The Waynesburg University football team has come close to capturing the Presidents’ Athletic Conference championship the past couple of seasons, but haven’t been able to get over the hump.
Yellow Jackets’ head coach Rick Shepas is hoping for a different story in 2014.
With a shortened camp as Waynesburg only had about a week before the rest of the student population reported, the Yellow Jackets had to get right to business and that they did as things are looking good for Waynesburg as they prepare for their season opener September 6 against Muskingum University.
“I like where we are at,” said Shepas. “I like the way we reported to camp in great shape.”
As for how the Yellow Jackets will perform on the field, much of their success will be built on the offensive side of the ball, where Waynesburg is very experienced.
Shepas can lean on a veteran offensive line with depth and a ton of weapons on the outside.
But for the Yellow Jackets to truly be a dangerous offense, they have to find a way to run the football better in 2014. Much of that task will fall on senior Jake Forsythe and junior Jerry Lawman, who both have the talent to get the job done.
“We don’t have as many question marks on the outside and on the offensive line. It’s nice to have a known quantity. The strength should be on the offensive line. We have to run the football better though. That would be the biggest thing that stood out as we closed last season as we had to manage the carries. We just didn’t run the football when we had to.”
Of course Waynesburg’s biggest strength on the offensive side of the ball is under center, where senior quarterback Carter Hill looks to build off a big 2013 season where he was one of the top quarterbacks in the conference.
Hill completed 92-of-156 passes for 1,075 yards, 10 touchdowns as a sophomore before really coming into his own last season where he threw for 3,102 yards and 28 touchdowns and only six interceptions.
“We’re lucky to have Carter at the helm,” said Shepas. “Sometimes we just call a formation and a play set and let Carter make all the calls. Sometimes the coaches will ask me what we have called and I just say we’ll find out. We try and play to his strengths and put him in good positions, but the way he sees the game makes him good.”
“He’s a winner. That was the attraction to him when he was coming out of high school. He has swagger and was a four-year starter and won so much. He only lost in the playoffs. He’s a coach’s kid so he knows the deal. The kid is electric. He lights up the practice field as soon as he steps through the gate and is always fired up.”
While the Waynesburg offense should be one of the better ones in the PAC, the Yellow Jackets defense needs to step up and have an identity of their own.
Shepas doesn’t really care what that identity is, but he knows he needs a big season from his defense as well.
“I don’t care,” added Shepas. “I want it to be the identity that they make it. I don’t want to micromanage things and say we have to be this or be that. I want us to make good staff decisions in regards to who plays. I’d rather just enjoy going through the season and focus on making the right team decisions as to who is on the field in a given situation.”
The Yellow Jackets are very experienced in terms of the front seven, but their secondary is almost brand new.
Waynesburg loses a lot of starters from a season ago, but more importantly replacing defensive back Bryan Gary, who was not only one of Waynesburg’s best defensive starters, but one of the PAC’s best, will be a challenge.
However Shepas believes that they could be better in the back end of their defense this season.
“There will be some battles this camp, but we have the chance to be better in the secondary,” added Shepas. “Replacing Gary is going to be tough. It’s my 25th year and Bryan Gary is one of the best players I have ever coached. But we have some football IQ back there and some of our other guys are going to have to step up. We will make the adjustments internally and we will be alright.”
One good thing heading into the season is that Waynesburg has six home games at John F. Wiley Stadium this season, including hosting both W&J and Thomas More.
But for Shepas, it doesn’t really matter where they play, the key to possibly winning a PAC championship comes down to balance on offense.
“It’s all about being more balanced,” said Shepas. “That’s the key right there. It not only helps our offense, but our defense as well. We just need to be dangerous running the football then we can do whatever we want. We are explosive on the outside and if teams now have to worry about stopping the run also, who are you stopping?”
If you ask Hill though, at the end of the day there is only one thing that matters- a PAC championship.
“We want to finish this year,” added Hill. “We have a chip on our shoulder and our main theme is to finish this year. As close as we have been in the past we haven’t been able to finish it all the way. We want that automatic bid and want to make a run in the playoffs but at the same time we aren’t looking ahead to anything. We are focused on week one.”
Photo Credit: Waynesburg University