By Taylor Smith
The Ohio Wesleyan football team returns one year after tying Wittenberg for the first conference championship in 23 years, and now their eyes are set on larger goals.
The Bishops won their first game of the season Saturday, Sept. 7, at Selby Stadium when they defeated Bluffton 37-20.
Starting quarterback senior Mason Espinosa said the team missing the NCAA tournament last year while still winning a share of the conference title was motivation for the offseason, but they still plan on taking it one game at a time.
“We’re not satisfied with tying for a conference championship; we’re only going to be satisfied with winning it outright and going 15 games and winning it all,” he said. “We set out goals at the beginning of the season and first and foremost we have to take care of the regular season, obviously 1-0 every week.”
Which explains why Mason said the team’s motto this year is S.N.S., “still not satisfied.”
Mason is one of nine returning starters for the Bishops’ offense, coming off his junior season in which he threw for a school record 3,371 yards and was named first-team All-NCAC, as well as NCAC Offensive Player of the Year.
Second-year head coach Tom Watts also returns with some new awards on his mantel. In his first season with the Bishops, he led the team to nine wins, tying the school record, and was named Regional Coach of the Year in NCAA Division III.
Watts said Mason is one of the best players and one of the most diligent he has ever seen, and it doesn’t go unnoticed by the rest of the team.
“Everybody sees Mason as this big kid that can throw, but what people don’t really see is his leadership—the way he prepares, I’ve never seen a kid work as hard as does in the off season,” Watts said. “Even in the summer—he stayed around this summer and worked hard through out the whole summer. He’s contagious; he makes guys around him better.
“Guys listen to him, they follow him; he’s phenomenal and the sky is the limit for this kid, not just because of the amount talent he has, but because he is humble. He’s not an ego guy; he’s a team player.”
Mason is joined by an offense that brings a lot of depth, according to Watts, and will pose quite the threat to opposing teams.
“I think where a lot of teams pigeon hole their guys into playing a certain position, our guys are pretty versatile and that wreaks havoc,” Watts said. “When going against another team to try and prepare for a certain look, a certain way, you know you’re getting things thrown at you that look different.”
Watts named a mix of student-athletes that will be sharing the ball on offense this season.
Pre-season All-American and second-team All-NCAC junior tight end Calvin Cagney, second-team All-NCAC senior wide receiver Dave Mogilnicki, honorable mention All-NCAC junior running back Kevin Herman, senior tight end Erik Wall, junior wide receiver Steven Uhler and senior wide receiver Scott Jenkins, were a few he named.
“We’re very fortunate and, you know, there’s only one football, and all those guys are pretty unselfish and realizing it’s just about what’s the end result,” Watts said.
The Bishops defense returns only six starters this year after losing names like second-team All-NCAC outside linebacker Tyler Swary and three-time first-team All-NCAC defensive end James Huddleston, who led the NCAC in tackles for a loss last year.
Senior linebacker Justin Segal, an honorable mention All-NCAC and one of the six returning starting Bishop defenders, said they have great multi-year starters like senior defensive lineman John Valentine and senior nose guard George Newcomb. He also said first year starters like junior linebacker Chris Mondon, stepping up for Swary, and sophomore nose tackle Dom Wilson have stepped up to fill the vacancies.
Fortunately, Huddleston didn’t go too far. He returns this season with the Bishops as a member of the coaching staff, working with the linebackers and defensive coordinator Pat Delaney.
Segal and Watts each said Huddleston is doing a great job transitioning from player to coach and what makes him a strong leader is his credibility with the players and the fact that most have seen the way he plays and goes about his business.
“He’s doing well,” Watts said. “I think he’s been enlightened that there’s a little bit more to coaching than he originally thought, but he works his tail off.
“He sees this as a career. He sees this as an opportunity to do something that he loves to do. I think the guys just naturally listen to him because they know what type of player he was, but he draws that line as far as being a student and being a coach.”
Huddleston, voted the team’s most valuable player last year, said the conversion from player to coach has been an enlightening learning process.
“It’s a lot different when you have to know everyone else’s assignments, instead of just yours…I never realized how much it took to make things move the way they did last year (as a member of the team) and this year (as a coach),” Huddleston said. “I’m happy to be able be able to see both sides of the coin.
“Sometimes I feel like I can do a better job with what I am doing, but I have to take the time to learn to be able to be a coach. At the same time it’s learning something new, I just have to learn everyday and get better everyday.”
With a 1-0 record for the season, several members of the Bishops’ football organization said the goal each week is to go 1-0 and focus on one opponent at a time.
“If we take one game at a time, let the chips fall the way they fall and as long as we prepare and treat each team with respect, obviously we fear nobody, but we’ve got make sure we show respect and do our preparation that we need to do,” Watts said.
After having a bye week last weekend, the Bishops keep their attention on Kenyon as they face off Saturday at Kenyon, looking to go 1-0.