It’s still the best-kept secret in Delaware sports and that’s a shame, because no team from the First State has been as successful on the national scene for as long as the Wesley College football team.
It’s a broken record, but it still makes sweet music. The Wolverines are undefeated (8-0) and ranked No. 3 in the nation in Division III football, and that is a sharp contrast from the state’s other two college football teams, Delaware and Delaware State, who are a combined 3-13 and far, far away from first place in their conferences.
Granted, it’s a different animal since the Blue Hens and Hornets are both in Division I-AA and the Wolverines are in Division III, but success is success no matter what the level. And the success that Wesley coach Mike Drass and his staff have brought to Dover is amazing, even if it is unheralded and pretty much ignored by the biggest media outlet in the state (and you know who we’re talking about), even though the Wolverines have more Delawareans on their roster (28) than Delaware (20) or Delaware State (18).
Drass is in his 23rd year at Wesley and, along with loyal assistants like offensive coordinator Chip Knapp (25th year at Wesley), wide receivers coach Steve Azzanesi (18 years) and defensive line coach Tom Smith (16 years), they’ve built an incredible program, even though the Grand Prize – a national championship – has eluded them so far.
How incredible? Well, Drass has won 207 games and that’s second among all active Division III coaches, and there are more than 250 Division III programs. No. 1 on that list, Montclair State’s Rick Giancola, has just 22 more victories than Drass even though he’s been coaching 10 years longer. Oh yeah, Drass’ team beat Giancola’s team 56-22 just last week.
College teams aspire to double-digit-win seasons, and over the last 10 years Delaware has had two of them and Delaware State has had one, in 2007, which was the only time in Hornets history that they won at least 10 games. Well, Wesley has won 10 or more games in nine of the last 10 seasons, and they won nine the year they didn’t win 10.
Even more impressive is Wesley’s streak of nine straight appearances in the Division III playoffs, including five trips to the semifinals and three trips to the quarterfinals. It’s just a fact that the Wolverines have had to play third fiddle to the two Division III powerhouse, Mount Union of Ohio and Wisconsin-Whitewater, which have much better facilities and alumni support than Wesley. And that is the next step – the final step, really – for Drass and Co.
How does Drass do it? Dover isn’t exactly Las Vegas or Miami when it comes to attracting players. And, like all Division III schools, Wesley doesn’t give athletic scholarships, although players can receive various financial aid packages.
No, the key to Drass’ success is just that – success. Good players who aren’t recruited by Division I schools know that they’ll be playing in a first-class program in a nice stadium in front of decent crowds and they’ll have at least a chance to win a championship.
This year’s team is led by quarterback Joe Callahan, another in a long list of quality QBs that Drass has lured to Kent County. Callahan has completed 69 percent of his passes for 3,001 yards and 12 touchdowns, and he’s also carried the ball 42 times for 201 yards.
The Wolverines’ running game is mostly handled by Jamar Baynard, who has rushed for 1,001 yards on 178 carries, an average of 5.6 yards per attempt. Also, double-threat Bryce Shade has carried the ball 19 times for 162 yards (8.5 average) and caught a team-high 46 passes for 954 yards – an eye-popping average of 20.7 yards per reception – and 12 touchdowns.
In fact, Wesley has eight receivers who are averaging more than 12 yards per reception, which is remarkable. They include James Okike (42 catches for 711 yards and 12 TDs), Kyle George (36 for 457 and 12 TDs) and Baynard (36 for 434 yards).
Defensively, Wesley is led in tackles by Samer Manna (83 total tackles), Ben Robinson (44) and James Williamson (40). Isaiah Ingram has six sacks and Roderick Caine has three, while Andre Connally has five interceptions and Craig Pettit has three.
These guys are good and they’re fun to watch, so think about stopping by Scott D. Miller Stadium this Saturday when Wesley plays its final home game of the regular season (a couple of playoff games are certain to follow) against rival Salisbury at noon. It’s a great, small-college football atmosphere and experience and you’ll see an exciting team.
How exciting? Well, Delaware has been shut out twice this season and Delaware State has been held under 10 points three times. And Wesley? The Wolverines are averaging 49 points a game. They’re Delaware’s greatest show on turf, even if hardly anybody knows it.