Wofford is SoCon Favorite For Good Reason
SPARTANBURG, S.C. — Wofford head coach Mike Ayers enters his 30th season (27th as head coach at Wofford) as the dean of Southern Conference head coaches, and the most successful among the eight other league skippers.
Ayers and the Terriers began fall camp Tuesday looking to improve on the successes of 2016.
Coming off a 10–4 season (6–2 SoCon/T-2nd), which included the deepest run in the FCS playoffs of any of the unprecedented four league members to reach the FCS post season (lost 30–23 in overtime in the FCS quarterfinals at Youngstown State), Ayers and Terriers will be looking to capture the program’s fifth Southern Conference regular-season title since joining the SoCon for their first official season of championship eligible football in 1997.
Wofford captured SoCon titles in 2003, ’07, ’10 and ’11, with its only out-right title coming in ’03. That ’03 campaign saw the Terriers make the program’s deepest run into the FCS postseason as a Southern Conference and FCS member, eventually losing a 24–9 decision to eventual national champion Delaware.
With last season’s advancement to the FCS quarters, Wofford helped its fans recapture memories of the days of quarterback Jeff Zolman, running backs Kevious Johnson and J.R. and on the defensive side of the football, defensive lineman Katon Bethay and defensive back Matt Nelson.
The Terriers were tabbed as the consensus favorites to claim the Southern Conference title a couple of weeks ago when the media and coaches gathered to discuss the upcoming season at the Spartanburg Marriott.
The Terriers have talent galore returning on both sides of the football heading into the 2017 campaign. The Terriers head into the 2017 season with 15 returning starters.
On the offensive side of the football, Brandon Goodson will look to build on what was a strong 2016 season, being called on following a pair of season-ending injuries to a pair of senior signal-callers, including one in preseason camp.
Goodson saw action as a starter in 10-of-14 games last fall for the Terriers, and he completed the campaign connecting on 41-of-88 passes for 628 yards, with three TDs and four INTs, while rushing for 361 yards and seven scores last season, ranking third on the team in rushing.
While Goodson heads into camp as the starter, due to his leadership down the stretch last season, as well as his overall experience, look for Joe Newman (2-of-7, 27 yds/29 rush att, 250 yds, 2 TDs, 8.6 YPC) to also see action under center in the Terriers’ spread option offense this fall.
Newman saw action in five contests, mostly coming during that strong FCS playoff run. In seasons when Wofford has seen its most success, Ayers has utilized two signal-callers in excellent fashion. Most notably in 2003 and ’07, with the aforementioned Zolman and Trey Rogers under center during that particular season, while in ’07, both Josh Collier and Ben Widmyer shared the signal-calling duties.
The ground attack will be led by a pair of veterans and at least one young performer at the fullback position this fall. The Terriers welcome the addition Boone, N.C. and Watauga High School product Evan Suggs, as well as returning a pair of veterans, in senior Chase Nelson (26 rush rush att, 75 yds, 2 TDs, 2.9 YPC) and junior Andre Stoddard (40 rush att, 129 yds, 3 TDs, 3.2 YPC).
Set to start at the respective halfback positions heading into fall camp are sophomore Blake Morgan (25 rush att, 274 yds, 11.0 YPC/3 rec, 48 yds, 16.0 YPR) and junior Lennox McAfee (45 rush att, 230 yds, 1 TD, 5.1 YPC/1 rec, 19 yds). Morgan and McAfee could end fall camp as starters for the first time in their respective careers. Expect stiff competition for the starting spot at halfback to come from both junior Ellis Pace (22 rush att, 130 yds, 5.9 YPC) and sophomore Ostin McPherson (3 rush att, 17 yds).
Though the Terriers don’t throw the football all that often, they have some effective options returning at wide receiver. A pair of reliable receiving options return for both Goodson and Newman, as tight end Chandler Gouger (13 rec, 205 yds, 3 TDs, 15.8 YPR) and wideout RJ Taylor (6 rec, 55 yds, 9.2 YPR) both return for the Terriers. Gouger was the leading receiver for the Terriers last season, despite only having three receptions in his entire career prior to the 2016 campaign. Gouger is a preseason second team All-SoCon selection at tight end.
Taylor, a 5–11, 190-lb senior from Lexington, KY, started all 13 games he played in last season. He had his best campaign as a sophomore in 2015, posting 14 catches for 186 yards. Taylor is a good perimeter blocker and should see his receiving numbers approach those of his sophomore campaign.
Routinely, the strongest aspect of the Wofford offense has been its offensive line, and this season is no different. Three of five starters return from a unit that helped the Terriers rank fourth in rushing offense (279.6 YPG) last fall.
The Terriers will be led along the offensive front by preseason first team All-SoCon pick Roo Daniels, who will start at center for the Terriers. Daniels is a 6–2, 285-lb senior from Columbia, SC, and started all 14 games for the Terriers last fall. He finished third on the team with 159 knockdowns in 2016.
Joining Daniels as returning starters along the offensive line for the 2017 campaign will be left tackle Ross Demmel at left tackle and Chuck Rouse at left guard.
Demmel, a 6–3, 290-lb sophomore from Cincinnati, OH, started all 14 games for the Terriers last fall and is a preseason second team All-SoCon selection. Rouse, a 6–3, 320-lb senior from Mt. Pleasant, S.C., rounds out the returning starters along the offensive line and returns at left guard. Rouse played in all 14 games, with one start at left guard a year ago.
The Terriers return eight starters from a unit that ranked fifth nationally in total defense last fall (287.2 YPG) and sixth in scoring defense (17.1 PPG). The Terrier defense also ranked 11th nationally against the run last fall, allowing just 101.8 YPG on the ground in 2016. Wofford ranked atop the SoCon in total defense in 2016.
