Big Things Ahead for Wildcat Football

Mason Schweizer, Staff Writer

Entering his 11th season at Wayne State, head coach Dan McLaughlin is a mere three wins away from passing Del Stoltenberg as the all-time wins leader in program history.
“This is my 11th season here. I should accumulate something,” Mclaughlin said. “It is pretty cool, but it is not that big of a deal.”
If McLaughlin and his Wildcats can improve off of a near .500 winning percentage from a year ago and make McLaughlin the school’s wins leader, it will be due to a potentially potent offense.
This offense will be led by junior quarterback Zach Osborn, coming off a sophomore season in which he led the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference in total yards.
Osborn will be anchored by one of the better offensive lines in Div. II America, with preseason All-Americans Shane Finley and Taylor Jensen leading the group. Also returning is last year’s leading rusher, Ryan Ludlow. With nearly 900 yards on the ground and playing behind a stellar line, Ludlow has the potential to crack 1,000 yards.
But the offense rests on the shoulders of Osborn. Osborn, an honorable mention preseason All-American, averaged 300 passing yards per game last season, as well as another 25 a game on the ground.
The other end of that passing yardage is gone for the most part.
Last season’s top three receivers, who totaled 70 percent of Osborn’s yardage, are gone. Looking to fill in are junior, Nick Roth, and sophomore, Marcel Dunson, as well as a plethora of freshman receivers. Another player to keep an eye on is senior, Jonathan Parks. Parks only recorded two catches last year, but has shown explosive flashes as a kick returner. This flash could be useful if he can get some opportunities to get the ball in space on offense.
With a quarterback like Osborn getting plenty of time from a premier offensive line, the receiving corps should have some pressure lifted off their shoulders.
The defensive side of the ball will be full of questions as the season starts. Linebacker, Nate Kroupa, and cornerback, Jon Davis, are the leading returning tacklers, with the team losing last year’s leader, Nick Monzu. The senior duo will lead a defense which struggled last year, finishing 12th in the NSIC in total defense. Davis will be joined in the defensive backfield by Payton Doramus and Reggie Holt.
Kroupa will head a linebacking group full of young players. One player to watch here is redshirt sophomore, Taylor Hoffman, a transfer after spending a year as a walk on for the Nebraska Cornhuskers, but he has not played in two seasons. He sat out as a redshirt in 2013, and took a medical redshirt last season after an injury in the opener against Bemidji State.
Shawn Barker and his 6.5 tackles for loss last season return to plug the defensive line. Incoming freshman, Dayton Golden may, get an opportunity to shine, bringing all 6’6”, 270 lbs. of himself to Wayne.
One key area of improvement that will be needed from both sides of the ball is play in the red zone. The Wildcats ranked second-to-last in the NSIC last season on offensive red zone efficiency, scoring on just 70 percent of their trips inside the 20.
“We have worked all spring and fall, and time will tell,” McLaughlin said. “We believe we have made strides now we just have to play to find out.”
The defense finished near the bottom of the conference as well, giving up scores on 84 percent of opponents’ red zone trips.
The Wildcats open the season Saturday at 1 p.m. hosting Minnesota-Crookston, who is coming off a winless 2014 campaign. After week one, the Wildcats will face stiff competition in the NSIC again this season, with trips to third-ranked Minnesota-Duluth and top-rated Minnesota State-Mankato, and will host seventeenth-ranked Sioux Falls. Key games to gauge the progress of the Wildcats will be September dates with Northern State and University of Mary.
With Osborn leading the potent offense, all it will take is a consistent defense and better red-zone efficiency to put the Wildcats on the right side of .500 for the first time since 2012.