2018 Gridiron: Culver-Stockton Wildcats
Colors: Royal blue and white
Total Returning Lettermen: 53
2017 Overall Record: 1-10
Head Coach: Tom Sallay
Record at School: 1-10
Overall Record: 1-10
HEART SPARK: INVIGORATED WILDCAT PROGRAM PLANS FOR A RISING IN 2018
PRE-SNAP READS: Tom Sallay’s first season on the sidelines in Canton transpired a lot like the first week of a housing renovation; earmarks of clear improvement draped in an overall unfinished mess. In that sense, Phase One of the Culver-Stockton Rebuild went about as expected, given the considerable task at hand. The Wildcats lost ten straight games to open the year; but finished on a highly encouraging note by dropping 67 points in route to their lone win of the year against Graceland. That positive puncthttps://khqa.com/sports/content/bend-it-like-womack-former-qhs-soccer-staruation to the 2017 campaign, along with a strong Spring Session, felt like a well-timed crescendo of program momentum. Dues were paid. Probably nowhere near yet in full, but enough to see that Culver-Stockton has made headway towards Coach Sallay’s ambitiously plotted program ideal. So when the Wildcats roll up their sleeves and go back to work in August, they can do so feeling like there is more ground underneath them with which to work and far more positives at their disposal. See also the fact that Wildcats will field a roster of 138 total players this Autumn. They will hit the field with fifteen returning starters from 2017, including a pair of holdover All-Conference picks. And they will do battle largely with players specifically recruited by this staff to play their style of Football. All of which, relatively speaking, is a far sight better than the scenario facing Tom Sallay and Company last year at this time. And in that, there is traction.
CLEANING OUT THE STABLES: Metrically, I could point out that under First Year Defensive Coordinator Adam Siwicki, Culver-Stockton gave up 16 points fewer per game than it did a year prior. By the same token, however, when Point A in that comparison is a unit that surrendered 57 points per contest to opponents in 2016, it’s almost impossible here not to improve. One could make a very compelling argument that in the three years prior to Tom Sallay’s arrival on The Hill, Culver Stockton might have been the worst Defensive Team anywhere in the country, at any level of College Football. That’s the daunting task Siwicki and his fellow Defensive Staffers were charged with fixing. In the first evolution of this rebuild, the Wildcats “shaved” their generosity to 41 points per game; which is still statistically enough to make a DC’s hairline start to look like mine own. But as someone who has had to endure watching past Wildcat Defenses, conceptually and technically I can affirm that C-SC was radically improved on that side of the ball. In 2017, the Wildcats at least felt like a team with capability to make stops and get off the field. There were strong moments, even against stronger HAAC Opponents. Building blocks that didn’t exist prior when every opposition possession felt like it was played on Madden “Rookie” Level. With seven starters back, five of them Sophomores, this movement feels positively directed and ready to yield even greater defensive dividends in 2018
AN ACT OF PIRACY: Linebacker is the clear strength of Siwicik’s Defense headed into Year Two, with Hannibal High alum Dalton Huffman leading the charge. Playing as a true Frosh last Fall, Huffman earned All-Heart North Second Team honors on the strength of 92 tackle performance. It was just the standard issue Dalton Huffman hustle/diagnose/finish we saw in his Pirate Days amplified at the collegiate level. He will be rejoined here by fellow Sophomores Brody Hassel (47 tackles/23 solos) Dalton Edwards and Seth Mahar (38 tackles, 4 QB Sacks) in fortifying the Second Level of the Wildcat Defense. Moreover, the C-SC Coaching Staff fully expects newcomers Erick Nicks (6’3” 215lbs out of Satelitte Beach, Florida) Robert Bradley (6’, 215lbs out of Vandalia, Illinois) and Briar Julian (6’ 215lbs from Fairland, Oklahoma) all to press for playing time as true Freshmen out of the gate. Put simply, the number of guys here who can go out and hunt prey have increased exponentially on this unit.
NEGOTIATING WITH A TIGER: Macon product Kendal Kothe is the returning bellwether on the C-SC Defensive Line; a hard working Senior who is finally getting the support pieces he’s long deserved. Phenomenal young man with a great motor. Last year, Kendel posted seven tackles for loss and a sack among his 21 tackles. Defensive End/Outside Linebacker type Pat Robinson made quite the Frosh Debut last Fall on campus with 58 tackles, a dozen stops for loss, and three forced fumbles. On a squad that has lacked difference makers for too long, Robinson is a rare and important find. Tom Sallay likes the potential inside of his D-Tackles with Senior Dareon Jones and Sophomore Julian Pitman checking in at 300 and 280 pounds respectively to help gum up the entire run lanes. Sophomores Aubre Sanders and Jamal Beaty are too good to keep off the field as well, so Culver will have rotational options on its Defensive Line to keep legs fresh. All of which should help winnow the 490 yards of total offense per game the Wildcats surrendered last Fall.
