The Wittenberg Tigers held their 16th and final practice of the spring season Saturday. It was the second spring as head coach for Jim Collins, who continued the process of turning the page from a 5-5 season that started promising but took a wrong turn with a three-game losing streak late in the season.
“We’ve got a team right now that has a bad taste in its mouth with the way things happened at the end of the season,” Collins said Wednesday, “and it has done a lot of things this winter and spring to make sure those get corrected. Now we have to do a lot of those things over the summer months to keep moving in the direction of being the type of football team that competes and wins conference championships.”
Wittenberg tied for fifth in the North Coast Athletic Conference with a 4-4 mark. It was the only team to beat DePauw (9-2, 7-1), and that 30-7 victory came at DePauw in Greencastle, Ind. Wittenberg routed Oberlin 62-7 the following week but then lost 28-10 at home to Denison, 44-43 at Wooster and 14-7 at home to Ohio Wesleyan before ending the regular-season with 56-8 non-conference victory against winless Hilbert.
“Obviously, we were very disappointed with the outcomes,” Collins said. “Those were close games. You put yourself in a position, and you don’t it done. You learn that you’ve got to be able to execute in all phases. In those games, we lost the turnover battle. We weren’t good in the red zone. We didn’t have the explosive plays that we had in those games that we won. Those little details matter. Finishing matters. You use that all winter and spring as your motivation to improve in those areas.”
Entering his second season as head coach, Collins has a new defensive coordinator. Allan Moore, who spent the last 18 seasons at Otterbein, his alma mater, replaces Dave Marquis, who is now the defensive coordinator at Valparaiso. Collins also hired Joe Nemith, who coached last season at Capital, to be the defensive backs coach and passing game coordinator.
“Allan and Joe both bring a ton of experience, especially with the scheme we’re running,” Collins said. “We’re switching things up a little bit defensively, doing some things different with our front. They bring a lot of enthusiasm. These are guys that are really good teachers and bring a lot of energy to practice every day.”
Teaching the players the new defensive scheme was a big goal in the spring. Collins also wanted to see competition at every position, even among the returning starters. He praised linebacker Cameron Snurr, one of three Wittenberg players named to the All-NCAC first team, for his performance in the spring. Wittenberg moved running back Mario Getaw to linebacker to play next to Snurr.
Wittenberg lost two seniors on the defensive line, Mike Knock and Grant Hollinger, and suffered big losses on the offensive line as well. Collins said he has eight players pushing for the five starting spots on the O-line.
The quarterback position is also up for grabs, though the returning starter, Colin Brown, is back. He threw 20 touchdowns and six interceptions last season as a junior while averaging 179.4 passing yards per game. Max Milton and Miles Johnson competed for the job with Brown in the spring.
“I think by making sure that’s an open position it has raised the level of all three,” Collins said, “and quite frankly with the way they played this spring, I will take any of those guys as our starter. I think our team feels the same way. I think this competition is going to carry on through how hard they work over the summer months on their own and then what they take into camp. I’m not going to want to go too deep into camp without naming a starter.”
Wittenberg opens the season Sept. 2 at the University of Dubuque in Iowa. Dubuque finished 6-4 the last two seasons and has a streak of eight straight winning seasons.
Wittenberg plays Alma College on Sept. 23 in Springfield in its other non-conference game. Alma finished 10-0 in the regular season last year and beat Mount Saint Joseph’s in the first round of the NCAA Division III playoffs.
Collins hopes players’ experience with his coaching style and system will lead to more familiarity and success in 2023.
“I’m not making excuses,” he said, “but when you have that transition, obviously there’s going to be adversity and there’s going to be that learning curve. ... At the end of the day, we’ve just got to keep getting better and keep competing at a high level and understand that winning football games is about details and it’s about execution and it’s about playing together. It’s the ultimate team sport. We’ve got to keep moving in that direction.”
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