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Football Preview: Veteran Group Positioned for Climb in OAC Race

Football Preview:  Veteran Group Positioned for Climb in OAC Race

During the inaugural season for Jim Hilvert, the Baldwin Wallace University football team doubled its win total from the previous year.  Hilvert and the Yellow Jackets will rely on 12 starters and 53 returning letterwinners for their continued climb to the top of the Ohio Athletic Conference in 2018.

It might be hard to believe that five separate players would throw at least one pass in a season, but that is exactly what happened for BW in 2017.  Jake Hudson returns as the two-year starting gun slinger after starting all 10 games last season and amassing  2,641 yards of total offense. Hudson, who has started the last 16 games, had career-highs in completions (145), attempts (244), yards (2,027) and touchdowns (18).  Matt Lowry and Will Vance are the only other two returners to at least complete six or more passes last season.  Lowry and Vance along with junior A.J. Miller and a group of newcomers will compete for additional reps.

The running back position will be an open competition this season with the graduation of All-OAC work horse Austin Smith.   Hudson returns as the leading  rusher with 519 yards.  BW is not short on capable replacements with eight players returning that carried the ball in 2017.  Look for juniors Lyle Grant and Niejel Henderson and sophomore Q'Darr Robinson to handle the work load. 

The tight end position returns to key veterans in senior Brian Baranowski and junior Pat OrsiniBaranowski is featured in the run game but can release out for another target for Hudson and the offense.  Orsini returns as the starter after appearing in nine games and reeling in four passes with two touchdowns, including a 60-yard TD against John Carroll. Newcomers  Desmond Lowery and Hunter Riley will provide added depth.

The strongest returning unit to the offense is at wide receivers as 10 players return, including the top eight pass catchers.  Seniors Chad Steinwachs and Rob Wolfington return as the top two wide outs after breakout seasons.  Steinwachs led the team with a career-best 35 catches and a career-high six touchdowns.  Wolfington was second with career-bests of 34 receptions and five touchdowns.  Junior Deion Greer was third with 27 catches. Seniors Jordan Leverette, Lowry and Ty Ramsier all had 10 or more catches a year ago. Seniors Ty Gallo and Da'Juan Glover, junior Darion Greer, who was injured in the opener last season, as well as Vance look to make more of an impact this fall.

Seniors  De'Juan Bridges, Dale Hazzard, Clayton Stanton and Daulton Znosko, junior Ryan Sympson and sophomore Patrick Simon all made at least one start on the offensive line that helped the Yellow Jackets total 432.3 yards and 31.6 points per game.  Look for senior Willy Hedberg, juniors Greg Bruenn and Zach Kurtz and sophomores Quenten Aranda, Jacob Liberati, Jack Merritt and Austin Vest as well as a group of newcomers to push for playing time.

Senior Wezlee Spence returns as the lone starter on the defensive line.  Spence is the fourth best returning tackler this fall as he recorded career-high 42 stops a season ago, including a career-best 5.5 for loss.  Senior Mike Rush, junior Sekou Imani and sophomore Taino Arocho all saw a lot of action in the rotation a season ago and look to fill the vacancies and into a starting role. Imani had a breakout season in 2017 and returns as the team leader in sacks (5.5), tackles for loss (9.5) and third in total stops (43).  Rush made his impact felt in his first full season on the varsity after injuries slowed him down the previous two seasons.  He appeared in 10 games and had 11 tackles.  Arocho appeared in seven games in his first season and had five tackles, one sack and one hurry.  Seniors Parker Hoffler and Vee Sealey and junior Ajha Dean-Phillips all will push for time in the rotation.

The linebacking unit took the biggest hit with the graduation of All-OAC and three-time team lead stopper Sam Groff.  Sophomore Brenton Miller returns as the lone starter and will be counted on to anchor the unit. Miller tallied 28 tackles, including a career-high 12 stops in the 2017 finale.  Senior Zach Poudrier will see more time in the middle after making nine stops in 2017.  Juniors Noah Jackson and Josh Liberati all saw action a season ago.

The secondary will be the strong point of the defense and will be an exciting group to watch.  Senior Ty Fields and and junior Kyle Kelly return as the starters.  Fields, an All-OAC corner, led the team and the OAC with 12 pass breakups while tallying a career-best 45 tackles. Kelly is team's returning safety and top tackler with a career-high 47 stops.  Bringing experience and depth to this unit are seniors Jacob Boyd, Andrew Groves and Trevor Hawks, juniors Nick Barhorst, Jack Bauer, Matt Dunning and Jordyn Johnson and sophomore Marquis WhittingGroves has the most experience and is the fifth best returning tackler with 29 stops.  Boyd had an early impact last season before an injury ended his campaign.  Barhorst, Bauer, Dunning, Hawks, Johnson and Whitting will push for time in the rotation this fall.

The biggest question mark entering the season is on the special teams as both the starting place kicker and punter from the 2017 season are gone. Junior Jimmy Marshall returns as the lone kicker on the roster to attempt an extra point and field goal.  Marshall has connected on two extra points and one field goal in his career in addition to serving as a kickoff specialist. Senior Riley Jones, who served mainly as the kickoff specialist last season, Marshall, freshman Braydon Gibson in addition to a hidden gem on the roster will compete for the kicking duties.  The punting duties will be an open competition as Marshall is the lone punter listed on the roster but has yet to record a punt in his career.   Don't be surprised to see another position player handle the punting duties, which has been the case in past seasons.

If you feel the need for speed in 2018, than look no further to the return game.  Gallo, the Greer twins, Henderson and Leverette return as the Yellow Jacket sprinters that are a threat to break one at any time.   Leverette returns as the top kick returner after notching 18 returns for 413 yards and a long of 46.  Henderson had seven kick returns for 174 yards and long of 43 yards.  Gallo was the team leader in punt returns with 11 for 47 yards.  Darion Greer took four punts in his only game for 25 yards and a long of 21.  Don't be shocked to see all five of these speedsters as well as a newcomer lining up deep at any occasion during the season.

The 2018 season will see something that has never happened in Berea.  For the first time, the Yellow Jackets will not have their bye week in either of the first two weeks of the season but instead will take a rare Saturday off during week six. BW will open the season with three straight home games. In a Thursday night affair in late August, the Yellow Jackets will host Alma (Mich.) College in the first ever meeting on August 31 in the 41st Annual Lee Tressel Shrine Classic Game.  What would have been the normal bye week,  BW will host