THE BENSON GROUP: The Wildcat Secondary is better stocked as well. Stephen Benson proved a tremendous find at Cornerback. The now Sophomore out of Blue Springs, Missouri debuted with 62 tackles and broke up a half dozen passes in 2017. Classmate Ian Sweeney matriculated into the starting lineup halfway through his Freshman Year and tied for the team lead in interceptions with two. Cole Horton received run last year in the Defensive Backfield as well. Clearly, the Wildcats aren’t afraid to play newcomers and Defensive Back seems to have been a real focus of the 85 man recruiting haul hitting campus this Summer. In that spirit, do not sleep on Freshmen Myles Williamson, Jahmar Bingham, and Kenneth Bacon the Second as potential instant factors in this mix.
MAKING HIS MARC: Culver-Stockton’s Offensive outlook seems to hold even greater promise. Eight starters who were on the field for that potentially paradigm shifting win against Graceland will reprise their roles this season. That’s a big boon, given just how crisp and explosive Culver looked at that moment. Sophomore Quarterback Korbin Marcum was at his efficiency zenith in that contest, tossing for 172 yards and three touchdowns, without a single interception; proof that his high end is pretty high indeed. His best game however saw Marcum throw for a school record 541 yards and six touchdown passes in a loss to Peru State. He finished the year overall with 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions, as well as nearly 1300 passing yards on just 194 attempts. If Tom Sallay gets Late October/Early November production from Korbin, the QB position in Canton could well be locked down for the next three years. But Jalen Jones will be back to challenge for that spot. And Culver added former Highland High star and QU Transfer Andrew Schultz in the Spring. The QB Depth Chart is as strong as it has appeared in a decade here.
Wildcat Quarterbacks should be well protected in 2018. Three starters return to the C-SC Offensive Line, including All-Heart North Division Honorable Mention Pick Andrew Rupcich (5’7” 305lbs) Sophomores Alex Gonzales and Kaleb Gardner will join two new starters on a underclassmen dominated front wall.
WEAPONIZED: Running Back Nathan Barnes also punctuated his Freshman Season on a strong note, rushing for 137 yards and three scores in the win over Graceland. He finished with a team high 404 yards and five total touchdowns in nine games. He and Jordan Grant figure to combine to shoulder the majority of the ground game this Fall. In a three game window, Grant rolled up 111 yards and 2 touchdowns on just 17 carries, a better than 6.5 yards per carry average. Don’t discount Reggie Foster here either from contributing to a young and able stable of rushers.
Seniors Denzel Campbell (39 receptions, 435 yards, 5 TD) and Stephen Murphy (29 catches, 310 yards, 2 TD) will form the pillars of the receiving game. Tom Sallay put a considerable recruiting emphasis on Wide Outs and a host of good looking Freshmen prospects could factor here early.
The Kicking Game should continue to be a viable weapon for C-SC as well with the return of Ben Workman, who converted all five of his field goal attempts while going 23 for 26 on PAT.
THE DUERR DIAGNOSIS: Collectively, this will be one of the youngest college football teams we’ve ever seen set up shop here in the Tri-States. And as such, with so many outside unknowns, the Wildcats were handed the five spot in the six team North Division in the Heart Preseason Poll. I think that sets C-SC up as nice surprise with nothing to lose. This transfusion of not only talent, but new attitude (buoyed by instant opportunity to play) holds a ton of promise. And not just in the long term either. This will be a better football team this Fall. Culver-Stockton has been handed a winnable opener on the road at Trinity Bible in North Dakota. Four difficult games with HEART powers Central Methodist, Mid America Nazarene, Baker and Evangel follow. And then there’s some potential hay to be made on the back end after an October 6th bye. I am not crazy about Culver only having four home games this Fall, but outside of that, there is ample window here for improvement. I suspect the Wildcats win multiple games this Fall; which would clearly be another step forward. How many they win again hinges on just how quickly that defense lines out. But I read as many as four wins perhaps and a step into a much brighter tomorrow. I know this job has a long history as a Coach Killer. Outside of Chris Tabor, no one has yet found a way to move the meter with Wildcat Football in my quarter century covering C-SC. But Tom Sallay is both an alum and a guy who isn’t afraid to swim upstream. I thought he and his staff handled the transition last year about as deftly as one could, given their limited resources. And again, the margins have improved for him in Season Two. I know it’s a leap of faith to ask given the pedestrian history here, but keep Culver on your radar this season. The fun moments that arose out of last season were an intriguing tease and a hint that something fun could be percolating just below the veneer of business as usual Wildcat Football.