BUCKHANNON -- Football is back! Even if it was a bit raining.
The West Virginia Wesleyan Bobcat football program kicked off their fall camp this morning in the midst of raindrops, but that did not stop the enthusiasm of second-year head coach Del Smith.
Smith welcomed approximately 123-student-athletes to the first day of camp.
"As to be expected there was great energy at our first practice," remarked coach Smith. "We had some young players make some impressive plays and veterans prove they put in a tremendous amount of work during the off-season. There was never a question as to whether or not we were going to practice today in the rain. The mentality of this football team will be to prepare to work regardless of circumstances. We took one step closer to that this morning."
Last year in coach Smith's first season, the team showed considerable improvement over a 2-8 campaign in 2015, by going 4-7, and losing four games by less than a touchdown.
Picked seventh in the preseason coaches' poll, the Bobcats are eager to prove that they are ready to elevate the program to another level in 2017. Sporting a solid mix of key veterans and exciting newcomers, this August promises to be a competitive camp as many starting spots and depth positions remain up for grabs.
Being less than 15 points from an 8-3 record last year, Smith and his staff are focused on winning the close games this Fall.
"If we finish those games that we had opportunities to close, we would have been in a very good position," coach Smith said. "This year, we have to finish off those games and not leave any wins on the table."
Offensively, three starters return to the offensive line; Ryan Jackson (6-1, 260, Jr., Rockaway, N.J.), Donnie Knox (6-3, 330, Sr., Eldersburg, Md.) and Nicholas Dolly (6-3. 310, So., New Creek, W. Va.).
Quarterback Ryan Deal (6-3, 210, Sr., Hughesville, Md.) is back for his final season. The strong-armed quarterback threw for 2214 yards and 15 touchdowns last season.
His top returning receiver is Derek Drapen (6-1, 190, So, Dumfries, Va.) who caught 11 passes for 137 yards and two touchdowns.
Defensively, five of the top six tacklers are back.
Defensive back Chad Pinson (5-10, 190, Sr., Kiner, Ohio) collected 61 tackles, defensive back Nate Simmons (5-9, 180, Sr., Stuart, Fla.) had 59 tackles, linebacker Brandon Grayson (5-10, 210, Sr., Middleburg, Va.) made 56 tackles, defensive back Trey Lee (5-9, 180, So., Waldorf, Md.) made 46 tackles and linebacker Gabe Moultrie (5-11, 230, Sr., Pensacola, Fla.) collected 42.
Their aggressive, to-the-ball play, will be key on a defense that will feature several new faces in some spots.
Kicker Tyler Fischer (5-9, 155, So, Chalfont, Pa.), delivered 44 kicking points as well as handle the punting duties last season. He is joined on the special teams' returning crew by kickoff specialist Nick Banta (5-11, 205, Jr, Belford, N.J.).
Wesleyan opens up Aug. 31 at Concord, the season's first MEC Thursday Night Special. Other league road games include Fairmont State (Sept. 14 for another Thursday night contest), Charleston (Oct. 7), Notre Dame (Oct. 21) and Glenville State (Nov. 4).
West Liberty serves as the home opener on Sept, 9. Other league home games include Urbana (Sept. 23), UVa.-Wise (Oct. 14), Shepherd (Oct. 28), and West Virginia State (Nov. 11).
The lone out of conference game will be in Pittsburgh on Sept. 30, when the Bobcats face off with the FCS Duquesne Dukes. The Dukes are not just any FCS opponent as they are coming off an 8-3 record and enter 2017 as the preseason NEC favorite.
Excitement surrounds the program as the second year for coach Smith approaches.
Less than four weeks until Game Time!