By Trevor Wenners
Athletic Communications Assistant
MIDDLETOWN, Conn. – Recovering from an 0-2 start during a 16-game slate in the NFL is a difficult task. It becomes even more tricky in the college game, specifically in the NESCAC Conference with the abundance of talent and nine-game schedules.
The Wesleyan University football team, which has pinpointed a NESCAC Championship as a goal for the 2017 campaign, will not have to worry about digging itself out of that hole, as the Cardinals rallied from a 14-point, fourth-quarter deficit during a thrilling 24-17 overtime victory over Tufts at Corwin Stadium on Sept. 23.
Every Cardinal played his role, with senior captain Shayne Kaminski applying the finishing touch. After the Cardinals' offense scored a touchdown in overtime, the 5-foot-11, 210-pound linebacker picked off a pass by Jumbos quarterback Ryan McDonald on third and 8 from the Cardinals' 23-yard line.
The game-sealing play, which was Kaminski's first career pick, electrified a roaring crowd of 2,703 fans.
"Playing at home in the middle of campus is amazing," Kaminski said. "The fans bring the heat, and give us that extra edge at home. Recently, playing under the lights against Tufts, it was clear that Wesleyan had that 12th man."
Kaminski tied a career-high mark of 11 tackles, as the Cardinals avenged a 17-14 loss at Tufts in 2016. If you listen to Kaminski, team accomplishments trump individual accolades any day.
"This team has big goals," Kaminski said. "Obviously, we have a chance for the NESCAC title. Specifically, the goals every day are to get Wesleyan football better. We need to come out and focus every practice, so that on Saturday we know exactly what our job is."
The home-opening triumph was a microcosm of what the entire program has stood for over the last five-plus years, which is taking pride in representing the university and bringing a relentless attitude on the field. The squad has boasted a 32-11 record dating back to the 2012 season, while Kaminski has been outstanding with career marks of 142 tackles and nine sacks.
"The Wesleyan football program is one of a kind," Kaminski said. "What I love about this team is the vast array of people on it, and how no differences between us affect the team. It has been a true honor to play for current Director of Athletics and former head coach Mike Whalen '83 for a year, and current head coach Dan DiCenzo for the past three."
Wesleyan (2-1), which will host Colby (0-3) on Saturday at 1 p.m., used the victory over the Jumbos as a springboard en route to running away with a 31-9 win at Hamilton on Saturday, Sept. 30. Kaminski was a focal point, recording seven tackles and a season-high two sacks, as the electric Cardinals' defense limited Hamilton to a 23-percent conversion rate on third down (3 of 13).
The back-to-back wins have galvanized the Cardinals, but true to form, Wesleyan is preaching the importance of locking in on its next opponent. That mindset has been a crucial reason behind Wesleyan finishing in the top-four within the NESCAC standings in each of the last three seasons.
"We are excited about where we can go," Kaminski said. "Everyone is working diligently, and we continue to get better."
The Hopkinton, Mass. native, who ranks second on Wesleyan this season with 27 tackles, recorded 61 tackles during the 2016 season – tied for the most on the team – en route to earning All-NESCAC Second Team Defense accolades.
The 2016 Cardinals boasted the program's fifth consecutive winning season with a 6-2 record, as the squad finished in a tie for third within the conference ranks. Kaminski registered a season-high 11 tackles and a career-best 2.5 sacks during a 39-10 win against visiting Bowdoin on Oct. 29. The 2016 unit also won the Little Three Championship for the first time since 2013, blanking visiting Amherst, 20-0, and running away with a 59-14 win at Williams.
During the 2015 season, the economics major finished with 50 tackles and a pair of sacks, as he tallied seven or more tackles on four occasions with the Cardinals posting a 5-3 mark.
The Cardinals' defense ranks No. 1 in the NESCAC with 13 sacks in 2017, as the attention to detail starts with the coaching staff. Kaminski, who says that his parents are his two biggest influences on and off the field, played under Whalen as a rookie in 2014, as the squad posted one of the most successful seasons in program history by compiling seven wins and finishing in the second slot in the conference standings, with the only setback being a narrow three-point loss in overtime to undefeated Amherst.
"Everyone knows Whalen was the reason for the program's quick turnaround, not only him but the great coaches he brought in with him when he came over here," Kaminski said. "Now and for the future, DiCenzo is continuing the great work. His mind for defense is one of the best. Wesleyan football is in good hands."
Now, it is Kaminski's turn to instill the values of Wesleyan football to the next generation, as he has the perfect platform with his captain role.
"My role on the team has become more vocal," he said. "I also have held myself to a higher standard, wanting to be perfect on the field. Being captain has been an honor. I love leading the team out on the field, and overall seeing the team and every guy on it succeed and strive."
Book: Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
Movie: That's My Boy
Professor: Karl Boulware
Pro Athlete: Tony Romo
Started Playing Football: The sixth grade
What A Lot Of People Know About Me: I create cartoons