Projected 2016 Record: 6-2
Projected Offensive Starters (*Ten Returning)
QB: Gerald Hawkins ’18*/ Mark Piccirillo ’19*
RB: Jaylen Berry ’17*
WR: Eric Mayreles ’18*
WR: Mike Breuler ’18*
WR: Kris Luster ’17*
TE: Ben Kurtz ’16*
OL: Beau Butler ‘18*
OL: Shane Jenkins ‘17*
OL: Matt Kuhn ‘17*
OL: Joe Wilson ‘19*
OL: Mitch Ryan ‘17*
Projected Defensive Starters (*Nine Returning)
DE: Jordan Stone ’17*
DT: Isaiah Thomas ’19*
DT: Grant Williams ’19*
DE: Jude Lindberg ’19*
OLB: Cole Harris ‘18
MLB: Shayne Kaminski ’18*
OLB: Brandon Morris ’19
CB: Nate Taylor ‘18*
SS: Zach Cuzner ’17*
FS: Justin Sanchez ’17*
CB: Elias Camacho ’18*
Projected Specialists (*Two Returning)
PK/P: Ike Fuchs ’17*
KR/PR: Eric Mayreles ’18*
Offensive MVP: RB Jaylen Berry (’18)
Berry had a breakout season in 2015, rushing for 435 yards on 97 carries in his sophomore season. In a year of inconsistent quarterback play for the Cardinals, Berry often provided a needed jolt of energy for the offense, forming a dangerous 1-2 rushing tandem with quarterback Gerald Hawkins. If Wesleyan moves to a more traditional system, with one quarterback taking the majority of the snaps, Berry could be in for a huge season. But even if Hawkins and Piccirillo continue to split time, Berry will be there with needed stability for the Cardinals’ offense.
Defensive MVP: Jordan Stone (’17)
Much of Wesleyan’s success last season, and for much of the last decade, has been due to a hard hitting defense. And the 2015 iteration of the Cardinals’ defense was led by All-NESCAC first team defensive end Jordan Stone. Stone was devastating in the backfield, totaling 5.5 sacks and 10 tackles for loss. Stone will be an even more crucial cog in Wesleyan’s machine this season, as Coach DiCenzo is missing graduated starting linebackers John Spivey ‘16 and Alex Daversa-Russo ‘16.
Biggest Surprise in Camp: Two QB’s (?!?!?)
In 2015, Wesleyan had the champagne problem of having two talented, young quarterbacks fighting for playing time in Gerald Hawkins and Mike Piccirillo. And rather than choosing between the two, Coach DiCenzo ran a dual quarterback scheme, with Hawkins gaining the majority of the snaps due to his ability to keep plays alive with his feet. However, Hawkins struggled with his accuracy during the 2015 season, an area in which Piccirillo showed great promise. The Cardinals are now nearing opening night with this position battle still unresolved. And as viewers of the TV show Friday Night Lights will remember from Season Three’s battle between deadly accurate JD McCoy and scrambling Matt Saracen, uncertainty at quarterback can lead to unrest on the team, and ultimately a narratively questionable plot decision to move to East Dillon High.
Biggest Game: vs Amherst, October 22, 1:00 PM
After back-to-back 5-3 seasons, the Cardinals seemed primed this season to make a jump into the upper tier of NESCAC football. However, to do that they have to show they can play with the current upper tier, and their matinee with the Lord Jeffs is a golden opportunity. In their matchup last season, Wesleyan won time of possession 38:46-21:54 and total yards 392-290. However, they were unable to stop Amherst’s offense in the second half and fell 27-18 in a very discouraging loss. If you want to reach the top in NESCAC, you must go through Amherst, and the Cardinals have a real opportunity to do just that.
LOVE the braggadocio in this tweet, like Wesleyan is the only school who can get a guy to bring his speakers to practice.
At practice yesterday we had a DJ spinning records while we had a controlled scrimmage. pic.twitter.com/Q6OT7QFJHx
— Wesleyan Football (@Wes_Football) September 7, 2016
Wesleyan established themselves as the cream of the crop in the NESCAC in 2013 and 2014, posting identical 7-1 records. However, they took a step back last season, finishing 5-3 and struggling in close games. This was probably due to inconsistent quarterback play from the duo of Hawkins and Piccirillo, both of whom had more interceptions than touchdowns. Climbing back into the upper tier of the league will be challenging for the Cardinals, with Amherst, Middlebury and Trinity all looking to keep their places on the throne, and Tufts presenting a worthy challenger as well.
However, Wesleyan certainly has the talent. They only lose one starter on offense in lineman Blake Harrington, keeping together most of an experienced offensive line. This should give running back Jaylen Berry plenty of holes to exploit, and signal an improvement for whoever wins the quarterback job between Hawkins and Piccirillo. Coach DiCenzo and his staff will likely make the final call on this position battle after this Sunday’s scrimmage with Trinity. Whichever quarterback is throwing the ball should have solid weapons, with an experienced core of receivers led by tight end Ben Kurtz ’17, who is returning from a hand injury. Dario Highsmith ’20 has also been a standout freshman at running back and wide receiver for the Cardinals so far during camp, and he figures to contribute significantly on the offensive side of the ball.
Defense should be Wesleyan’s calling card(inals) this season. All-NESCAC First Team defensive end Jordan Stone leads an intimidating front line that returns all its starters. The same goes for All-NESCAC safety Justin Sanchez (’17) and the secondary. The Cardinals did lose senior linebackers Spivey and Daversa-Russo to graduation, an area which may be a problem defensively for the Cardinals. Other units will have to step up to mitigate some mistakes by the new starting linebackers.
In 2015 Wesleyan lost their three games by three points, four points and nine points, and those three losses came to league giants Middlebury, Trinity and Amherst respectively. This is both a positive and a negative. On the plus side, Wesleyan can absolutely hang with the top teams in NESCAC, as they did two years ago when they were 7-1. However, it also points to a fundamental struggle in close games against good teams. Winning close games is critical in NESCAC football, and it will be those kind of games that determine whether Wesleyan returns to their spot at the top, or remains one step behind.