BEREA, Ohio – The Baldwin Wallace University football team enters the 2016 season with high hopes of both challenging for an Ohio Athletic Conference title, and earning a berth in the NCAA Division III National Playoffs. The student-athletes in the program also will strive for success both in the classroom and on the football field while building a team and family atmosphere of fun and victories.
A year ago, the Yellow Jackets had a 7-3 overall and 7-2 record in the OAC and finished in a three-way tie for second place in the most prestigious Division III conference in the country. With a bevy of veterans who had a solid year of experience and an outstanding recruiting class coming to campus, another year of improvement is expected this season.
Fifteen-year veteran Head Coach John Snell (89-53) returns 35 lettermen and 12 full-time starters as well as its entire special teams units, including both its placekicker and punter and all of its return specialists. In fact, due to some injuries a year ago, the Yellow Jackets return a bevy of young and talented student-athletes who have all gained valuable experience and playing time the past two years.
Offensively, senior Robbie Plagens (Rocky River) returns after seeing action the past two years. He completed 30-of-49 passes for 427 yards with two touchdowns last season. In BW's season-finale, a 44-31 win against Heidelberg University, he started due to an injury to first-team All-OAC QB/ utility player Tyler Moeglin '16. Plagens completed 23 of 37 passes for 300 yards and two TDs. Snell also has a few other options at QB.
The backfield will be led by the returning duo of juniors Austin Smith (Broadview Heights/ North Royalton) and Adam Blake (Alliance/ Marlington) . The tandem alternated with graduated All-OAC backfield mate Issac Reed III '16. Smith, who also served as the starting punter, gained 390 yards in 77 attempts with four TDs and caught 12 passes for 84 yards and a TD. He also averaged 6.7 yards in nine punt returns and 21.2 yards on nine kickoff returns. Blake ran for 324 yards on 56 attempts and scored three times. He also averaged 27.4 yards in seven kick runbacks, including an 81-yarder for a TD.
The receiving corps returns its top six receivers and has eight returnees overall. Senior Bryon Cook (Tallmadge), who started at CB two years ago, led the team with 29 catches for 427 yards and five TDs; senior Mike Waggoner (Stow/ Stow-Munroe Falls), who grabbed 26 aerials for 401 yards and four TDs; senior Trevor George (Aliquippa, Pa./ Carlyton), who caught 25 passes for 217 yards with one TD and ran the ball twice for 10 yards; senior Tyler Wolf (Fremont/ Ross), who only played in seven games due to injury, caught 21 passes for 296 yards and a TD and ran the ball four times for 14 yards; senior Tommy Fuller (Lakewood), who caught 21 balls for 242 yards with a TD and ran the ball five times for 29 yards; and sophomore speedster Jordan Leverette (Cleverland/ John Adams), who caught 11 passes for 136 yards and a score. Also, sophomores Chad Steinwachs (Buffalo, N.Y./ Williamsville North) and Ty Ramsier (Rittman) combined for nine grabs for 120 more yards.
The offensive line is a concern with just senior Alex Kurtz (Sterling/ Smithville) and junior Academic All-OAC player Andrew Sierawski (Delaware/ Hayes) back as starters. But a bevy of young and talented underclassmen gained some experience a year ago and will get their shot this fall to earn a starting or contributing role, including sophomores De'Juan Bridges (Maple Heights), Tom Conkle (Cleveland/ Collinwood), Scott DeLung (Cortland/ Youngstown Cardinal Mooney), Tony Gillems (Canton/ McKinley), Dale Hazzard (Canal Fulton/ Northwest), Willie Hedberg (North Ridgeville), Chris Scruggs (Creston/ Norwayne) and Ryan Swingle (Lakewood) and juniors Josh Rice (Concord/ Painesville/ Harvey) and Sam Steininger (North Jackson/ Western Reserve).
Senior three-year starter and two-time Academic All-OAC placekicker Joe Simonis (Hinckley/ Medina Highland) is the incumbent. He will receive competition in camp. Simonis has scored 97 career points on 73 PAT boots and eight field goals. He also is capable of kicking off or punting. Sophomore Riley Jones (Mogadore) is back after kicking off last season. He, Simonis and some newcomers all will compete for the starting role.
In addition to Smith and Blake returning kickoffs, Wolf averaged 29.0 yards in three attempts and starting junior strong safety Trypp Washington (Orlando, Fla./ First Academy) averaged 16.6 yards in a team-high 14 runbacks. Snell also has additional returning weapons if needed in Laverette, and one of the deepest and most talented recruiting classes coming to campus in recent memory.
