterbacks but switched to receiver and had productive careers.
“You can never have enough good quarterbacks, running backs and linebackers,” Fincham said.
In addition to Smoot, Fincham pointed to several running backs in the class who could contribute: Tre Bouie, from Edgewater High School in Orlando; Reed Hall, who rushed for 1,545 yards and 21 touchdowns for New Albany; and Daivion Greene-Tucker, of Columbus South.
The freshmen are scheduled to report to campus Aug. 11, and the first practice would take place two days later.
“We have as a staff tried to hold onto that date and prepare for that date,” Fincham said, “fully knowing things could be really different at any time and we’re just going to have to adjust.”
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