By: Kevin Ruple
BEREA, Ohio – The Baldwin Wallace University football team enters the 2017 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 Yellow Jackets have a new Head Coach in Jim Hilvert, who won back-to-back Ohio High School State titles at Cincinnati LaSalle H.S. and fashioned a 67-19 record with six conference titles and four NCAA Division III Playoffs berths at Thomas More (Ky.) College prior to coaching at LaSalle. He is a proven winner who knows how to win in the OAC, he must have a talented and balanced offense and a strong defense and special teams.
The offense returns five starters, including junior quarterback Jake Hudson (East Lake, Fla.) who started in seven contests. The dual threat completed 121 of 201 passes for 1,488 yards with eight touchdowns and ran for 675 yards and seven scores. He will receive competition from senior three-year back up John Kromalic (Copley) and sophomore Will Vance (Centerville).
The backfield will be led by returning senior All-OAC player Austin Smith (Broadview Heights/North Royalton) who ran for a team-high 681 yards and 14 TD's. He enters the season with 1,557 career all-purpose yards and 19 TD's. Look for junior Robert Androyna (Exeter, Neb./Exeter-Milligan), junior Hayden Stinnett (Noblesville, Ind.), who rushed for 133 yards and three TD's, and sophomore Niejel Henderson (Pittsburgh, Pa./The Kiski School) among the candidates to also see time running the ball.
The receiving corps had five contributors graduate, and at least six others return this fall to lead the way. They are juniors Da'Juan Glover (Elyria), Chad Steinwachs (Buffalo, N.Y./Williamsville North), Ty Gallo (Brooklyn Heights /Cuyahoga Heights), Ty Ramsier (Rittman) and Rob Wolfington (Rapids City, Mich./Elk Rapids). Glover had 18 catches and one TD, Steinwachs made 12 grabs for 141 yards and Gallo caught 10 passes for two TD's.
The offensive line will have a pair of starters back, including senior two-time Academic All-OAC player Andrew Sierawski (Delaware/Hayes) and junior De'Juan Bridges (Maple Heights). In addition, a bevy of young and talented underclassmen gained experience a year ago and will get their shot this fall to earn a starting and contributing role. They are senior Sam Steininger (North Jackson/Western Reserve), juniors Dale Hazzard (Canal Fulton/Northwest), Willy Hedberg (North Ridgeville), Parker Hoffler (Charlotte, N.C./Myers Park) and Daulton Znosko (Winter Springs, Fla.) and sophomores Ryan Sympson (North Lima/South Range) and Dalton Geesy (Union City/Mississinawa Valley).
On special teams, junior Riley Jones (Mogadore) has waited his turn to be the placekicker and will receive a stern test from a number of others. Sophomore Jimmy Marshall (Lakewood) will battle for the kicking job after being the kickoff specialist as a freshman. Austin Smith also will receive competition for the punting job. Smith averaged 35.1 yards in 39 attempts a year ago, including 17 that were fair catches.
BW had a solid kickoff and punt return corps a year ago and was led by senior defensive back Trypp Washington (Eatonville, Fla./Orlando First Academy), Glover, sophomore Darion Greer (Toledo/Toledo Central Catholic) ,Wolfington and Gallo all offer Hilvert speed and the ability to take the ball to the end zone as return specialists.
The defensive line returns 2015 All-OAC end Andy Schultz (North Royalton) as its leader. Schultz led all linemen in tackles and sacks two years, but missed last year with an injury. Overall, Defensive Coordinator and line coach Jim Meyer has the corps group of his rotation returning. Joining Schultz as returning starters or split-position starters are seniors Damon Bollin (Rochester/New London), Charkym Bonaparte (Stow/Woodridge), Anton Richardson (Chicago, Ill./Gordon Tech) and junior Wezlee Spence (North Canton/Hoover). Bollin had 34 tackles and 4.5 sacks, Bonaparte made 35 stops, Richardson had 25 tackles and one sack and Spence recorded 23 tackles and 3.5 sacks.
The linebacking rotation returns two starters and six players who all saw plenty of playing time a year ago. The returning starters are seniors Sam Groff (Waynesburg/Sandy Valley) and Sean Nischwitz (Clinton/Green). They will be joined by junior Zach Poudrier (Penfield, N.Y./McQuaid), seniors Vee Sealey (Painesville/Harvey) and Brandon Johnson (Akron/North) as players seeking to see more playing time and to make a bigger contribution in 2017. Groff tallied a team-high 86 tackles in 2016 and has made 167 stops in his career. Nischwitz picked up 43 tackles a year ago and has 109 career stops. Poudrier made 37 tackles, Sealey had eight stops and Johnson tallied seven tackles.
The secondary again returns a bevy of players with key varsity experience, including three three-year starters in Washington, Howard Dover (Akron/Firestone) and Caray Sparrow (St. Augustine, Fla.). In addition, look for s, juniors Ty Fields (18 tackles), Andrew Groves (12 tackles) and Jacob Boyd (13 tackles) all to battle for more playing time. Washington was second on the team with a career-high 61 tackles and had a team-high three interceptions. Dover tallied 33 tackles and one interception and Sparraow made 18 stops. Fields tallied 18 tackles, Groves had 12 stops and Boyd recorded 13 tackles.
BW opens the 2017 campaign on Saturday, September 2 it travels to Defiance for its lone non-conference game against Defiance College at 1:30 p.m. The Yellow Jackets open the home portion of their schedule when it hosts cross-town rival John Carroll University in the Ohio Athletic Conference opener for both squads on September 16 at 2 p.m.