2012 Southern Conference Spring Football Preview: Wofford Terriers

John Hooper@soconjohn22Correspondent IIMay 18, 2012

Wofford Senior Running Back Eric Breitenstein Spearheads What Should Once Again Be One Of The Nation's Top Ground Attacks
Wofford Senior Running Back Eric Breitenstein Spearheads What Should Once Again Be One Of The Nation's Top Ground Attacks

Despite posting an 8-4 record in the 2011 football season, Wofford was beset by some heartbreaking defeats last fall.

And one in particular stood out—a 28-21 loss at Northern Iowa in the opening round of the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs that ended the season for veteran head coach Mike Ayers and the Terriers.

With 14 starters (seven on offense, seven on defense) set to return for the 2012 campaign, the Terriers expect to be back challenging for a Southern Conference crown once again next fall.

Ayers must find a replacement for three-year starter Mitch Allen under center, and that won’t be easy— especially from a running standpoint.

All Allen did was finish his career as the SoCon’s sixth all-time leading rusher, with 2,574 yards.

In spring practice, rising senior Brian Kass (8-of-14, 157 yds, 3 TDs) emerged as the starter, and he will likely be the leading candidate to lead the Old Gold and Black into action when they open the 2012 campaign on Sept. 1 at Gardner-Webb.

Kass has been efficient under center throughout his career, entering the campaign having completed 26-of-48 passes for 454 yards and seven TDs, without having thrown an INT. Kass is nearly the polar opposite of Allen in that he is much more proficient as a passer but does not have quite the running capabilities.

Others competing for the starting job in fall camp will include Michael Weimer and James Lawson. Weimer, a 6'5", 215-pound redshirt freshman from Chapin, S.C., has great size and a strong arm, but it will be interesting to see how he fits the Mike Ayers spread-bone offense. In 20 games as the starter at Chapin High School, Weimer threw for 3,000 yards and recorded 25 passing TDs, while rushing for 11 more scores.

Lawson, a sophomore from Pickens, S.C., will give the Terriers a solid athletic presence under center this fall. However, it’s most likely a two-horse race for the starting position between both Kass and Weimer.

The best news for a ground attack that led the nation once again in rushing last fall is the return of fullback and Walter Payton Award candidate Eric Breitenstein (1,474 yds, 19 TDs, 5.5 YPC) for his senior season.

Breitenstein, who was the Southern Conference Offensive Player of the Year in 2011, has already posted one of the greatest careers by a Wofford running back in the history of the program.

He enters his senior season having rushed for 3,695-career yards, which is third on the school’s all-time rushing ledger behind former greats Kevious Johnson (3,851 career yards) and quarterback Shawn Graves (5,128 career yards).

In his standout career for the Terriers, Breitenstein has already produced the No. 1 and No. 3 best single-season rushing yardage totals.  His 1,474 yards last season were third best in school history, while his 1,639 yards in 2010 set the school’s all-time standard for rushing yards gained in a single season.

Breitenstein has had some monster game for the Terriers in his career. In a 38-17 win over No. 17 Furman in 2010, Breitenstein ripped off a 230-yard, four-TD effort, accounting for the most rushing yards by a Wofford running back in a single game since Lamond Smith went for 256 yards in 1994. Last season, Breitenstein posted a 217-yard rushing performance in the 48-28 homecoming win over Elon.

Breitenstein completed the 2011 season ranked 10th nationally in rushing yards.

Flanking Breitenstein as the two wing backs this fall for the Terriers will be Donovan Johnson (110 ATT, 967 YDS, 9 TDs, 8.8 YPC) and Brad Nocek (28 ATT, 168 YDS, 6.0 YPC). 

Both Nocek and Johnson are experienced performers and will once again be dangerous threats on the perimeter for the Terriers.

Johnson will also likely see some action at fullback in relief of Breitenstein. He is one of the most versatile running backs in the SoCon, and if it weren’t for Breitenstein, he might be an all-conference performer at fullback. In the Sept. 24 win over Samford, Johnson was part of three-headed rushing attack as he went for a career-high 173 yards in the 38-24 win.

Rising senior Bryan Youman (47 ATT, 274 YDS, 3 TDs, 5.8 YPC) should also play a significant role in the Wofford backfield this fall and will likely compete for a starting job as a Terrier wingback in fall camp.

One of the major losses on the offensive side of the football for Wofford heading into the 2012 season is wide receiver Brenton Bersin. All Bersin did in his senior campaign was haul in 26 passes for 445 yards and a couple of TDs (17.1 YPR) to lead the Terriers.

Set to replace Bersin as Wofford’s primary receiving target will be wideout Jeff Ashley (7 REC, 188 YDS, 2 TDs, 26.9 AVG), who finished the 2011 season as the Terriers' second-leading wideout.

Ashley is coming off a strong spring, and is poised to build upon what was a solid sophomore campaign last fall. The 6'3", 185-pound receiver has excellent hands, good speed, and he isn’t scared to mix it up as a blocker on the edge.

There are other young wide receivers that also may contribute this fall for the Terriers, including a pair of talented, young redshirt freshmen, Rickman Davis and Will Irwin. Rob Greene also returns for his sophomore campaign.

