Bulldogs Return Plenty of Experience all Over the Field in Bid for First SAC Title Since 2019

Staff Writer: Michael O’Neill

The Wingate football team kicks off the 2022 season at Shaw University
in Raleigh on Sept. 3 striving to obtain a goal it hasn’t reached in three
years: the South Atlantic Conference championship.


The Bulldogs, who finished 8-3 overall and 6-2 in conference play last
year, began the 2021 season on a six-game winning streak but were
derailed by close losses at Barton and Newberry. Those setbacks were
the difference in WU not receiving a bid to the NCAA Tournament.


Entering his 22nd season as head coach, Joe Reich has been pleased with
the spring and summer development of his players, who experienced
their first full offseason program (due to Covid) since 2019 when the
Bulldogs went 10-2 overall.


Wingate enters the current campaign projected to finish third in the
league, according to the SAC Preseason Coaches’ Poll released Aug. 8.
Here’s a preview look at what to expect from the Bulldogs on offense,
defense and special teams:

OFFENSE
Quarterback Shaw Crocker, a redshirt senior from Greenville, S.C., is
back under center for his fifth season on campus after throwing for 1,894
yards and 15 touchdowns last season. He helped Wingate produce 3,809
yards of total offense and 31.4 points per game during the ’21 campaign.

Hunter Jolly, a 6-2, 315-pound center, will be the key returning lineman
responsible for protecting Crocker and opening rushing holes. The
redshirt senior from Cumming, Ga., has played 31 games across four
seasons for the Bulldogs and helped them rank third in the SAC in
rushing yards per game (162.1) and fifth in passing last year.


At running back, the Bulldogs will have to adjust to the graduation of
leading rusher Nijere Peoples (171 carries, 883 rushing yards, 6
touchdowns). Reich is looking to redshirt junior Kalen Clark (347 yards,
3 TDs) and sophomore Alexander Wilson (219 yards) to help fill that
void.


An experienced group of wide receivers return to help Crocker get the
ball downfield—including redshirt juniors Trevor Grant (221 receiving
yards, 6 touchdowns), Kamal Desor (322, 5), Myles Dillon (175 yards)
and senior RaQuan Simmons (270).


Grant, a 6-3, 215-pound product of nearby Cuthbertson High in
Waxhaw, has seen the receiving group grow and mesh together since he
arrived in 2018 as a freshman.


“Our receiving corps has grown to be a veteran group since the
beginning of my freshman year,” Grant said. “We have some great depth
and talent in the receiving department coming into this season, not to
mention the addition of our new receivers coach, (former Appalachian
State pass-catching star) Shaedon Meadors. Coach Meadors has been a
great fit for our offense and has helped our core grow closer to develop a
more player-led atmosphere within our group. When it comes to
improvements, our receivers have shown much more physicality this
offseason, and I am excited to see it in action this year.”

#84 Trevor Grant

DEFENSE
The Bulldog defense, which accounted for 450 tackles and 17 sacks in
2021, should be stout again with the return of senior linebacker Jaquan
Edwards, a preseason All-SAC pick. He was a powerful force for the defensive unit last year, contributing 70 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, 2.5
sacks and an interception.

Making the plays in front of Edwards on the defensive line of be redshirt
seniors Sirod Cook (41 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, 6 sacks) and DJ
Horne (30, 7, 3). Rounding out the linebacking corps will be redshirt
sophomores Dontorian Best (8 games in 2021) and Davon Gilmore (3
tackles for loss), who have impressed in preseason. Experienced
returnees Dequan Mosley, Justin Armwood (2 interceptions) and Jaheim
Mullen should make the secondary a strong suit.


Edwards, a 5-11, 228-pound Johnston, S.C., product who should be one
of the top defensive playmakers in Division 2, is the group’s
unquestioned leader.


“The big thing for me this offseason was to move more into that vocal-
leader role the program and the team needs more from me,” Edwards
said. “Becoming more consistent and confident in my role, just
perfecting the little things, getting players to buy into what Coach Reich
and our defensive coaches preach, which is dominating the
moment—and to dominate on Saturday we must dominate Monday
through Friday.”


SPECIAL TEAMS
Wingate’s special-teams unit will return a lot of experience and be led
by 6-4, 235-pound Ethan Evans, who is back for his fourth season as the
placekicker, kickoff man and punter. The senior from Mount Airy has
amassed 146 kickoffs for 9,050 yards during the past three seasons and
averaged 42.5 yards per punt last year. Redshirt sophomore J Max
Swaim, a backup wide receiver who had 131 of WU’s 641 kickoff-return
yards in 2021, is the top return threat.

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