Things couldn’t have gone much worse last season for Wellington, which went winless and extended its overall losing streak to 11 games.
Though they’re on their third coach in as many seasons after going 5-5 in 2016, the Dukes are looking for stability, and first-year coach Rob Howells is drawing inspiration from a recent success story in college football — the University of Central Florida.
UCF went from 0-12 in 2015 to 6-7 and losing in the Cure Bowl in 2016. Then last season the Knights went 13-0 and won the Peach Bowl.
“With the season last year, we’re just trying to establish a belief that we can win and we can compete,” Howells said. “We will compete. Our motto is win the day, focus on the baby steps of getting there and being a winning program again.”
To do that, Howells intends to install a run-oriented offense with running back Mason McClellan as one of the focal points because of his speed. He’ll be surrounded by a number of young, skilled players and Parker Adler, one of just two seniors on the roster.
Many of the underclassmen saw playing time last year, including all five returning offensive linemen. Juniors Jayson Keenan and Ryan Greene will man the guard spots while sophomores Cam Brinker and Mike Hartman slot in at tackle. Sophomore Dylan Lawson will play center.
Howells is quite familiar with how offensive lines work, having played there in high school and college before coaching the same position at Columbia and North Ridgeville.
Developing a strong line will be a major focus this year as Wellington looks to protect returning junior quarterback Ben Higgins.
“It starts with the line, as it usually does,” Higgins said. “If the line can give us three or four seconds, we have the skill guys to run all over defenses. They’ve done a really good job. I’m glad they got the experience they got last year. This year they’re coming back, working hard and will be a good fit for us.”
Defensively, Adler will play cornerback and anchor the secondary, which also returns McClellan at safety and sophomore Jayden Skinner as the other corner. Skinner will also help out at receiver.
Up front, Hartman and Brinker will play defensive end and tackle, respectively. Keenan and Nick Laposky return at linebacker with Laposky the focal point of that unit. The 6-foot-3 junior also plays tight end.
“He definitely brings energy and positivity,” Adler said of Laposky. “He’s always on our teammates, making sure everyone is happy, knows their assignments and is jelling together. He’s a great guy to have on the field.”
It’s highly likely Wellington will have to rely on some freshmen to fill out its lineup. Howells highlighted three who have stood out in the offseason.
Tyler Moore has seen time at five positions — backup quarterback, wide receiver, running back, safety and corner — and has impressed the coaches with his work ethic and desire to pick up the system. Kaleb Taylor has split time between linebacker and fullback, while wide receiver Jon Brasee is also getting time in the secondary.
“We have three freshmen who are pretty good this year,” McClellan said. “They’re going to be really good, really tough.”
Wellington will have to combat depth as well with just 21 players on its preseason roster — eight freshmen, six sophomores and five juniors. Adler and kicker Cory Feron are the lone seniors.
“We’re one of the youngest teams in the conference,” Adler said. “It doesn’t really matter as long as everyone is doing their job. If we’re playing our hardest, we’ll be fine, but it’s going to be a task.”
CONFERENCE: Patriot Athletic Conference, Stars Division
2017 RECORD: 0-10, 0-5
RETURNING LETTERMEN: 13
RETURNING STARTERS: 17 (10 offense, 7 defense)
PLAYOFF APPEARANCES: 8
LAST TIME IN PLAYOFFS: 2011 (lost to Kenton in first round in Division IV)
NUMBERS GAME: 4 — Times Wellington was shut out last season — by a combined 167 points.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Tyler Moore, backup quarterback, wide receiver, running back, safety and corner. It won’t be hard to find a spot on the field for this versatile freshman. He’s been deployed all over the field in camp and coach Rob Howells said he’s been picking up the system quickly.
Aug. 24 at Normandy
Aug. 31 at Mapleton
Sept. 7 New London
Sept. 14 at Clearview
Sept. 21 Lutheran West
Sept. 28 Buckeye*
Oct. 5 at Firelands*
Oct. 12 Keystone
Oct. 19 Brookside*
Oct. 26 at Black River*
* PAC Stars Division games
All games at 7 p.m.