Scouting the Wheeling Wildcats
"Opportunity" is the theme of the season this year at Wheeling.
To be more accurate, "22 opportunities" is what head coach Brian Hauck wants his players to focus on.
No longer will the Wildcats have players extending themselves on every down on both sides of the ball. The days of two-way players are over.
That means that there will be 22 unique and different starters for Wheeling each game, 11 opportunities on offense, 11 opportunities on defense.
It's a big change from past seasons.
"Our big message to our kids is that with 22 starters, we have 22 opportunities," said Hauck, entering his third year as head coach. "We are starting to get kids who have never been in the program wondering if maybe there's a spot here for them. A lot of kids are buying in. It's been very different."
So what precipitated this change in philosophy?
Last year, Wheeling was hampered by multiple serious injuries to starting players, many of whom were two-way players, which just compounded the impact of their absence from games and practices because those injuries affected both the offense and the defense.
"We had a lot of two-way players last season and they were really good and at the core of our team," Hauck said. "But when they got hurt, we broke down. When they got tired, we wore down. And their injuries affected not only one position, but multiple positions.
"We were a different team the first third of the season than the last third of the season."
The Wildcats finished 2018 with a 3-6 record and Hauck is anxious to see how his 22-starter plan works. He knows it will likely be a work in progress at first.
"We might not have our best 11 players on the field at all times, like we tried to do last year," Hauck said. "But we saw what happened when we did that. Those best kids last year might not have been the best 11 kids on the field for us in the third and fourth quarters because by then, they were worn out from playing both ways. We are going to give 22 starters opportunities and we are going to stick with them as they learn. We know that some of them will be young and inexperienced and that they will make mistakes, but we are going to keep giving them reps and keep helping them learn and hopefully we will be a better team in the long run as they learn and we stay healthier and we don't wear down as easily."
Wheeling returns four starters on the offensive line, including Luis Gonzalez, Conor Osterman, Kenny Yoshino and Nick Garcia, who is back from an injury last season.
Also returning is wide receiver Danny Provost, who flourished under now-graduated quarterback Michael Best last year and will be working with new quarterback Austin Hembd this season.
"Austin is a worker, he's reliable and he has stepped up to be the leader of the offense and our team," Hauck said. "He's at his best when he's on the run. He is athletic and very versatile."
Hembd will share the backfield with a pair of new running backs: Paul Ufir and Jesus Delgado.
Defensively, the Wildcats return just two starters.
"Defense is where we will be the youngest and with the least amount of experience," said Hauck, who reports that the defensive line is entirely new and that the lineup was still being decided even a week out from the opener.
Safety Tyler Johnson and cornerback Kyle Kong are the two defensive starters back from last year.
"We have a lot of new kids, a lot of young kids," Hauck said. "But we have a lot more kids who are into this. When you have a lot of two-way players, you have a lot of kids who are withdrawn because they're not playing. We have a lot more different players playing this year and that's the way you develop players."