Zack Papenberg

Old faces out, new faces in for the new look football team

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Zack Papenberg
Running back Josh Caldwell

It was a challenging season for the Griffons this past fall. They are heading into next season with the possibility of having to rebuild at several positions.
However, there are also some positions that look to be stacked and primed to improve from this past season.
On defense, the linebacker is losing decorated player Yomi Alli, but have at least four linebackers with experience returning next season.
Three of those players were All-MIAA selections this past season. Darrian Bass made Third-Team All-MIAA after putting up 62 tackles, six sacks and three interceptions. He was third on the team in total tackles.
Cody Lindsay and Jorge Belcher both received All-MIAA Honorable Mention for their past season performances. Lindsay had 56 tackles and led the team in sacks for the second year straight, this year achieving 7.5. He was fourth in the MIAA in that category.
Belcher finished the season with 29 tackles, along with 3.5 sacks, despite missing the final two games of the season.
Those three will be playing without at least four players from the defensive line this past season, including All-MIAA performers Arbanas Elliot and Janis Matulis.
Mackenzie Wischmann and Daylon Harper will be returning to anchor the line, and both have some experience in the trenches. It will be interesting to see if they continue to work Harper into the offense next season.
Dennis McKinney seemed to catch the eyes of the coaches lately, and was starting to get on the field towards the end of this past season. He’s young, but should be able to contribute when he gets a couple of snaps.
What seems to have the most uncertainties comes from two of the more crucial spots on the field, starting on the offense.
The offensive line will lose three senior linemen, including All-MIAA performer Leonard Wester. On the bright side, they have two more All-MIAA performers in John Carter and Travis Anderson returning for another season.
Although those players return will be impactful, the line will have to go through some reshuffling in order to see who fits where. They have a lot of depth at the position, but there is some inexperienced players on the roster.
On defense, the secondary situation is similar to the offensive line. There are also two All-MIAA players returning at the safety positions in Donte Watkins and Jonathan Owens.
Watkins was fourth on the team in tackles with 59 and also had two interceptions. Owens was second on the team with 85 tackles and was second on the team in interceptions with four.
The bad news is that they will lose two more All-MIAA corners, which include two-time first-team All-MIAA member Mike Jordan and Sam Brown.
Other than Elroy Douglas, who also finished up his career last season, no other corners saw much time on the field than Jordan and Brown this past season.
That may have been because most of the other corners were redshirt freshmen. It will be interesting to see what corner O.J Graves’ role will be heading into next season. He got some playing time, but who knows what Partridge has planned for his young but experienced secondary.
On the bright side, the offense may be due for a big season next year. They lose the second leading rusher in school history in Raphael Spencer, but Josh Caldwell took a bulk of the carries when Spencer did not and he was impressive.
Caldwell gave the offense a huge lift when Spencer was not on the filed with some of his punishing runs. Would not be surprised if they used two running backs heavily again, as Kendall Short showed flashes of brilliance last season as well.
The biggest improvement should come from the passing game. Skyler Windmiller is headed in to his third season, and probably his first as the clear cut favorite to be the starter. This past season he went through more growing pains, but steadily showed improvement.
Dee Toliver’s decorated career at Western is over, but DiJuan Ussery and Trey Lewis were solid players for the Griffons this past season. They are both deep threats and allow Windmiller to stretch the field.
For the past two years, the defense has been pretty solid, with the offense trying find its identity. This might be the year the table flips, and the offense gets rolling while the defense continues to be solid, but also goes through some growing pains of their own.