By Adam Riley II, Staff Writer
The Wingate University football program looks to build off of a successful 2016 season, finishing 8-3 overall and 5-2 in South Atlantic Conference play. All that begins in the summer.
Over the course of an eight-week period during the months of June and July, the Bulldogs have what they call the “Dog Days of Summer”. This is a period where players come back to campus to conduct the bulk of their preparation for the upcoming season.
The Bulldogs train at 6 a.m. four mornings a week.
“Certain days we’re running then lifting, specifically doing speed and power development, other days we lift and then run afterwards for our conditioning work. And that final 4-week build up until camp starts it’s a big push to get everybody geared and ready to go.” said WU head strength and conditioning coordinator Will Hayes.
Head coach Joe Reich’s Bulldogs eclipsed another 7-game winning record last season, which earned them a shot at the SAC championship in the last game of the regular season at Newberry. They fell just shy of claiming their first title since 2010 in a 27-22 loss. The Bulldogs finished second in the league, tying with rival Catawba, which had won the conference the previous year.
“We played with great effort last season, I want us to carry that over into next season.” Reich says. “From a league perspective, we got ourselves in the championship conversation last season.”
Training camp officially starts on Aug. 7 and Reich and his Bulldogs enter the 2017 season with high hopes and expectations.
Redshirt senior linebacker Zack Singleton, one of the team’s captains, said: “I’m really looking forward to it. We have a lot of athletes coming in, probably the most athletes we’ve ever had on the team.”
Reich said, “One of our main focuses going in Aug. 7 is to stay healthy throughout camp.”
The Bulldogs were hit drastically by the injury bug last season, losing starting safety Kameron Johnson, a redshirt sophomore, due to a season ending foot injury in camp. In addition, the Bulldogs suffered two more critical blows with injuries to running back Lawrence Pittman and receiver/return specialist Adam Riley. Both Bulldogs suffered season-ending ankle injuries just one week apart. Pittman was leading all NCAA football players in touchdowns scored when he was sidelined for the season.
And three-year starting quarterback Kyle Johnson suffered an injury to his throwing arm on the opening drive of the season-ending game against Newberry, in which he did not return.
The Bulldogs lost a number of key seniors from this past season on both sides of the ball. They include: defenseive end and SAC Defensive Player of the Year Ray Edwards; first team all-SAC defensive end Andre Foulks; and four-year starter at cornerback Cornell Cheron.
On offense, most notably notably the Bulldogs will lose All-Conference Receiver and four-year starter in Jordan Berry, as well as fellow starting receiver Joe Wallace, in addition to quarterback Johnson.
Zack Singleton (LB)
Kameron Johnson (DB)
Josh Shelton (DB)
Robbie Wallace (LB)
James Basham (DE)
Tim Longmire (DB)
Jabari Foster (DB)
Joseph Kelly (DB)
Christopher Biroses (P)
Blake Hayes (RB)
Lawrence Pittman (RB)
The entire OL
Jake Jensen (TE)
B.J. Muckelvene (WR)
Malik Bledsoe (WR)
Jay Hood (WR)
J.T. Stokes (WR)
Adam Riley II (WR/PR)
The Bulldogs will play seven night games in a 10-game season, four of which will be at home for the first time in the school’s history.
“We are looking forward to Saturday Night Lights! Playing seven of 10 games at night this year will be a different experience for us.” Reich said in a previous interview. “I like the idea of the new reality, playing at night and I think it will really get all of our guys fired up.”
The Bulldogs’ season begins at 6 p.m. on Sept. 2, as they travel to Charlotte to face off against the Golden Bulls of Johnson C. Smith University. Wingate’s first home game is on Sept. 16 against conference opponent Carson-Newman, with kickoff at 6 p.m. at Irwin Belk Stadium.