By: Ryan Gasser, sports information director
COLUMBUS, Ohio – The Capital University football team is days away from opening the 2019 campaign with a road game against Westminster College (Pa.). With the season quickly approaching, Head Coach Chad Rogosheske is banking on veterans from his first class to come through on the field and as leaders for his Crusader squad.
Year four of the Chad Rogosheske era is underway and with one full recruitment cycle under his belt, the head ball coach will be leaning on both the senior and freshman classes fairly heavily this year. Here is what you need to know about the 2019 Crusaders.
WHO WILL BE UNDER CENTER?
There will be a changing of the guard under center for the Crusaders this year with the graduation of three-year starter Thomas Wibbeler. Wibbeler will remain as a student coach with the quarterbacks and now get to mentor his understudies, juniors Andrew Ray and Mitchell Machock.
After a preseason duel that last all the way through the final weekend leading into the opener, Andrew Ray (Troy, Ohio / Troy) was named QB1 for Opening Day. Ray played in eight games last season in which he went 12-for-27 (.444) through the air for 122 yards, one touchdown and two picks in limited time. He saw the most time against the University of Mount Union in a game in which he went 9-for-21 for 107 yards. He threw a touchdown pass on his lone attempt against Ohio Northern University last year.
"It is ultimately consistency," said Rogosheske. "We got to find a guy that can consistently perform and execute … they've both shown capabilities of doing it. We're looking for that's how it is a majority of time."
Mitchell Machock (Orlando, Fla./Cocoa Beach) will serve as the primary backup to Ray.
THE TIME IS NOW FOR BUTLER
Coach Rogosheske admitted this preseason that the run game has to get better from a season ago, having rushed for just 546 yards in 2018. He has a lot of returning players that he hopes will contribute to creating the balance on offense he desires.
Evin Butler (Dayton, Ohio / Dayton Christian) has been contributing in the Capital backfield now going on four straight years. Now a senior, "Pup" is now looking to eat like the big dogs as the Crusaders' feature back. His best season came during his freshman year where he rushed 66 times for 248 yards. Last year, his yardage production was not where Cap would like it to be, but he did find the end zone for the first time in his career. With a reinforced offensive line, Butler may break from his leash and have his breakout season.
Butler will not be alone in the backfield. While not officially a running back by committee approach, Cap will utilize the strengths of their different backs to its advantage. Junior Dylan Schoonover (Grove City, Ohio / Grove City) runs well north-south and his fearless attitude makes him dangerous in short-yard situations. Senior Antwan Shipp (Carol City, Fla. / Miramar) can widen the field to keep opposing defenses honest and once in the open field can make defenders miss. Rounding out the veteran foursome of backs is junior Jaden Gianettino (Zanesville, Ohio / West Muskingum). After an injury during his freshman year, Gianettino has been getting back to full strength and may be ready to take on an increased role in the offense.
"A lot of times we ask those guys to block for each other," said Rogosheske. "That is a group you feel good about the experience with some of the returning guys, and some of the young guys too … it's a deep, solid group."
With nine running backs listed, four of those being freshmen, there may be opportunities to crack into the lineup if a Crusader can develop some versatility in their skillset.
"Versatility is what we always talk about with our running backs. You can't just be good at one thing in our offense in what we ask for them to do," said Rogosheske. "That well-roundedness is so important for that position. I that can be a separator, a guy who is solid in doing all of those things."
BARNETT BACK IN ACTION
Capital brings 14 wide receivers into the opening week, but none bigger than senior David Barnett (Springfield, Ohio / Shawnee). Barnett, a three-time all-conference selection, had his season shortened due to a shoulder injury in 2018 but still was named honorable mention All-OAC at season's end after putting up a line of 53-681-5 in seven games. He put forth 10 touchdown catches in each of the previous two seasons.
Barnett was also named team co-captain by his teammates following the final preseason scrimmage, serving as a testament to his leadership off of the gridiron as well.