The defensive line returns All-OAC end Andy Schultz (North Royalton) as its only starter. He had 47 tackles, a team-high 5.5 sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss. Senior Damon Bollin (Rochester/ New London) also saw plenty of playing time, started a few games and had 10 tackles, a sack and two tackles for loss. Although both starting tackles graduated, juniors Charkym Bonaparte (Stow/ Woodridge) and Anton Richardson (Chicago, Ill./ Gordon Tech) are ready to play. Bonaparte had 18 tackles, a sack and three tackles for loss, and Richardson had 11 stops and a sack.
The linebacking corps lost a good one in four-year starter and track All-American and CoSIDA Academic All-American Tyler Burdorff '16, but a number of returning players will give BW a solid linebacking corps. Leading the way is junior OLB Sam Groff (Waynesburg/ Sandy Valley) who led the team with 76 tackles. Junior Sean Nischwitz (Clinton/ Green) is the other OLB and he was tied for second with 66 stops. In the middle, senior Brian Stepp (North Royalton), who alternated with Burdorff, had 23 tackles, and senior John McElfresh (Bradenton, Fla./ Mantatee), who has started a number of games the past two years, had 21 stops.
The secondary might be BW's strongest suit on defense with a minimum of five players returning with key varsity experience. They are senior All-OAC safety Brock Hull (Youngstown/ Boardman), senior fifth-year senior cornerback Nate Ferster (Olmsted Falls), the multi-talented Washington and sophomore cornerbacks Caray Sparrow (St. Augustine, Fla./ St. Augustine) and Howard Dover (Akron/ Firestone). Washington was fourth in tackles with 63, had an interceptions and five more pass breakups. Hull had 58 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, a QB sacks and a team-leading three interceptions. Dover had 42 tackles and led the team with 10 total pass breakups. Ferster had 25 stops and was second with nine breakups. Sparrow, had 13 tackles and an interception before being injured early in the Austin Smith and was lost for the season.
Austin Smith returns as the punter after averaging 34.4 yards in 37 attempts with 12 fair catches and seven landing inside the opponent's 20-yard line. He will receive competition in camp. Having him concentrate on his jobs in the backfield and returning kicks would be advantageous for Snell and the Yellow Jackets. Simonis, who also will receive a battle for the starting job as the placekicker, split time with Smith two years ago as the punter and averaged 36.9 yard Trypp Washington.
In terms of returning punts, Trypp Washington and Smith did it a year ago. Smith averaged 6.7 yards in nine runbacks and Washington averaged 8.0 yards in four attempts. In addition, Snell and his coaching staff have a bevy of other options from both the returning receivers and another very talented recruiting class.
Overall, BW returns a number of key individuals both on offense and defense as well as its entire special teams groups. The key on offense remains replacing the elusive and versatile Tyler Moeglin '16 who has graduated. On defense, the Yellow Jackets need to continue to get better and more consistent. They did it last season, and there is no reason to believe that they won't be better again in 2016. The special teams have the opportunity to be a real strength for Snell and his staff.
As always, winning its opener against its only non-conference opponent is a key. The OAC is simply the finest Division III conference for football. It includes defending national champion, the University of Mount Union, BW, cross-town rival John Carroll University and 2016 NCAA playoff participant Ohio Northern University as teams with 2017 NCAA Division III national title aspirations. Also expect Heidelberg UNiversity, Otterbein University and Capital University to battle for a spot in the top four, and for Muskingum University, Marietta College and Wilmington College to all be better and continue to want to reach the top of the league's upper eschilon.
The Returning Starters:
Returning Offensive Starters (Five): Adam Blake (RB)#, Bryon Cook (WR)#, Tommy Fuller (WR)#, Trevor George (WR)#, Alex Kurtz (OG), Jordan Leverette (WR)#, Robbie Plagens (QB)#, Andrew Sierawski (OT), Austin Smith (RB)#, Mike Waggoner (WR)# and Tyler Wolf (WR)#;
Returning Defensive Starters (Seven): Damon Bollin (DE)#, Howard Dover (CB)#, Nate Ferster (CB)#, Sam Groff (OLB)#, Brock Hull (SS), John McElfresh (OLB)#, Sean Nischwitz (OLB)#, Andy Schultz (DE), Caray Sparrow (CB)# and Theodore Washington (FS);
RetuAdam Blakeialists/ ReturnsTrevor Georgebsp; Adam Blake (KR), Trevor George (KR), Riley Jones (KO), Lake Lander (LS), Austin Smith Joe Simonis (PK), Austin Smith (P/ KR/PRTyler Wolf>Theodore Washington (KR/PR), Tyler Wolf (KR)