With the graduation of Joseph Inman at tight end, the Terriers will now rely on rising junior Michael Harpe (2 rec, 64 yds, 2 TDs, 32.0 YPR) to be a presence both as a receiver and blocker this fall. The 6-2, 227-pound native of Spartanburg has good hands and is also a solid perimeter blocking presence.

Both of Harpe’s receptions last fall ended up being scoring catches in Wofford’s 47-14 rout of UVa-Wise.

The offensive line returns four of five starters for the 2012 campaign.

It’s a unit that helped the Terriers once again lead the FCS in rushing average last season, as the Terriers churned out an average of 364.6 YPG.

The bad news, however, is the one loss along the front is a significant one. RG Nate Page garnered the SoCon’s prestigious Jacobs Blocking Award for his efforts in his senior season along the Terriers offensive front.

Expected to inherit the unenviable task of replacing Page will be senior T.J. White, who is coming off a solid spring. The four starters returning for Ayers’ Terriers this fall: Tymeco Gregory (LG), Calvin Cantrell (LT), Jared Singleton (C) and Jake Miles (RT). Cantrell, who enters his senior season, is the best of the bunch.

This corps of four offensive linemen helped the Terriers’ offense rank second in the SoCon in scoring (32.3 PPG) and top the league in total offense (444.7 YPG).

Defensively, the Terriers return seven starters from a unit that was once again among the league’s elite, as Wofford ranked second in total defense (311.8 YPG), fifth in scoring defense (24.3 PPG), first in total defense (135.8 YPG) and sixth in pass defense (176.0 YPG).

The most devastating losses as a result of graduation might be felt on the defensive line where Ameet Pall, Eric Eberhardt and Alex Goultry have all graduated.

The revamped defensive line will definitely be one of the storylines heading into spring for the Terriers. A trio of talented players return hoping to fill those vacancies along the defensive line this fall, which include Zach Bobb, Tarek Odom and Allen Smith.

Bobb and Smith will likely compete for starting jobs at defensive end, while Odom will be in line to take the starting job at nose tackle. Odom was one of the bright stars on the Wofford defense last season, as he garnered SoCon All-Freshman Team honors.

A trio of talented redshirt freshmen defensive ends return, in Jordan Pope, Daniel Patton and Ethan Gaskins, while veteran Josh Roseborough returns for his senior season at nose tackle.

Linebacker has always been a strength for the Terriers and the 2012 season should be no different.

The Terriers welcome the return of all four starters, including outside linebacker Alvin Scioneaux (85 tackles, 17.0 TFL, 8.5 SCK, 5 FF), who enters the 2012 season as one of the top defensive players in the Southern Conference.

Scioneaux stepped up and played along the defensive front last season as an extra defensive end, finishing the 2011 campaign as Wofford’s sacks leader. Scioneaux was an All-SoCon First Team selection by the league’s media, while garnering second-team honors according to the league’s coaches.

Scioneaux had three double-digit tackle games last season for the Terriers, with a season-high of 11 tackles coming against both The Citadel and Western Carolina.  

Joining the athletic Scioneaux as a starter as a leader at linebacker for the Terriers this fall will be redshirt senior inside linebacker Mike Niam (83 TACK, 6.0 TFL), who will also likely compete for All-SoCon accolades this fall.

Niam, who has battled knee problems his whole career, fashioned a strong 2011 season, finishing second on the team in total tackles.

Rounding out the starters at linebacker for the Terriers this fall will be junior Mike McCrimon (62 TACK, 5.0 TFL) at inside linebacker, while senior Phillip LeGrande (34 TACK, 3.0 TFL) will join Scioneaux at outside linebacker.

McCrimon is one of the best athletes on the defensive side of the football for the Terriers, as he holds the school record in the triple jump.

The secondary also returns its fair share of talent for the 2012 season, with four players—including three starters—returning with solid experience. The only loss was the graduation of cornerback Preston Roseborough.

The three returning starters as a part of the unit heading into the 2012 season will be senior strong safety Kendall Bratcher and junior free safety James Zotto.

Bratcher and Zotto are veterans and will give the Wofford secondary a physical edge. Zotto finished third on the team on tackles last fall and was solid in coming up and making plays against the run.

The two cornerback positions will likely be manned by Blake Wylie (3 INT) and Stephon Shelton.

Wylie is one of the best coverage corners in the SoCon and will contend for all-league honors this fall, while Shelton is talented and athletic.

The special teams unit should be in good shape with the return of placekicker Christian Reed (4-of-6 FG) and punter Kasey Redfern (37.1). 


    Harden Reminds NBA About Rockets' Ceiling

    Featured logo

    Harden Reminds NBA About Rockets' Ceiling

    Adam Fromal
    via Bleacher Report

    Dear Browns: Don't Overthink the Draft

    Featured logo

    Dear Browns: Don't Overthink the Draft

    Gary Davenport
    via Bleacher Report

    Meet the Draft's Most Explosive Back

    Featured logo

    Meet the Draft's Most Explosive Back

    Mike Tanier
    via Bleacher Report

    Landing Spots for NBA FAs Not in Playoffs

    Featured logo

    Landing Spots for NBA FAs Not in Playoffs

    Grant Hughes
    via Bleacher Report