WELLINGTON — The running game will be Wellington’s strength this season, according to Matt Stoll.
That sounds like a bold prediction, considering the Dukes lost Clay Wright, their go-to guy from last year’s 7-4 team.
Wright, a Division IV second-team All-Ohio selection, averaged 7.6 yards per carry, rushed for 25 touchdowns and gained 1,483 yards as the Dukes went 6-1 in the Patriot Athletic Conference and reached the playoffs for the first time since 2003.
OK, but Stoll thinks the trio of Chase Bealer, Quin Dendinger and Alex Rush can give the Dukes’ Wing-T almost as many yards this year as Wright gave them in 2011.
“All of them are more than capable of carrying the ball, including Dylan (Weidrick, the quarterback),” Stoll said.
At least one of his players agrees.
“Offensively, we’re about the same as we were last year,” said Trey Brown, an all-conference and All-Lorain County guard.
That could also be a gutsy remark. Wellington knew it wouldn’t have Wright, who graduated two months ago. The Dukes didn’t think they would be minus Ryan Alspach, a second-team All-Ohio defensive tackle who also anchored the offensive line at center.
Alspach (6-foot-2, 240 pounds) is expected to miss the entire season after undergoing surgery for blood clots in his right shoulder.
“Obviously, that’s a huge setback,” said Rush, the only senior in the trio of running backs. “We’ll do what we can. We’re looking up. We’re doing better than I thought we would.”
Alspach said he still plans to be a presence.
“I’ll be on the sidelines or up in the (coaches) box, doing anything I can to help the team,” Alspach said.
In his place on the offensive line will be either sophomore Dalton Denny (6-0, 190) or junior Sam Miller (6-1, 230).
Brown and fellow senior Brandon Aviles return to the guard positions. Wiedrick is again the No. 1 quarterback, a job he has held since midway through his sophomore year.
The Dukes didn’t pass often in 2011. They put the ball in the air just 49 times in the regular season with 29 completions. When they do throw, Weidrick or JuJuan Howard (who can also play receiver) will go to either tight ends Matthew Bullock or Jake Diedrick, or wide receivers Daryn Broadwater and Sam Eckstenkamper.
Five starters return to Wellington’s 3-4 defense. Behler and Rush will be starting outside linebackers. Dendinger is the nose tackle and Brown is a defensive tackle. Weidrick and Howard are the starting cornerbacks.
The jobs in the middle of the defense are up for grabs.
“That was where we were strong last year,” Stoll said, referring to Wright at inside linebacker and third team All-Ohioans Zac Gilbert and Nathan Gray at safeties. “The new inside linebackers and safeties are going to have to step up.”
The candidates at inside linebacker are Tyler Polen, Brock Waltz and Josh Kitko. Bullock, Bobby Nestor and Joey Holiday are battling for the safety positions.
“We have to stay healthy,” Stoll said. “Depth could be an issue. Even with a tough non-conference schedule we have to come out of the gate playing well. We’ll be all right if we’re aggressive and we execute.
“Losing Ryan (Alspach) hurt, but the rest of them will just have to make up for it. They have good attitudes and they have been working hard.”
- CONFERENCE: Patriot Athletic, Stars Division
- 2011 RECORD: 7-4, 6-1
- COACH: Matt Stoll, 23rd year (143-89)
- RETURNING LETTERMEN: 11
- RETURNING STARTERS: 7
- FAST FACT: The Dukes’ four losses last year came against a state champion (Norwayne, Division IV), two state runners-up (Avon, Division II; Kenton, Division IV) and a Division III team that went 10-0 in the regular season (Firelands).
- Aug. 24: Norwayne (7)
- Aug. 31: at Avon Lake (7:30)
- Sept. 7: at Edison (7)
- Sept. 14: Columbia (7)*
- Sept. 21: at Clearview (7)*
- Sept. 28: Firelands (7)*
- Oct. 5: at Black River (7)*
- Oct. 12: Keystone (7)*
- Oct. 19: at Brookside (7)*
- Oct. 26: Buckeye (7)*
* Patriot Athletic Conference
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Contact Steve Byrne at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.