Wheeling Jesuit set for maiden voyage
By JOSH STROPE
For The Times Leader
WHEELING — A new era begins for Wheeling Jesuit University this fall as football finally comes to the school.
Martins Ferry native Zac Bruney was hired last year to build the program from scratch and the team took to the field during the second week of August to practice.
“I’m pleased with the excitement and the morale of this team,” Bruney said. “We are pleased with the numbers. We wish we had more depth as some spots, more up front on the offensive and defensive line front, but that is to be expected. Our skill positions are solid. I really like our running backs and we have three quarterbacks in camp. Two solid tight ends. Our secondary has been impressive and there is good numbers.”
The Wheeling Jesuit roster consists of 72 players, 70 being freshmen coming right out of high school.
The other two — Jack Fitch and Dylan Baker — will be first-year college football players.
Fitch — who played for Bruney’s legendary father, Dave, at Martins Ferry — has been on the track and field team for the past few seasons at Wheeling Jesuit. He joins the team with two years of eligibility left, but also not having played football in three years since high school. His father, Dirk, is the team’s running backs coach.
Sophomore Dylan Baker was a standout at Wheeling Central, but enrolled at Wheeling Jesuit last season as a student. He came to Bruney last fall as asked if he could come out, attending every workout and offseason meeting.
“Everyone else is a first-year guy, no transfers,” Bruney said. “It is a labor of love, but also a baptism by fire. We are pleased with where we are at early in camp. Now we have to take bigger strides, better strides, as we improve each day.
“So far we have seen the growing pains of a young football team, We have basically 72 rookies to the college game. I am impressed with our talent as far as the Division II level talent we have brought in.
“We are coaching them hard on their effort, understanding they have to learn how to practice the right way, as far as the tempo as fast as this. A lot of them have never practiced with a tempo and pace as fast as this.”
Wheeling Jesuit will play 10 games this fall, the final game being an intersquad game Nov. 10. The Cardinals take the field for the first time for a scrimmage at Cornell on Sept. 1, following by their first home game Sept. 8 against Hocking College.
Wheeling Jesuit will play teams much like itself, jayvee squads that feature young players. Next season, they take on a full Mountain East Conference schedule.
Despite the learning curve for the Cardinals, Bruney says wins and losses will matter.
“We want to compete and win at everything we do, especially when there is another color jersey across the way,” he said. “Instilling competition, winning in practice, winning in the classroom. We have to instill in them a competition mindset right from the start. Wins and losses matter, because that is our nature.”
The Wheeling Jesuit roster features 15 players that come from OVAC teams — Baker (Wheeling Central), Luc Baker (River), Jaylon Bridges (Weir), Torey Calio (Beaver Local), Lucas Donley (Union Local), Ryan Ekey (Madonna), Zachery Ekey-Caron (Steubenville), Fitch (Martins Ferry), Matt Greenwood (St. Clairsville), Jake Keenan (Toronto), Ryan LaFollette (Monroe Central), Chayce Lemley (Madonna), Jamaal Petteway (Steubenville), Logan Tucker (Wheeling Park) and Drew Wagnild (River).
The offensive line consists of Ekey, Baker, Tim Trump, Elliot and Evan Chavis, Aaron Hess, Mitch Romig, a group coached by former Bridgeport coach and West Liberty offensive coordinator Gary Krol.
Tyler Sprouse, Tucker Strachan and Tommy Horton make up the quarterbacks.
“I feel I have three solid Division II-caliber starting quarterbacks,” Bruney said. “They are improving each day and we are excited about those guys.”
Connor Wolfe, Sy Alli, Cam’ron McClain, Tyler Browning are getting solid looks in the backfield.
at running back, as well as Big Red’s Petteway. Others fighting for carries are Bradley Moore and Nick Welsh.
“He has really surprised some people and opened up some eyes in these first few days of practice. Really doing a great job,” Bruney said of Petteway. “The running back group is deep and talented.”
Tristan Ballard and Lyle Clark make up the tight ends.
LaFollette is coming off winning the Most Valuable Player of the OVAC Sam Mumley All-Star Football game. The former do-it-all quarterback has moved to receiver where he is joined by Jack Fitch, Tucker, Keenan, Mitchell Blackburn, Draven Hess, Kiaran Turner, and Montell Hubbard.
Bruney has been especially pleased with what he has seen from the defense, although he does admit that defenses are usually ahead of the offense during the first few days of camp.
Mott Gaymon is the defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach and has a talented group.
The defensive line features local products Ekey and Donley, along with Decarlos Alford, Jordan White, Dalton Warne, Brandon Munoz, Adriel Wheeler, Brody Lundeen and Myckel Brown.
“Myckel is as talented as you will find at the Division II level,” Bruney said. “Now all he has to do is learn the game, learn the speed.”
Ryan Gorman has really stuck out at linebackers, and is joined by James Reese, Brice Haines, Tyrone Branch, Sam Serrano and Blake Rankin.
Bruney feels his secondary will be a deep group with Cody Anderson, Baker, Max Baker, Brandon Booker, Weir’s Bridges, Aaron Finch, Oldanis Gary Jr. (whose father played at Miami, Fla., and spent five years in the NFL with the Denver Broncos and Detroit Lions), Joey Jones, Dakota Kirkbridge, Lemley (who has been battling an injury), Lorenza Pearson, Greyden Piechnick, Justin Stropky, Jaelon Thomas and Richard White.
St. C.’s Greenwood will be the punter and placekicker.
“Excitement is high and I hope it is high around the community,” Bruney said. “We hope to put a good product on the field that everyone can be proud of and get behind.”
Bruney is assisted by Dirk Fitch, Gaymon, Krol, Brandon Robinson, Dave Price, Raphael Johnson, former Harrison Central coach Justin Kropka, Nicholas Ortiz and Thomas Corbett.