# -- denotes starters who split playing time at a position in 2015.
Returning Lettermen (35): Robert Androyna (LB), Adam Blake (RB/KR), Damon Bollin (DE), Charkym Bonaparte (DT), Tyrone Brininger (FS), Jake Carner (SS), Bryon Cook (WR), Howard Dover (CB), Nate Ferster (CB), Tommy Fuller (WR), Trevor George (RB/WR/KR), Sam Groff (OLB), Bucky Hendershot (RB), Cole Horan (DE), Brock Hull (SS), Riley Jones (PK/KO), Alex Kurtz (OG), Lake Lander (LS), Jordan Leverette (WR), John McElfresh (OLB), Sean Nischwitz (OLB), Robbie Plagens (QB), Anton Richardson (DT/DE), Andy Schultz (DE), Andrew Sierawki (OT), Joe Simonis (P/PK), Austin Smith (RB/P/KR/PR), Caray Sparrow (CB), Chad Steinwachs (WR), Brian Stepp (ILB), Kyle Ulliman (FS), Mike Waggoner (WR), Trypp Washington (SS/KR/PR), Tyler Wolf (WR/KR) and Brett Zupancic (LB/FB).
Yellow Jacket Notes:
BW Among the Nation's Winningest College Football Programs: The Baldwin Wallace University football program is one of the winningest programs in college football history. The Yellow Jackets have an all-time record of 579-336-30 as BW enters its 113th-year on the gridiron in 2016. Remarkably, BW has had 47 winning seasons in the past 50 years, including a 38-year winning streak from 1967 through 2004. That means just two losing seasons in the last 50 years!
OAC Titles and NCAA Playoff History:
The BW football program has won 12 Ohio Athletic Conference titles (1935, 1937, 1968, 1977, 1978, 1980, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1988, 1991, 1994) and appeared in the NCAA Division III National Tournament six times (1978, 1979, 1980, 1982, 1991 and 2003). BW earned its first national championship with a 24-10 victory over Wittenberg University in the 1978 Stagg Bowl.
John Snell 11-3 in Season Openers:
Head Coach John Snell enters the 2016 season against Defiance College with an 11-3 record in season-openers for an impressive .786 winning percentage.
A Trio of Great Coaches Have Reached the Century Club at BW and Snell is Getting Close to Joining the 100-Win Club: Three former BW legends, Ray E. Watts '23, Lee Tressel '48 and Bob Packard '65 are the only three football coaches in college football history who have won 100 or more games at the same school. Watts won 104 games, compiled a 104-58-14 with a .631 winning percentage and coached from 1928 through 1948. Tressel won 155 games in his College Football Hall of Fame career, compiled a 155-52-6 record and had a .742 winning percentage. Bob Packard won a school-record 156 games, compiled a 156-54-2 mark and had a .741 winning percentage. Comparably after 14 seasons, John Snell '87 is 89-53 with a .627 winning percentage.
The George Finnie Stadium Success:
Since The George Finnie Stadium opened in 1971, the Yellow Jackets have compiled an impressive 163-40-2 home record with an .800 winning percentage. BW was 4-1 at home last season.
Finnie Stadium Attendance Always Among National Leaders:
The faculty, administration, students, parents and friends of the BW football have a long history of supporting the Yellow Jacket athletics program. Every year since the NCAA has kept statistics on home game attendance, BW has ranked in the Top-10 nationally, including attracting 28,454 total fans during the 2015 season, including 16,710 at home.
BW Leads Season Series Against Eight of its Ten Opponents:
Entering the season, BW leads the all-time season series against eight of its 10 opponents. This season's opener against Defiance College also marks the first meeting between the two schools since BW beat the Yellowjackets, 60-0, in 1920. BW leads the series, 2-0, and also won, 26-15, in 1918. The Yellow Jackets also have played Heidelberg University 69 times for the most of any opponent and lead that series, 47-22.
New Video Scoreboard at Finnie Stadium:
This summer, BW installed a new, state-of-the-art video scoreboard at The George Finnie Stadium. It features a 36-foot by 20-foot videoboard. The scoreboard can be utilized for football, soccer, lacrosse and track and field.