2016 SEASON OUTLOOK
In his first season at the helm of the Wesleyan University football team, Head Coach Dan DiCenzo guided a young Cardinals squad to a 5-3 record en route to a fourth-place finish in the NESCAC standings alongside Middlebury. Having lost just three starters from a year ago, DiCenzo enters his second season with an experienced roster that eyes a second conference title.
Wesleyan will open the 2016 season on the road Saturday, Sept. 24 at Tufts. Kickoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. as the Cardinals and Jumbos will play under the lights at Ellis Oval-Zimman Field.
"We're excited to go up to Tufts," said DiCenzo. "They had an outstanding season last year (finished 6-2), and are a team that is going in the right direction."
The following weekend, Wesleyan hosts its first home game of the year when they face Hamilton Saturday, Oct. 1 at 1 p.m. After back-to-back away games against Colby (10/8 - 1 p.m.) and Bates (10/15 - 1 p.m.), the Cardinals return to Corwin Stadium Saturday, Oct. 22 for Homecoming Weekend, in which they will face Little Three rival Amherst at 1 p.m. A week later, Wesleyan will host Bowdoin during Family Weekend for a 12:30 p.m. contest, before traveling to Williamstown, Mass. to face its other Little Three rival, Williams (11/5 - 1 p.m.). The Cardinals then wrap up the season with a home game versus in-state rival Trinity Saturday, Nov. 12 at 12 p.m.
"Every team in the league is getting better and better," said DiCenzo. "There's a lot more parody, and with only eight conference games, you can't take any week off."
The Cardinals' offense returns 10 starters from last year's unit that finished third in total offense with 384.0 yards per game, and the coaching staff is very excited about its skill players, as well as an improved veteran group at offensive line.
QUARTERBACKS: The Cardinals have had two quarterbacks competing for the starting position this preseason, with Mark Piccirillo '19 earning the starting nod. He will rotate with Gernald Hawkins '18, much like last year, while wide receiver Devon Carrillo '17 figures to see time at the position in a wildcat formation.
WIDE RECEIVERS: Carrillo saw action in six games last year before an injury derailed his season. However, the senior from Middletown is back and healthy, and playing exceptionally well this preseason. DiCenzo and the coaching staff are excited to have him back, as well as 2015 Second Team All-NESCAC selection Mike Breuler '18 and senior Sebastian Canizares-Fernandez. Breuler, the team's leading receiver as a sophomore, finished with 37 catches for 359 yards, and is expected to have a big junior year, while Canizares-Fernandez looks to make a significant impact in his last year donning the Cardinals uniform.
Wesleyan's depth at the wide receiver position is a strength for this year's team, as DiCenzo and staff have the luxury of senior veterans Andrew Mehr, Neil O'Connor and Kris Luster returning. Additionally, Eric Meyreles '18 - a WR/RB hybrid that will return punts and kick offs - is a dynamic player that has the ability to make plays for the Cardinals.
RUNNING BACKS: Wesleyan will feature three tailbacks in its rotation, with junior Jaylen Berry leading the way. He will be joined by senior Lou Stevens and freshman Dario Highsmith. Despite the committee, all three players will be relied upon heavily throughout the season as Wesleyan's rushing attack looks to remain one of the best in the NESCAC. In 2015, the Cardinals ranked second in the league with 188.1 yards per game.
OFFENSIVE LINE: Despite losing its only First Team All-NESCAC offensive player from 2015 to graduation, Blake Cunningham '16, DiCenzo and staff feel the offensive line is very strong entering the new year. The unit will be anchored by Joe Wilson '19, a Second Team All-NESCAC selection as a freshman, who started all eight games in his first year with the program. A very experienced line, the Cardinals also bring back two-year starter Matt Polacek '16, as well as seniors Shane Jenkins and Matt Kuhn, and junior Beau Butler.
"Overall we're very pleased defensively," said DiCenzo. "We graduated one starter, and two or three guys that rotated in, but we return 17 or 18 guys that played significant minutes last year."
DEFENSIVE LINE: The Cardinals return all four starters from their defensive line a year ago, which is headlined by senior co-captain Jordan Stone who finished third in the league in sacks last season with 5.5. Stone, a 6-4, 250-pound First Team All-NESCAC selection, is "an outstanding player and someone that teams will have to game plan for," said DiCenzo. "He can make plays – he's physical, he's big, he's athletic, and he works hard. Everything he does is very impressive."
Also joining Stone on the line will be Isaiah Thomas '19 and Grant Williams '19, who both started as freshman and have enjoyed outstanding preseasons, while Jude Lindberg '19 looks to build off an impressive freshman campaign.
Aside from Wesleyan's four starters on the defensive line, five others figure to play significant minutes – Bobby Nevin '19 and Nick Richards '20 at defensive tackle, and Jeff DeMango '18, Sam Green '19 and Kamau Laguerre '19 at defensive end.
LINEBACKERS: Arguably Wesleyan's strongest position, the Cardinals have three impact players that look to wreak havoc in their opponent's offense. Last year's starter at the Mike, Shayne Kaminski '18 will return to that role in 2016 after an impressive sophomore season in which he ranked second on the team in tackles (50 total; 23 solo). Cole Harris '18 is enjoying an outstanding preseason, and the coaching staff is expecting him to have a spectacular junior campaign as he resumes his position at the Sam, while exceptionally talented Brandon Morris '19 makes his debut in the starting lineup.
SECONDARY: Headlining the Cardinals' secondary, that finished third in passing yards last season (186.9 ypg), is four-year starter and co-captain, Justin Sanchez '17. Sanchez, a two-time All-NESCAC pick, led the team in tackles a year ago with 56 (23 solo), and also forced two fumbles, recorded two interceptions, and broke up four passes. Playing on the opposite side will be shutdown corner Zac Cuzner '17, who looks to build off an impressive 2015 season. The senior was named the NESCAC Defensive Player of the Week last year when he picked off Bowdoin three times.
Joining the dynamic duo in the secondary will be two-year starter Elias Camacho '18 and second-year starter Nate Taylor '18, while Pat Leone '19 and Jason Mitchner '18 could see time at safety and corner, respectively, after great preseasons.
Senior Ike Fuchs, a Second Team All-NESCAC selection as a sophomore, has looked great in preseason and will resume his role as both place kicker and punter for 2016, while Corey Phillips '17 will once again take kickoffs. Meyreles, who returned 18 kickoffs for 376 yards last year, looks to make a significant impact on special teams once again this season and will add punt return duties to his responsibilities.
HEAD COACH DAN DICENZO ON THE 2016 CARDINALS
"Overall, the difference between last year and this year is that we had a new offense in 2015, and our guys now know it. Our football IQ is higher on both sides of the ball. Our young guys are learning quicker because they are learning from guys that now know the system, which has definitely been a real positive for us.
"The leadership of this senior class has been outstanding. It's something that we have been really pleased about as a coaching staff. It's very important to those guys that they do everything right, and they are leading by doing, which is great."