It has all the ingredients to be a classic and, sadly, hardly anybody knows about it. And that’s because Wesley College football doesn’t get the attention or the respect it deserves.
In case you don’t know about Wesley football, it’s been one of the most successful college sports programs in the state for a long time. Even though Wesley doesn’t have what the University of Delaware has – national championships – the Wolverines have a string of nationally-ranked seasons that even the Blue Hens can’t match. Whereas Delaware seems to be up or down all the time, Wesley is consistently one of the top five teams in the nation in Division III.
OK, it’s just Division III, but that level of football is more competitive than any other, just going by sheer numbers – more than 250 schools play Division III football.
And, year in and year out, Wesley is one of the top teams in that division. This season they finished 10-1 and entered the Division III playoffs ranked No. 5 in the nation. And now the Wolverines have a rematch with the only team that beat them this season, No. 2 Mary Hardin-Baylor, in the quarterfinals next Saturday.
But, once again, Wesley doesn’t get the respect it deserves — its 56-6 rout of Cortland State in the second round of the playoffs on Saturday was carried on Page 5 of the News Journal’s sports section on Sunday. And the Wolverines merited just one article – no sidebar or notebook or fancy graphics like the paper gives Delaware and Delaware State.
None of that seems to faze the two men most responsible for Wesley’s amazing success, head coach Mike Drass and offensive coordinator Chip Knapp. They’ve held their jobs for 20 and 22 years, respectively, and considering their considerable success – they’ve never had a losing season and over the last seven years Wesley has averaged 11 victories a season – the two coaches certainly could have moved onto bigger and presumably better things by now.
Instead, they’ve elected to stay at a small school in a small town in a small state and do big things with it, along with a loyal staff that includes Steve Azzanesi (in his 11th year at Wesley), Shawn Plews (11th year) and Bob Healy (ninth year).
Drass explains that loyalty in simple terms – he and Knapp came to Wesley to establish something special and they’ve succeeded beyond their wildest dreams, professionally and personally. Drass is from Glen Mills, Pa., and played collegiately at Mansfield State, but he came to Wesley to work, married a local girl and is now solidly entrenched in the community.
And Drass knows what his job is really all about. Kids don’t come to Wesley with dreams of playing in the NFL and Drass and his staff make sure their priorities are in order.
“Football at Wesley College is about a cap and gown,’’ Drass said, “not a helmet and shoulder pads.”
Sure, all coaches say stuff like that, but anybody who knows Drass knows that he means it. His approach – and, of course, his success – is why he’s able to get top-flight Division III talent to come to Dover. Division III players don’t get scholarships and Drass is still able to attract top players.
The only thing missing from Drass’ resume is a national championship and it seems as if two schools are always standing in his way – Mount Union and Wisconsin-Whitewater, who have dominated Division III for more than a decade. Delaware coach K.C. Keeler, who coached at Division III Rowan for nine years, called those two schools “the perfect storm’’ because of their combination of facilities, reputation and institutional support.
Mount Union is once again ranked No. 1, but Wisconsin-Whitewater uncharacteristically has had a so-so season and it’s not even ranked in the top 25. And if the Wolverines manage to get past Mary Hardin-Baylor, they’ll probably meet Mount Union, which plays Widener in another quarterfinal game on Sunday.
And who knows – if Wesley beats its nemesis and goes on to win that elusive national title, they might even make the front page of the state’s biggest newspaper.