Ohio Wesleyan University and head coach Tom Watts will look to veteran units on both sides of the ball to replace a talented senior class and help the Battling Bishops vie for their second North Coast Athletic Conference championship in four seasons.
“We feel good about this team,” Watts said, “This team has worked extremely hard, and the chemistry is getting better every day.
“The schedule is a little bit different this year (in that) we don’t have time to ease into the system — we have to hit our stride in week one — so we have been moving extremely fast. We’re taking things one game at a time, but as long as we stay healthy, we feel we can compete for the conference championship.”
On defense, junior end Gary Brodek (Parma/Valley Forge), an honorable mention All-NCAC selection in 2014, is the top returnee. Brodek led the Bishops with eight sacks and 14 tackles for loss a year ago, ranking third in the league in both categories.
Flanking Brodek on the other end will be senior Cameron Pappa (Gilroy, Calif./Kings Academy), an Academic All-District selection in 2014, or sophomore Jermaine Frazer-Phillips (New London, Conn./Suffield Academy).
Returning in the middle are senior Dominic Wilson (Houston, Texas/Cypress Woods) at nose guard and junior Beau Michel (Seffner, Fla./Armwood) at tackle. Wilson ranked 10th in the league in sacks last season with four and a half.
Freshman nose guard David Praul (Sunbury/Buckeye Valley) will also look to contribute.
Junior Keaton Leppla (Millersburg/West Holmes) returns at middle linebacker after ranking second on the team with 80 tackles a year ago.
Senior Brad Dotson (Piqua) and junior Deion Centeno (San Diego, Calif./Madison) look to move into the starting outside spots.
Senior Roemello Cook (Akron/Buchtel) and sophomore Jerry Harper (Vista, Calif./Santa Fe Christian) return at cornerback while senior Zane Kieffer (Findlay/Van Buren), who set a school record with 154 interception return yards last year, is back at free safety.
Sophomore Ben Rubel (Toledo/St. John’s) will look to win the strong safety spot, with classmates Brad Brodek (Parma/Valley Forge) and Logan Juhl (Avon) also looking for playing time.
On offense, Ohio Wesleyan transitioned to a more balanced attack last season after ranking among the nation’s top 10 in passing in 2012 and 2013, and still averaged nearly 400 yards per game to rank fourth in the conference in total offense. With a year of experience under their belts, the Bishops will look to improve upon those figures.
Junior Dominick Orsini (Massillon/Archbishop Hoban) won the starting quarterback spot last year and went on to rank third in the league in total offense.
Classmate Cheyne Lacanaria (Farmington, Mich./Brother Rice) also returns, along with senior Phil Brusk (Westlake) and sophomore Brian Berry (Parma/Valley Forge). Freshmen Deji Adebiyi (Detroit, Mich./Plymouth) and Jordan Leach (Indianapolis, Ind./Warren Central) look to gain experience in the Bishop offense.
At wide receiver, three starters return in junior Tim Shadoan (Dublin/Scioto), junior Ross Hickenbottom (West Liberty/West Liberty-Salem), and junior Adrian Bishop (San Diego, Calif./Madison). The trio combined for nearly 90 catches last season, with Bishop’s average of 16.3 yards per catch tops on the team.
Sophomore TraVon Wilkes (Akron/Buchtel) returns at running back, as is the left side of the Bishop line in junior tackle Chris Grissom (Loveland) and junior guard Brooks Gilmore (Worthington/Thomas Worthington).
Sophomore Alex Sigg (New Canaan, Conn.), who won the starting spot at right guard last year, shifts over to right tackle.
Junior Zach Croftcheck (Creston/Norwayne) looks to take over at center, while sophomore Ryan Ehrhardt (Stow/Stow-Munroe Falls) could win the right guard position and freshman guard Austen Kimbro (Delaware/Hayes) will also look to be heard from.
The tight end spot is up for grabs between senior Corey Bottensek (Missouri City, Texas/Dulles), junior David Pugh (Enumclaw, Wash.), and sophomore Dylan Leffingwell (Vincent/Warren).
On special teams, senior Nolan Kovach (Avon Lake) and sophomore Vince Yurcho (Canfield/Youngstown Ursuline) are looking to take over the placekicking duties, while punting could be done by Poutier or Yurcho.
Ohio Wesleyan opens the season by hosting Mary Hardin-Baylor, ranked No. 4 in the D3football.com preseason poll, Saturday at 7 p.m.
OWU Sports Information contributed to this report.