WILKES-BARRE — The Wilkes University football team finds itself in an unfamiliar position.
The Colonels are coming off their worst season in school history finishing 0-10 and establishing the mark for most losses in a season.
New coach Jonathan Drach takes over and becomes the team’s third coach in the last six seasons as Trey Brown wrapped up the shortest tenure as coach in Wilkes history with a 7-33 record in four years.
But Drach is starting a new regime while also paying tribute to the tradition
“We’ve had a lot of people come to speak to us about the history here and we have a lot of it, and we have a lot of tradition of success here,” Drach said. “It’s not like last year and the year before were the norm. Actually the norm is that we win and we win on a consistent level.”
Along with a new attitude, Drach, who was offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Hobart for 11 years, brings new schemes. The first-year head coach also has instilled new policies like the team wearing suits before and after every game, and also brought with him a modern powder blue alternate jersey that the student-athletes adore.
“This is going to be a process and I think by the time we’re here for four or five years, it will be a lot more shifted in a positive direction,” Drach added. “But at the same time we can start to see those little steps. It’s going to be the little things that we’ll do that will make a difference.”
The person lined up under center wearing the new jersey when the team takes the field on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. at Schmidt Stadium against Hartwick in the coach’s debut is not known yet. Returning quarterbacks in sophomore Wade Rippeon and junior Jose Tabora both have seem quality time calling plays in the past. Rippeon played in nine games last year, while Tabora was only in two after missing the rest of the campaign with an injury. As a freshman, Tabora played in nine games posting over 1,000 yards in the air, while rushing for more than 300.
“We’re very, very evaluation-driven so for us how you perform is how we can evaluate you,” Drach said. “Jose Tabora has had a great camp and he’s definitely a vocal leader and emotional leader for our football team right now.”
Senior wide receiver Jeff Steeber, from Berwick leads a youth-laden receiving core. A team captain, Steeber has played in every game the last two years.
“He has a lot of experience and he’s coming back for a fifth-year for our offense. He’s extremely vocal and probably one of the tougher kids I’ve ever coached,” Drach said. “He will punch you in the mouth if you do something wrong. He’s that type of tough.”
Another Wyoming Valley Conference product Anthony Marcincavage from Hanover Area, a three-year stater, paces the offensive line as another senior captain having played in 22 games over the last three seasons.
Drach said he expects to have even more local grads on the team in the future as they look to win recruiting in the area.
“It’s great to have local talent on the team. We have a lot of guys who are going to contribute for us from the local area that we’re really excited about that are leaders of our football team,” he said. “We’re going to continue to grow kids as well.”
After the quarterbacks, Steeber and Marcincavage, that’s just about it for the team’s experience on offense. The other side of the ball is where the Colonels are expected to be strongest with five of the six top tacklers from a year ago returning in Bud Moyer, Luke Wood, Isaiah Robinson, Michael Murphy and Devon Fink back. Add junior captain Vinnie Werner to the list on the defensive line and Drach is optimistic about his defensive unit, where nine of 11 expected starters have multiple years experience.
“I think that side of the ball has a little more veteran leadership coming back,” Drach added. “But we’re going to play multiple players.”
With first-year program Alvernia on the schedule, it’s realistic for the Colonels to exceed last year’s win total. If the group can mesh quickly under a new system, it’s not unrealistic for the team to contend for the more-experienced teams in the MAC. That’s what Drach is hoping for as well for his young team.
“We’re going to be 75 percent freshmen and sophomores, which makes us an extremely young football team. But that doesn’t mean we can’t be a successful football team,” the coach said. “I think for us it’s a matter of taking care of what we do and not so much worrying about the outside factor and everything else.”
Reach Times Leader sports at 570-829-7143 or on Twitter @TLsports