On the other side of the field, fellow senior Wyatt Pertuset (Richwood, Ohio / North Union) will step up as the day one starter. Pertuset made a historic touchdown catch in the season opener against Mount St. Joseph University last year. Not only was it his first of his career, but the first touchdown scored by an openly gay athlete in all of college football. It was not his last either. He caught two more touchdown passes and finished with 21 catches for 337 yards.
Multiple Crusaders are ready to step up to fill in the ranks after Cap's top two receiving options. Junior Chad Davis (Wilmington, Ohio / Wilmington) and sophomore Sam Pickett (Cincinnati, Ohio / Milford) are primed to be the primary backups behind Barnett and Pertuset after strong preseasons.
Sophomore Kameron Lee (Piqua, Ohio / Lehman Catholic) may not be a well-kept secret anymore. After missing the first half of his freshman season recovering from an injury out of high school, Lee came on to the scene in a big way. His first two collegiate catches went for touchdowns against Ohio Northern and he scored four total on the year, at least one in each game he played. His big frame makes him perfect for the role of starting tight end or to be used as a slot receiver. Last year, he finished with 10 catches, 120 yards, and four scores in four games.
Sophomore Mike Smith (Grove City, Ohio / Upper Arlington) may also provide some additional depth after switching sides of the ball. After an injury ended his first season with Cap prematurely last year, Smith will move from defensive back to wide out to use his 6-2, 230-pound frame in certain sets.
IN THE TRENCHES - PART 1
Whether it is protecting the quarterback or making holes for running backs, Coach Rogosheske knows that the success of the offense will be heavily dependent on the play of his offensive line. Youth impeded progress toward that goal in 2018, and while there are no seniors on the line, the makeup of the machine up front still has some strong veteran returners.
The left side of the line may be its strength with junior Joshua McSweeney (Delaware, Ohio/Rutherford B. Hayes) at tackle and Nick Russell (Hilliard, Ohio / Hilliard Darby) at guard protecting the blind side. McSweeney used the offseason to build strength and trim down to 295 pounds in order to build some quickness in his game. Russell has been in the mix since his freshman year and was a major cog in the line last year, as well.
Sophomore Jake Frey (Broadview Heights, Ohio / North Royalton) saw time on the line last year and has locked down the starting nod at right tackle. Beside him will be a freshman that has stood out among the crowd, Brady Kuhn (Powell, Ohio / Olentangy Liberty). At 6-2, 280 pounds, Kuhn has the size and will quickly build the resume as the starter at right guard.
Anchoring the line at center is sophomore Kevin Cuervo (Wintersville, Ohio/Steubenville Catholic), who will see his first action in purple and white.
IN THE TRENCHES - PART 2
While injuries have taken a bit of a toll on the depth of the defensive line, Coach Rogosheske says that it still has the potential to be the strength of the defense.
On the interior, veterans Kobe Swackhammer (Sunbury, Ohio/Big Walnut) and Jack Blaisdell (West Unity, Ohio / Hilltop) provide the beef to swallow up gaps and attack through the center. The outsides will have a younger look that will rely on athleticism and hunger to get a good start to the season.
Sophomore Rex Chadeya (Grove City, Ohio / Grove City) is one young player whose versatility and athleticism escalated him to the top of the depth chart on one end position. Behind him is sophomore Bryce Johnson (Huntingdon, Tenn./Huntingdon), who moved from linebacker to end in the offseason. On the other end are freshmen Kaleb Dave (Powell, Ohio / Worthington Kilbourne) and Dez Turkson (Canal Winchester, Ohio / Canal Winchester). Both have good size and quickness off the snap to make an impact on the edge.
SECOND LEVEL SUCCESS
The top three linebacker options are strong ones for the Crusaders. The headline backer is senior and co-captain Kole Carter (Gallipolis, Ohio / Gallia Academy). An honorable mention All-OAC selection a year ago, Carter finds himself in nearly every statistical category from tackles, to sacks, to fumbles forced and recovered. His ability to play in coverage, make open-field tackles and rush the quarterback will make him a danger to opposing offenses. He is the Crusaders lead returning tackler (88) and sacker (3).
