WILMINGTON – For the first time in the program’s history, Wilmington enters a season as a defending state champion. But coach Jeff Reents said it has been business as usual in the preseason for the 2014 Class 3A state champion Wildcats.
“It hasn’t been too much different than any other year,” he said. “Once the preseason started, we were just focused on practicing hard. We definitely have a lot of momentum from last year, though, and there’s a lot of excitement.”
Six starters return from the 2014 team that went 14-0 and defeated Williamsville, 20-17, in the state championship game on Jordan Sarr’s last-second field goal.
The headliner among the group is senior running back Nick Hawkins, who ran for 1,115 yards and 13 touchdowns on 175 carries last season.
With the graduation of Nick McWilliams (1,348 yards, 23 TDs on 190 carries last season), Hawkins will be the go-to guy in 2015.
“When you have talent like (Hawkins), you want to use him as much as you can,” Reents said. “I think we have other guys who can step up and help out, too. I think we should be able to run the ball well. That’s what we like to do.”
Junior Jeff Treadman will take over at quarterback in place of Mason Southall, who threw for 1,005 yards and 12 touchdowns last year.
“We’ve got to be able to run the football, but when teams start loading up the box and trying to take away the run against us, we’ve got to be able to throw over the top of the defense, too,” Reents said. “We definitely think Jeff can do that for us. He’s been in our system his freshman and sophomore years, and he knows it.
“He’s an athletic kid, too, so he should be able to run the ball for us as well.”
Returning three starters on the offensive line – senior center Ben Studer, senior tackle Bailey Boswell and junior guard R.J. VanDuyne – should help Treadman greatly.
Defensively, senior linebacker Jake Capwell and senior defensive back Ty Brimer are returning starters, while Reents also expects big things from junior defensive backs Owen Weaver and James Cox and junior defensive lineman Sam Jones.
With the limited number of returning starters, Reents knows others are champing at the bit for their chance to shine.
“We should have decent speed on defense, and we have guys ready to contribute,” he said. “I think we have a lot of guys who maybe didn’t get a lot of opportunities to play last year, but they were still on a state championship team and got to experience that and be a part of it. Now, they’re looking forward to stepping into bigger roles.”
With Wilmington coming off a state championship, some might think the bar has been set higher for the Wildcats, with anything short of another title a disappointment.
Reents, however, said the goals are the same as always.
“We always have the same goals,” he said. “We want to win a conference championship and get into the playoffs. Once we get into the playoffs, it doesn’t matter what our regular-season record was. We just want to get in and see what happens.”
WILDCATS AT A GLANCE
Coach: Jeff Reents
2014 record: 14-0, 5-0 in Interstate Eight Small
Classification enrollment: 475 (probable class 3A)
Offensive coordinator: Barry Southall
Defensive coordinator: Jeff Reents
Returning offensive starters: T Bailey Boswell, RB Nick Hawkins, C Ben Studer, G R.J. VanDuyne
Returning defensive starters: DB Ty Brimer, LB Jake Capwell
August: 28 – at Sandwich, 7:15 p.m.
September: 4 – Coal City, 7:15 p.m.; 11 – Lisle, 7:15 p.m; 18 – at Reed-Custer, 7:15 p.m; 25 – Westmont, 7 p.m.
October 2 – at Herscher, 7:15 p.m.; 9 – Seneca, 7:15 p.m.; 16 – at Peotone, 7:15 p.m. 23 – Manteno, 7:15 p.m.