Ohio Wesleyan and head coach Tom Watts will look to veteran units on both sides of the line of scrimmage to return the Battling Bishops to championship contention in the North Coast Athletic Conference.
“In all three phases of the game, we have a good returning core of guys that has created a lot of competition throughout camp, and we are excited to welcome a class that has talent at every position,” Watts said. “Our expectation is always to compete for a conference championship, and our focus now is getting off on the right foot against a good opponent.”
Defensively, the Bishops return several veterans from a unit that led the NCAC in total defense and passing defense and ranked second in scoring defense.
Junior end K.D. Melton (Warner Robins, Ga./Houston County) was a second-team all-conference pick last year after leading the team with 8½ sacks and 13½ tackles for loss a year ago. He will be flanked at the other end by senior Kyle Hogan (Centerburg), who was an All-America selection as a special teams player last year.
Junior Dan Gowans (Plain City/Jonathan Alder) and classmate David Hicks-Badger (Fort Lauderdale, Fla./Cypress Lake) also return, and freshman Dillon Cripe (Springboro), an all-conference pick in high school, also will contribute.
Inside, senior nose guard Nate Lee (Oxford, Mass./Saint John’s) and junior tackle Makael Khaaliq (Atlanta, Ga./Westlake) are back. Sophomore Alek Thabet (Boca Raton, Fla./Spanish River) also returns, and freshman Jo Taylor (Westlake) is in the mix.
At linebacker, junior Cody Streit (Griffin, Ga.) returns in the middle after forcing a team-high 5 fumbles and adding 6½ sacks and 12½ tackles for loss last year. Junior Lucas Cooper (Hurricane, W.Va.) is back at one outside spot, while the other could go to junior Shane Quin (Chardon) or senior Luke Hurlburt (Delaware/Olentangy).
Newcomers looking to contribute include freshman Ethan Brooker (Waverly), an all-conference pick in high school; freshman Miles Dearing (Detroit, Mich./Grosse Pointe South), an all-region selection in high school; freshman Gavan Hrobat (North Ridgeville/Elyria Catholic); freshman Trevar Meese (Wooster), an all-conference pick in high school; and freshman Zach Rutledge (New Albany).
Senior Nick Heidel (Cincinnati/Indian Hill) opened the 2018 season as a starting cornerback. Senior Ryan Rubel (Toledo/St. John’s) and senior Mario DeJoy (North Olmsted) are back at the safety spots. Junior Cole Nixon (Pataskala/Watkins Memorial) saw action at both safety and cornerback last year.
Sophomore Owen Albers (North Ridgeville/Lutheran West) also returns, and Non Bell (Compton, Calif./Dominquez) moves from wide receiver to cornerback this season. Sophomore Braydon Chitty (Lewis Center/Olentangy) and freshmen Cam Jones (Shaker Heights) and Ian Riddle (Perrysburg) are newcomers looking to make an impact. Chitty and Riddle were all-district performers in high school, while Jones was an all-conference selection.
Ohio Wesleyan returns 10 starters on offense, with the line returning intact in junior tackle Bailey McCoy (Gahanna/Lincoln), junior guard Logan Whalen-Henik (Port St. Lucie, Fla./St. Lucie West), senior center Alex Chrustic (Sagamore Hills/Nordonia), junior guard Nick Cooper (Delray Beach, Fla./Atlantic), and junior tackles William Little (Atlanta, Ga./Westlake) and Nick Azusenis (Powell/Olentangy Liberty).
Senior tackle Rogelio Cuevas (Bakersfield, Calif./Miramonte), senior tackle Riley Martin (Moravia, N.Y./Central), junior center Chris Allaster (Tarpon Springs, Fla./East Lake), sophomore center Brock Beier (Bellevue), and sophomore tackle Calvin Stull (South Amherst/Firelands) also are back, with senior guard Hunter Coil (South Solon/London Madison Plains) providing additional leadership.
