First-year head coach Dan DiCenzo will welcome back 32 letterwinners from the 7-1 Cardinals of 2014, Wesleyan's second straight 7-1 campaign. But he will be without a group of 27 seniors, 18 of them seasoned starters, who donned cap and gown this past May. While Coach DiCenzo acknowledges it was this fabulous group of seniors that helped carry the Cardinals to 14 victories over the last two years, he states with equal conviction, "I'm very excited about this season. I'm looking forward to seeing this squad reload and compete with the same intensity in 2015."
Of the 14 seniors and lone grad student among the 84 preseason candidates, a vast majority of them were a part of the rise from the 5-3 posting in 2012 to the 7-1 Little Three winning and NESCAC co-champion squad of 2013 en route to another seven-win effort in 2014. They would like nothing better than to give Wesleyan its fourth straight winning season and challenge once again for NESCAC supremacy.
The Cardinals, who boasted a league-high 13 all-conference players in 2014, return four all-NESCAC performers. They are running back Lou Stevens '17 (first team), linebacker Alex Daversa-Russo '16 (second team), defensive back Justin Sanchez '17 (second team) and record-setting placekicker Ike Fuchs '17 (second team). Also back as a grad student after missing 2014 due to injury is 2013 first-team all-NESCAC running back and tri-captain LaDarius Drew '15. Drew, who was the NESCAC Rookie of the Year in 2011, is on the cusp of three prominent Wesleyan career rushing records. With 2,036 yards on 464 carries and 24 TDs over three seasons, Drew needs just 347 yards to eclipse the school standard set in 1995 by Dave Cottrell, 52 carries to break Jim Lukowski's mark set in 1988 and four TDs to shatter John Pascucci's record established in 1998. Jaylen Berry '18 represents a third talented tailback in the Cardinals' stables alongside Drew and Stevens.
Wesleyan allowed a league-best 220.8 yards a game on defense a year ago. It also was the lowest figure in all of Division III. Daversa-Russo and Sanchez will help anchor the defense as it looks to pick up where it left off. Other capable returning defenders include Rob Manning '16 and Zac Cuzner '17 in the secondary; team ti-captain Jon Spivey '16, John Vassar '16, Alex Corazzini '16 and Shayne Kaminski '18 at linebacker; and Jordan Stone '17, Greg Blaize '16, Shane Donovan '16, Jason Yu '18 and Jeff DeMango 18 along the line.
The quarterback spot, occupied the last three seasons by NESCAC Co-Offensive Player of the Year Jesse Warren '15, is wide open. Vying for the critical spot are returnees Gernald Hawkins '18, Steve Sobo '17 and Fuchs along with newcomer and Connecticut High School Player of the Year Mark Piccirillo '19. Helping trigger the attack will be Devon Carrillo '17, who has seen action on both sides of the ball over his two seasons and will also continue to return kicks. He was extremely effective in the role of wildcat last year. Top returning receivers are Neil O'Connor '17, Kris Luster '17, Andrew Mehr '17, Mike Breuler '18, and Eric Meyreles '18 with Dan Laorenza '16 at tight end along with Ben Kurtz '17.
The Cardinals will be looking for a lot from its offensive line, spearheaded by team tri-captain Blake Cunningham '16. Shane Jenkins '16 also had a lot of recent playing time while much is expected of Matt Polacek '16, Matt Kuhn '18, Mitch Ryan '17, Will Croughan '16, Beau Butler '18, Zach Calhoun '16 and John Valett 18, among others.
On special teams, while Fuchs, who set a pair of school records with five field goals in a 22-0 shellacking of Williams in 2014 and 10 three-pointers on the season, will resume his placekicking chores, he also is likely at the punter position. John-Henry Carey '18 might be seen handling kickoffs. Carrillo will be joined by Sanchez, Berry and Meyreles as possible kick returners.
"We might not have as much game-time experience coming into 2015 as we did a year ago," explained Coach DiCenzo, "but this is a group that is used to competing at a high level in the past and eager to take advantage of their opportunities this year."
The Cardinals begin the 2015 campaign at home Sat., Sept. 26 against Middlebury, a squad Wesleyan defeated on the road, 22-14, a year ago to inaugurate its 7-1 season. Wesleyan has won four of the last five meetings in Middletown against the Panthers. Wesleyan will play three of its opening four games at home with both Bates and Colby coming to Corwin Stadium at Andrus Field in October. The home schedule concludes Sat., Nov. 7 with Homecoming/Family Weekend festivities and a visit from Little Three rival Williams.