HADLEY, Mass. – The Wesleyan football team led all schools with 13 selections on the 2019 All-NESCAC Football Teams, as announced Tuesday by the conference office and voted on by the league's coaches. Highlighting the list was freshman defensive lineman Nick Helbig who was named the NESCAC Co-Rookie of the Year.
Wesleyan's 13 all-conference selections were ahead of Williams and Middlebury with 12 and 11, respectively, followed by Trinity (9), Amherst (7), Hamilton (7), Tufts (4), Bowdoin (1), and Colby (1). The 13 selections are the second-most for the Cardinals in the 20-year history of the All-Conference Teams, and most since 2017. Wesleyan's record is 14 set by the 2014 squad.
Earning First Team laurels on offense were David Estevez, Bryce Jenkins, and Ryan Schutta, while Helbig and Ben Thaw were named First Team Defense. Wesleyan placed eight members on the Second Team, which featured Danny Banks, Estevez (special teams), Sam Han, Will Kearney, Nick Richards, Ashton Scott, Matthew Simco, and Mason Von Jess. All four of Wesleyans captains earned all-conference honors; Kearney, Richards, Schutta, and Thaw.
Estevez had a breakout sophomore season for the Cardinals, earning First Team Offense and Second Team Special Teams. The dual-threat quarterback/wide receiver ranked ninth in the conference in all-purpose yards with 827 (91.9/game). He led the team in rushing touchdowns (6) and ranked second in scoring with 48 total points. The sophomore rushed 68 times for 335 yards and six TD's, went 14 of 23 passing for 155 yards, one score and zero interceptions, and caught 13 passes for 140 yards and one TD. He also returned 10 kickoffs for 291 yards, including a 94-yard touchdown, and six punts for 61 yards, while also punting three times for an additional 118 yards. Estevez was named the NESCAC Player of the Week once after factoring into all four of Wesleyan's touchdowns in a 27-21 win over Williams, including the game-winner in overtime as the Cardinals won the Little Three title outright.
Jenkins and Schutta protected quarterback Ashton Scott all season and helped Wesleyan boast one of the league's top offenses. The Cardinals ranked third in passing (234.9 ypg), fourth in scoring (28.1 ppg) and rushing (143.9 ypg), and fifth in total offense (378.8 ypg).
Helbig excelled in his first season donning the Wesleyan uniform. He is the fourth Cardinal ever to win the NESCAC Rookie of the Year award and first since 2011. He's also the first-ever Wesleyan defensive player to earn the award after he finished tied with one other for the league-lead in sacks with 7.5. Helbig had 3.5 sacks on the road against Trinity to conclude the season and finished the year with 39 tackles and 13 tackles-for-loss. The 13 tackles-for-loss were the most on the team and fifth-most in the conference.
Thaw picked up his second all-conference selection of his career after being named to the Second Team a year ago. The senior defensive back wrapped up an impressive career by leading the league in three categories; interceptions (5), pass break-ups (9), and blocked kicks (2). Thaw also finished fourth on the team in tackles (40) and returned an interception for a touchdown. He was named the NESCAC Player of the Week in the final weekly release after recording two interceptions to help seal Wesleyan's 28-20 win at Trinity.
Scott was named to the Second Team Offense in his first year as a starter. The sophomore quarterback led the NESCAC in completion percentage (61.3) and ranked second in pass efficiency (150.0), third in passing touchdowns (17), fourth in passing yards (215.4 ypg), and fifth in total offense (243.2 ypg). He was 147 of 240 for 1,939 passing yards, 17 touchdowns, and only three interceptions. Scott also rushed 109 times for 250 yards and one score to finish third on the team in rushing. He was named the NESCAC Player of the Week once this season.
His favorite target in 2019 was fellow classmate and wide receiver, Matthew Simco. Simco had a breakout season for the Cardinals en route to his first all-conference selection. He finished fourth in the NESCAC in receptions (44), receiving yards (761), receiving yards per game (84.6), and receiving touchdowns (6), and fifth in yards per catch (17.3). Simco had three games with at least 100 yards receiving and was named the NESCAC Player of the Week once. He also scored the game-winning touchdown with only six seconds remaining against Tufts as the Cardinals won, 20-13.
Han earned his second all-conference selection of his career after being named to the Second Team as a sophomore in 2017. The senior punter was once again one of the top punters in the league as he led the NESCAC in punts placed inside the 20-yard line (21) and ranked second in punting average (38.8).
Von Jess was excellent in his first season with the Cardinals. A two-time NESCAC Special Teams Player of the Week, he led the NESCAC in points (55) and ranked second in field goals made (8). Von Jess was also 31 of 32 on extra points for a 97% conversion rate, which was the second-highest in the league and the best among kickers with at least 13 attempts.
Richards, a senior captain, wrapped up his terrific career with his first all-conference selection after being a leader on the defensive line. He finished 2019 with 20 tackles and five tackles-for-loss.
Kearney, also a senior captain, received his first all-conference honor as well. The linebacker was one of the top tacklers in the conference as he finished ninth in the league with 64 total tackles, averaging 7.1 per game. He also had one sack on the season and two tackles-for-loss.
Banks had a strong sophomore season for the Cardinals. He was tied for second in the league in both interceptions (4) and pass break-ups (8). Banks finished the year with 33 tackles and was named the NESCAC Player of the Week once.
Together, this group helped guide Wesleyan to one of its best seasons in the 137-year history of the program. The Cardinals recorded their first-ever 8-1 campaign and won eight games in a season for the first time since 1969; Wesleyan celebrated the 50-year anniversary of the 1969 undefeated team on Homecoming Weekend this year. The 2019 Cardinals also won the Little Three title outright with two thrilling overtime wins over their archrivals Amherst and Williams. It was Wesleyan's third outright Little Three title in the past seven seasons.