MOUNT PLEASANT - Iowa Wesleyan College football will be looking for consistency this year in its attempt to get back into the win column.
The Tigers were often in games in 2007 but were unable to get over the hump, finishing 0-11 overall, 0-7 in the Mid-States Football Association Midwest League. IWC was competitive more often than not and even showed signs of competing well against the best teams it played-the Tigers gained 366 yards and held the ball for nearly 37 minutes against St. Ambrose’s second-ranked defense in the nation.
However, the team was seldom able to string together its best for long periods of time. The Tigers moved the ball quite successfully in the middle of the field but struggled to finish drives, scoring a game-high of just 17 points and posting just a total of 92 points on the season. The defense and special teams also had enough breakdowns to frequently put the team in a difficult position.
Five offensive and six defensive starters return for third-year head coach Jason Smelser, though the Tigers lost several of their most decorated players. Three-year starting quarterback Aaron Rozanski left IWC ranked fifth all-time at the school in passing and total offense, while OL Derek Kirby was a three-time honorable mention All-MSFA Midwest pick. Defensive back Chris Prospere was also among the league leaders in interceptions and received the highest postseason honors of any Tiger player last year, as he was named second team all-league. All three have departed, as well as four others who received all-MSFA mention.
Iowa Wesleyan’s offense last year made strides, as the Tigers had their best showing on that side of the ball in five years, racking up 2,784 yards of total offense. After backing up Rozanski last fall, senior Bryan Abihider (Hemet, Calif.) is in line to take over the QB duties in Offensive Coordinator Ross Grall’s spread offense. The lefty started one game last year and threw a total of 36 passes in limited duty on the season. Ready to go if Abihider should miss time will be sophomore T.J. Tolliver (Bellwood, Ill.), a transfer from Truman State University in Kirksville, Mo.
IWC found a spark at the end of last season with the emergence of Jermaine Paul (So.-Houston, Texas) at the running back position. After playing little in the first eight games, Paul became the starter against St. Ambrose and ran for 278 yards over the Tigers’ final three games. Only 5-5 and less than 150 lbs., he proved to be incredibly tough to bring down even running between the tackles, and his 125 yards in the season finale against McKendree University was the first 100-yard rushing game for an IWC back in two years.
The Tigers are loaded in the offensive backfield. Along with Paul and returnees including Jaren Maybin (Jr.-Baltimore, Md.) and Greg Fields (So.-St. Louis, Mo.), several talented newcomers join the fold, including Derrick Chambers (So.-Bloomington, Ill.), a 6-1, 238 lb. bull who is a transfer from Illinois State University.
Gerald Knighten (Jr.-Bellwood, Ill.) has led IWC in receptions in each of his first two years in the program, including 29 catches last year for 340 yards and a touchdown. However, he has been moved to defensive back this season, where he is expected to play a big part in the secondary. Sophomore Lawrence Moore (Country Club Hills, Ill.) will be among the players leading a receiving corps that includes returnees Lonzell Maddock (Sr.-Seattle, Wash.) and Bayquon McDonald (So.-Bronx, N.Y.) and sophomore redshirt Shane Newbill (St. Louis, Mo.). Senior tight end Deleon Bolds (Chicago, Ill.) is also back and was a threat over the middle last year with 12 catches for 149 yards.
Big Clint Hunold (6-6, 312) of Donnellson, Iowa, anchors the offensive line and is a two-time All-MSFA Midwest Honorable Mention selection, while 6-6 ½, 318 lb. sophomore Tim Chavez (So.-Champaign, Ill.) adds more size on the line. Rocco Russo (So.-Miami, Fla.) also returns after redshirting last year. Newcomers will take several spots on the line, which features more size this year than in previous years.
Defense is Smelser’s background, and the head coach will again be coordinating the team’s 3-4 scheme. The Tigers return a trio of linebackers, as seniors Kyle DeRossett (Dupo, Ill.) and Quentin Lang (Bellwood, Ill.) and junior Scott Baldwin (Penn Valley, Calif.) combined for 203 tackles and 19 tackles for loss last season. Junior defensive lineman Kris Fleming (Chicago, Ill.) also started all 11 games last year, posted seven TFL and is the lone returnee up front.
Senior Mervin (Pep) Shaw (St. Louis, Mo.) and junior Jason Amy (Lake Elsinore, Calif.) will anchor the Iowa Wesleyan secondary. Amy was another MSFA honorable mention choice last season at cornerback, while Shaw started nine games last year and led the team with seven pass break-ups. The secondary features some interesting additions. In addition to Knighten’s move there, senior Tyler McGuire (Mount Pleasant, Iowa) is a local talent who joins the football team this year after playing for the IWC soccer team the past four years. Scott Knipfer (Sr.-Cottage Grove, Wis.), a three-year starter as kicker, has also made the unusual transition from kicker to the defensive backfield for his senior season.
Knipfer also will handle some kicking duties, while a pair of freshmen Josh Feliciano (San Diego, Calif.) and Mick Chenault (Stevenson Ranch, Calif.) will also compete for kicking and punting jobs.
The Tigers will feature more of a local flavor than in recent years. Of the 53 newcomers to the program, 28 of the players are from Iowa, Illinois or Missouri, and a total of 44 players on the roster are from those three states. IWC has especially dipped into the Chicago and St. Louis areas for players while also starting to build a recruiting base with more area players. Three cousins-Brian Schrock (Congerville, Ill.), Nate Schrock (Mediapolis, Iowa) and Ryne Schrock (North Liberty, Iowa) all hail from the area and join the team together this year as freshmen, and the program has strengthened ties with local players and coaches the past few years with its summer 7-on-7 camp that features teams from more than a dozen area high schools.
Smelser said the team also has seen an improvement in its offseason program. He pointed out the increased commitment by players over the offseason-more than 30 players stayed on campus this summer to work out-and believes things are changing for the Tigers.
For more information regarding the IWC football program or any of the Tiger athletic teams, contact sports information director Adam Glatczak (319-385-6306 phone; 319-385-6384 FAX; firstname.lastname@example.org e-mail) or log on to IWC's athletics web site at www.iwc.edu/athletics.
IWC-Waldorf Game Notes