Joe Fincham’s 22nd season as head coach of the Wittenberg Tigers features at least one unique storyline.
After decades of practicing on a field behind the HPER Center, his team has been forced by the construction of the new indoor facility to trek down McCreight Avenue, past Mike & Rosy’s Deli, Burger King and A1 Able Pest Doctors to the wide-open space behind the softball field. The soccer and lacrosse teams have practiced there for years.
The new practice field has better grass than the old one, but takes more time to get to. Players walk, car pool or ride a shuttle. Every second counts in college football, especially when you’re competing for conference championships and trying to climb up the top-25 poll — as the No. 16 Tigers are doing this season and as they do every season.
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The 2017 season begins at 1 p.m. Saturday with a road game at Westminster College in Wilmington, Pa. The Tigers finished 10-2 last season, won the North Coast Athletic Conference championship with an 8-1 mark and beat Thomas More 33-30 in four overtimes in the first round of the Division III playoffs before losing 37-9 at Wisconsin-Whitewater.
“I think we’re a team that has some talent,” said Fincham, who enters the season with a career mark of 191-43, “but I think we’re a lot like we’ve been probably the last three or so years where we’re good enough to beat you but we’re good enough to lose to you, too.”
Here’a a look at Wittenberg’s depth chart:
Quarterback: Junior Jake Kennedy, a Bellefontaine High School grad, enters his second season as a starter. He averaged 199 passing yards per game last season, throwing 19 touchdown passes and seven interceptions.
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“Everything’s slowing down for me,” Kennedy said. “I’m starting to see things. I’m able to read defenses a lot easier. I got a year of experience. There’s no such thing as being young now. It’s time to take off with this thing.”
Sophomore Ryan Fallon will back up Kennedy.
Running back: Junior DeShawn Sarley will start for the second straight season. He rushed for 781 yards and seven touchdowns last season. Nick Kendall will also get carries. He rushed for 535 yards last season as a freshman.
Fullback: Senior Tyler Everidge, who started at tight end last season, will start and be backed up by junior Noah Dehnke, a former defensive lineman.
Wide receiver: The Tigers lost their two two receivers to graduation: Luke Bowling (57 receptions for 591 yards) and Luke Landis (55-858).
The leading returning receiver is Kenton Ridge graduate Jeff Tiffner (27-351). The starters are sophomores Erik Anderson and Liam Duncan, the grandson of Wittenberg legend Ron Duncan.
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Springfield graduate Thaddeus Snodgrass, who began his career at the University of Kentucky, joins the program. The junior is listed as a backup at receiver, along with senior Bryce Bailey, who caught 15 passes for 166 yards last season.
Tight end: The starter is junior Logan Kirby. Junior Curtis Quimby will back him up.
Offensive line: The Tigers lost three All-NCAC first-team performers in center Alec Nutting, Kennedy Cook and Keylahn Hodo.
Senior Scott Turner returns as a starter and moves from left guard to left tackle. Junior Tommy Gerhard, of Alter, takes over at left guard. Senior Luke Jahnke will start at center, replacing Nutting.
Senior Trey Ellis, of Greeneview, starts at right guard. Senior Brenden Jurden is a returning starter at right tackle.
The backups are: sophomore left tackle Chris Reisiger, freshman left guard Peyton Ogle; senior center Kyle Bruner; sophomore right guard Nick Treboni-Hogan; and senior left tackle Alex Grashel.
Defensive line: Senior Chandler Ferko, the only returning starter on the line, and junior Brandon Daniels will start at the ends with junior Kyle Dieringer, of Versailles, and freshman Nasir Carter, of Kenton Ridge, serving as backups. Ferko led the team with 14 tackles for a loss and made the All-NCAC second team.
Junior Jeremy Asiffo and sophomore Trevor Good, of Brookville, will start at tackle. Junior Donald Hefelfinger and sophomore Josh Paul are the backups.
Linebacker: Tecumseh grad Dustin Holmes, a first-team All-American and the NCAC Defensive Player of the Year last fall, will be hard to replace.
Springfield grad Terrance Crowe, a junior, is a returning starter. He led the team with 130 tackles and made the All-NCAC second team. Senior Jack Kayser also returns. He ranked third on the team with 103 tackles. Sophomore Jonathan Seay is the new starter.
The backups are: freshmen Devonte Gillins and Joseph Sweet; and sophomore Thomas Scholl.
Defensive back: Junior Michael Ford, a returning starter, and sophomore Troy Jones, one of 26 players on the roster from Florida, will start at cornerback. Seniors Jay Mastin and Keenan Wilson, a returning starter, won the starting jobs at safety.
Freshmen Nicolas Smith-Ross and Michael Fiessinger, of Springboro, will serve as backups at cornerbacks. Junior Adam Acquista and freshman Lew Bowser, of Eaton, are the second-string safeties.
Special teams: Acquista will double as the placekicker. Bailey will play wide receiver and start at punter. Both have big shoes to fill. Will Gingery started as kicker and punter last season and was named NCAC Special Teams Player of the Year.
Tiffner returns as the starting punt returner and kick returner. He made the NCAC first team at that position. Kirby will start at longsnapper.
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