Junior Blayde McCully (Ostrander, Ohio / Buckeye Valley) is another year stronger and wiser, both positive qualities needed from the middle linebacker position. With that experience, the eyes of the defense will look to build on last year, which featured 47 tackles and two fumble recoveries.
Malcolm Wiggins (Zanesville, Ohio/West Muskingum) earned his spot as the team's starting STAR linebacker after playing limited time over the last two season. Freshmen Nick Fisanik and Evan Nichols will serve as primary reserves on the outside, while junior Wyatt Long is slated to be McCulley's backup in the middle.
ON THE OUTSIDES
Two senior defensive backs will be hard to replace, but Avery Sylvester (Normal, Ill./Normal) and transfer Devon Brown (Solon, Ohio/Solon) are up to the task. Sylvester came to the Crusaders two seasons ago from Iowa Wesleyan University and made his first interception late in the season last year. Brown, a junior, came to CU from Denison University this offseason and has sprung into a starting spot opposite of Sylvester.
Quincy Edwards (Columbus, Ohio/Pickerington Central) is a freshman that comes from a nationally-ranked high school program, and has opened some eyes on the coaching staff. His speed and athleticism have helped him garner a spot as a primary reserve in the secondary, alongside sophomore Terrent Wiggins Jr. Senior Mike Clark is a veteran that has played a lot in nickel and dime packages over the last three years and will likely factor into the defensive back scheme.
LAST LINE OF DEFENSE
Though the Crusaders hope that the tackle numbers are not very high from this position group at season's end, the safeties are an area in which Cap can feel good heading into the 2019 campaign. Fourth-year Jake Elsayed (Pittsburgh, Pa./North Hills) tallied 57 tackles, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery in his first year as the Crusaders' boundary safety. He is primed to not just return to that spot but also help lead the defense from behind. Noted as a studious player, Coach Rogosheske will be leaning on Elsayed's eyes and skill to guide the defense toward growth in the backfield.
Sophomore Tanner Wollenberg (New Lexington, Ohio/Sheridan) worked his way into the lineup last year and will maintain the top spot at free safety. Wollenberg is diverse in that he can cover or provide the big hit, if necessary.
Behind Wollenberg on the two-deep may be one of Coach Rogosheske's top first-year impact players, Dakota Kirkbride (Zanesville, Ohio/Maysville). Kirkbride transferred to Cap from Wheeling University (W.Va.) who will likely play a major role as time in multiple areas as time goes on.
Capital brought four kickers into camp his offseason, which has bred competition among the group. Emerging as the starting place kicker for the third straight year is junior Blake Middleton (Miamisburg, Ohio / Miamisburg). Middleton improved his numbers between years one and two and in 2018 went 5-for-8 on field goal attempts with a long of 35 yards. He excelled greatly in point-after touchdown tries, hitting 30-of-34 (.880) on the year, at one point hitting more than 20 in a row.
Wyatt Pertuset gets to carry the title of starting punter as well. Last year, he punted 34 times and averaged 36.7 yards per kick with a long of 55 yards. Nine of his punts landed inside the 20-yard line.
Antwan Shipp led the OAC in kickoff return yardage a season ago and looks to regain his spot as the primary return man on kickoffs (17.2 ypr) and punt returns. Tanner Wollenberg (4-121-30.3) filled in that role late in the season due to injury and seems to have nestled into the second option in the return game.
Capital is ready to open the 2019 campaign with a road game at Westminster College (Pa.) on Thursday, Sept. 5. The Crusaders and the Titans (2018: 7-3 overall, 6-2 PAC) will clash at Burry Stadium in New Wilmington, Pa. at 6:30 p.m. Cap and WC have not played one another in their histories.