Freshman tackle Ryan Redifer (Columbus/Whitehall Yearling), an all-state selection in high school; freshman center Connor Volpe (New Canaan, Conn.), who helped his high school team win a state championship; and freshman tackle Dalton Rice (Caldwell/Shenandoah), an All-Ohio pick in high school; also will vie for playing time.
At tight end, senior Darius Randolph (Indianapolis, Ind./Ben Davis) and senior Ted Houlihan (San Antonio, Texas/Warren) are back. Senior Zach Bertoia (Cincinnati/St. Xavier) moves from the offensive line to give the Bishops a different look at the position. Senior Cody Brown (Lebanon) is a newcomer to the Bishop football team, as are freshman Ethan Gilmour (San Diego, Calif./El Norte) and freshman Kevin Meadows (Portsmouth/Wheelersburg).
Senior Jax Harville (Marion/River Valley) and sophomore Jeremy Robinson (Roswell, Ga./Milton) each started games at quarterback last season. Sophomore Hunter Davis (Monterey, Tenn.) will be heard from, and sophomore Zane Ries (Barberton) and freshman Junior Velasquez (Bell Gardens, Calif.) are newcomers who could challenge for the starting nod.
That group will be throwing to 3 of the team’s top 4 receivers from a year ago in seniors Mher Tcholakian (Farmington Hills, Mich./North Farmington) and Sasoun Tcholakian (Farmington Hills, Mich./North Farmington) and sophomore Kenny Streb (Willowick/Eastlake North). Sasoun Tcholakian had 33 catches in 2018, with Mher Tcholakian close behind with 30 catches. Streb had the team’s best average with a figure of 17.1 yards per catch.
Also returning are senior Justin Lowry (Litchfield/Buckeye), senior Gabriel Miller (Delaware/Buckeye Valley), junior Michael Craider (Parma/Padua Franciscan), junior Nick Soika (Seville/Lodi Cloverleaf), sophomore Kofi Ansah-Tutu (Lewis Center/Olentangy Orange), and sophomore Joe Lupone (Fernandina Beach, Fla.).
Freshman Tafari Carter (Brooklyn, N.Y./Institute for Collaborative Education); freshman Patrick Dougherty (Grosse Pointe Park, Mich./Grosse Pointe South), an all-state choice in high school; freshman Bryce Hall (Creston/Norwayne), an all-state pick in high school; freshman Gabe LaBianca (Avon Lake); and freshman Kellen Marshall (Delaware/Buckeye Valley) are among those seeking to make their mark.
Sophomore Marty Sesma (San Diego, Calif./Sweetwater) and junior Trey Dixon (Atlanta, Ga./Westlake) ranked 1-2 on the team in rushing last year, with senior Curtis Duren (Oviedo, Fla./Hagerty) close behind them. Senior Carlos Cintron (San Diego, Calif./Countryside) and junior Wyatt Greenia (Columbus, Mich./Cardinal Mooney) also return, and freshman Miles Pinnock (Harlem, N.Y./George (Pa.) School), an all-county choice in high school, also is in the picture.
Ohio Wesleyan has outstanding talent and depth at the kicking positions.
Senior Anthony Sanfillipo (Delaware/Hayes), who led the league with 9 field goals in 2017; sophomore Gabe Philhower (Reynoldsburg), who matched that production with 9 field goals last year; and sophomore Tyler Shuster (Sunbury/Big Walnut) return at the placekicking spot.
At punter, Heidel was a first-team all-conference selection and a 2019 preseason All-America pick after leading the league in 2018, with freshman Dylan Pflaum (Scarsdale, N.Y.); and freshman Brendan Miller (Delaware/Buckeye Valley) challenging for that spot.
Gabriel Miller averaged 27.5 yards per kick return last season, and Heidel ranked third in the league in punt return average a year ago.
Ohio Wesleyan opens the season by hosting nearby rival Otterbein. The Bishops’ NCAC opener at Kenyon follows before home games against Oberlin and Allegheny. A visit to defending tri-champion Wabash opens October, then the Bishops host DePauw before visiting Hiram and Wooster. The season wraps up with contests against defending tri-champions Denison and Wittenberg.
OWU Sports Information contributed to this report.