By: Ryan Gasser, sports information director
When Thomas Wibbeler approached Capital Football head coach Chad Rogosheske about playing for the Crusaders nearly two years ago, all that was promised was a chance to compete. For someone looking for an opportunity to make an impact somewhere, that was enough. After a knee injury cut his season in half, one could characterize his first year with the Purple and White as having dipped his foot into the water. Now, the junior is looking to return and make a splash.
Entering the seventh game of last year's schedule, Capital sported a 3-3 record before heading north to play John Carroll University. Nearing 1,500 passing yards and possessing 11 touchdown passes to just four interceptions, Wibbeler's first season with Cap and as a collegiate starting quarterback was off to a promising start. This is especially true considering it was happening under a first-year head coach and in an offensive system that abruptly moved away from the triple option and into a spread system.
Against John Carroll, one play near the end of the second quarter derailed what was on pace to be an all-conference season.
"I thought I could just go pick up the first down and then I got to the sideline," recalled Wibbeler. "I kind of let up because I was going out of bounds and then the guy hit me pretty hard. But as soon as I went down, I knew it wasn't right. I've been hit hard in my career but that was the most painful."
On a third and medium yardage play, Wibbeler recalls that he did not like the defense. The rush came quickly so he thought he could roll out and get the yards for the first down. He came up short, was hit hard near the sideline, and was unable to continue that game and the remainder of the season.
After redshirting in 2014 and playing in limited time at Ohio Dominican University (NCAA Division II), he began looking for a new home and more opportunity. Wibbeler said, "I was looking for a school that I could have a big role on the football field and outside of it, to be able to be a leader and help guys out … to have an impact."
Head Coach Chad Rogosheske granted Wibbeler that opportunity, and the Zanesville, Ohio native ran (and threw) with it. It also helped that current senior Zach Clapper and Will Weir '17 would be protecting him for the second time in his career after spending time together at Zanesville High School during the program's deep playoff run some years ago.
Just as former quarterback Chase Longwell '17 had when he suffered a similar injury in 2014, Wibbeler was not to be kept off the field, out of the film room or be any less involved with team activities.
"As a quarterback you go out there, there is a rush and there is a lot going on," said Wibbeler. "Once you come off the sidelines and there is another quarterback there … it means the world to have somebody come up to you and tell you it's alright or tell you something that they're seeing that you're not seeing."
So in rehab, the weight room and on the sidelines, he was active and present.
Capital went on to lose the game against John Carroll, and then went 1-2 over its last three games with a real chance to flip that record. The Crusaders' double overtime victory over Baldwin Wallace the following week showed the result of what leadership from the sideline can produce as reserve quarterbacks Connor McCloud and Nick Iske accounted for five touchdowns.
When asked what could have been, Wibbeler spoke humbly. "I'd like to say we would have done better [had he not been injured] but you never really know. [Nick] Iske and [Connor] McCloud did a great job … we would have definitely built more of a rhythm and feel for the future."
The rehab process has been a tremendous success, and Wibbeler says he is full go and waiting anxiously to get back on to the field.
Capital has many offensive weapons returning, including Second Team All-OAC selection and leading freshman receiver David Barnett, plus a class of 43 freshmen and a handful of transfers mixed in. It will also help to having starting running back Cory Heeter back fully healthy, too. Wibbeler is ready to finish what he started a season ago.
"I'm excited," said Wibbeler. "It is going to be fun. We want to be known as a passing threat, and for teams to be worried that we can go up top or short."
Then his humility returned.
"I want to be the leading passer in the OAC," stated Wibbeler. "But that only comes with a great team and the guys having the same mindset and goals. I would much rather win 10 games than get those individual statistics, though. If the team succeeds, the numbers will be there."
Only two Capital quarterbacks have passed for more than 1,500 yards since 2002, and Wibbeler is one of them. He finished with 1,556 yards and 11 touchdown passes in just six games last year. The other quarterback to hit 1,500 yards was Chase Carris (1,905) in 2011. Marty Assman was the last 2,000-yard passer at Cap (2009).
The goals have been set to win every game played, one game at a time. He also states a major, obvious goal is to stay healthy. If those two missions are accomplished, there is a real chance that the Crusaders' win count will increase and performance-based accolades will be in the mix this season.
This story was featured inside the Capital Football preseason prospectus on July 20, 2017.