Wofford utilizes a 3–4 defensive scheme, with its defensive linemen routinely garnering All-SoCon and All-America honors. Players like Katon Bethay, Anthony “Heavy” Jones, Lee Basinger and Ameet Pall are just a sampling of the greats that have lined up on the defensive line for Wofford since joining the Southern Conference. The 2017 campaign should be no different, as the Terriers look to continue that decorated tradition.
Senior defensive end Tyler Vaughn (56 tackles, 17.5 TFL, 8.0 sacks, 1 FR) — a preseason first team All-SoCon pick — will anchor the Terrier defensive front heading into the 2017 season. Vaughn, who started all 14 games for the Terriers along the defensive front a year ago, is one of three starters returning on the defensive line, and this should be the strength of Wofford’s stout defensive unit entering the upcoming campaign.
Joining Vaughn at defensive end this fall will be returning starter Miles Brown (48 tackles, 12.5 TFL, 2.0 sacks). Like Vaughn, Brown is a preseason first team All-SoCon selection. The 6–1, 320-lb junior from Cheverly, MD, also started all 14 games at defensive end for the Terriers last fall. In a regular-season loss to The Citadel, Brown registered a season-high 10 tackles.
Rounding out the starters returning along the defensive line will be nose tackle rising sophomore nose tackle Mikel Horton (29 tackles, 1.5 TFL). Horton, a 6–1, 305-lb sophomore from Lexington, KY, heads into his sophomore season as an all-conference candidate at nose tackle after earning 12 starts in 14 games last fall for the Terriers.
The linebacker position is also one that returns some solid experience for Wofford heading into 2017. Two of four starters return at the second level of the defense, including the veteran leadership of senior outside linebacker Terence Morris (40 tackles, 7.5 TFL, 3.0 sacks, 1 INT), who played in 12 games, earning eight starts last season. In 2014, Morris was a SoCon All-Freshman selection.
Also returning as a starter at linebacker heading into the 2017 campaign will be inside linebacker Datavious Wilson (97 tackles, 6.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks, 1 FF, 1 FR). The 6–1, 235-lb sophomore from Chester, S.C. completed the 2016 season as the team’s leading tackler and enters the 2017 campaign as a first team All-SoCon pick. Sophomore outside linebacker Jireh Wilson (34 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 1.0 sack, 1 INT) and senior inside linebacker Colton Clemmons (19 tackles, 1.0 TFL) complete the starting front seven heading into fall camp.
In the three seasons prior to the 2016 season, the secondary had been a major concern for the Terriers. Last season, however, Wofford ranked fifth in the SoCon and 25th nationally (185.4 YPG) in pass defense. Three starters return from that unit that made such a vast improvement against the pass last fall.
Leading the returnees in the secondary will be junior cornerback Devin Watson (46 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 3 INTs). Watson started 10 of 12 games he saw action in last season, and is a preseason first team All-SoCon pick. Watson had a pair of fourth quarter INTs against Charleston Southern in the opening round of the FCS playoffs to help clinch Wofford’s first playoff win since 2012.
Also returning as starters in the secondary are cornerbacks George Gbesee (47 tackles, 11 PBUs, 1 TFL) and free safety Malik Rivera (40 tackles, 2.0 TFL). The lone new starter in the Terrier secondary will be at strong safety, and will likely be Mason Alstatt (21 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 1 INT, 1FR) heading into fall camp.
The special teams unit will have a new look in 2017, with just one starter returning from a year ago. Luke Carter will step in and handle the kicking and punting duties this season for the Terriers. The sophomore from Florence, SC is short on experience, having kicked just one PAT in his career. Ellis Pace, Ostin McPherson and Lennox McAfee will likely handle the kick and punt return duties this season.
WHAT WAS LOST:
The biggest loss on either side of the football is fullback Lorenzo Long, who was one of the of the best running backs in the SoCon each of the past four seasons. Long led the Southern Conference in rushing yards last season, rushing for 1,424 yards and 18 TDs last fall. Long finished his career on Wofford’s all-time rushing list, with 3,479 career rushing yards.
The Terriers also lost Will Gay and Hunter Windham from the offensive backfield. Gay was a reliable option as both a rushing threat and a receiving threat last fall. Gay ranked second on the team in rushing to Long, with 514 yards and two TDs last season, and ranked third on the team in receiving, hauling in nine passes for 186 yards, averaging 20.7 YPC.
The offensive line lost a pair of talented starters, in left guard Dequan Miller and right tackle Anton Wahrby. Both Miller and Wahrby were All-SoCon honorees last season, with Miller garnering second team honors, while Wahrby earned first team plaudits.
The defense graduated three starters, including a pair of linebackers, in Lincoln Stewart and Dylan Young, while losing strong safety Jaleel Green out of the defensive backfield. Green and Stewart finished second and third on the squad in tackles, respectively last season, with Green finishing second on the squad with 69 stops, while Stewart was third on the team in tackles with 61 tackles. Green was also a first team All-SoCon selection, finishing the campaign with five INTs, which ranked him second in the SoCon last fall.
Perhaps the most surprising loss for the Terriers heading into the 2017 campaign is the departure of place-kicker/punter David Marvin, who transferred to the University of Georgia during the off-season. Marvin was a first team All-SoCon selection as a place-kicker and punter last fall.
Wofford is the clear-cut favorite to win the Southern Conference heading into the campaign, and there’s really no debating that. Wofford has the potential to not only win its first Southern Conference title since 2011, but also to make another deep run in the FCS postseason. The Terriers open the season at home on Sept. 2, hosting I-85 rival Furman.