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Wilson once again reloading, not rebuilding in 2016

It’s a pretty standard question, one posed to coaches across all levels of football prior to the start of the season: Which opponent is likely to give you the biggest challenge? Unfortunately, fans rarely get a direct response.

Usually a cliché is unleashed by the coach in order to deflect the question or provide a non-answer. It was silly to expect anything different from Wilson Bulldogs Head Coach Doug Dahms, Offensive Coordinator Jeremy Palm, or Defensive Coordinator Ernie Wolber. Each of them, all interviewed separately, danced beautifully around that question - and a few more.

“Well, you know, we’re just going to take it one week at a time.”

“There are a few teams that stand out on film but every week is a challenge.”

“We’ve got a tough non-league slate but [Lancaster-Lebanon League] Section 1 foes won’t be a pushover, either.”

With responses like that you’d think the Wilson football program was annually fighting to unseat the champ, rather than being the league’s top dog for the last 8 years - and 25 of the last 40 seasons. The Bulldogs are currently maintaining some rather impressive streaks too, including consecutive League wins (57) and years since their last non-winning season (40). In fact, they have won at least five games every season since 1964 - coincidentally the same year legendary Head Coach John Gurski arrived in West Lawn.

L-L Section One Preview
The L-L guys break down the “big boys” in Section One heading into the 2016 football season.
Video by John Buffone

But every year is different. At least, that’s what coaches want you to believe. Despite another sports cliché about reloading vs. rebuilding ringing true virtually every season for the Bulldogs, Coach Dahms and his staff are always cautious about eternal optimism and praise. For every point issued about why Wilson could see success on the turf again in 2016, a counterpoint is presented.

“We have just a few starters returning.”

Quite true. The Bulldogs return just four starters on offense - senior wide receiver Foday Jalloh, senior tight end Alex Twiford, senior tackle Isaiah Reigel, and senior center Jake Morris - and three on defense - Jalloh at outside linebacker, Twiford at defensive end, and senior inside linebacker Leo Quigley. What the staff fails to mention is the multitude of players that received important playing time last year, primarily seniors Tommy O’Brien (running back/safety) and Mason McElroy (wide receiver/cornerback).

Then there are the new additions from outside the program. Junior running back Iggy Reynoso, who contributed nearly 1600 yards and scored 24 TDs for Hamburg in 2015, will likely become the primary back in a four-man rotation featuring O’Brien, senior Malachi Clore, and freshman Abdul MacFoy. Also joining them will be senior Justin Weller, a 6-foot wide receiver who moved to the district from Illinois. He is entertaining collegiate offers from Cornell and Penn while also garnering some interest from Nebraska, Arizona State, and Oklahoma, among others. Weller’s father played for the Bulldogs, as did his older brother, Kevin, a quarterback on the 2012 District 3 AAAA title team.

“The QB position is unsettled again.”

The Bulldogs have amassed 532 wins in 71 seasons but recently they have struggled to find a multi-year starter at QB. In 11 seasons, from 2000 through 2010, Wilson saw just four players - Chad Henne, Eric Hetrich, Steve Huber, and Zach Zweizig - take a majority of the snaps at the game's most important position. However, starting with the 2011 season, a new signal caller has taken over the reins of the offense every year. Has the lack of consistency at the position really slowed the Bulldogs down though? No. Why would 2016 be any different? In reality, an unsettled spot this season may guarantee the status quo for 2017; both competitors are juniors: Grayson Kline, a prototypical drop back, pocket passer; and Connor Uhrig, a more mobile and dynamic alternative.

“For us to be successful, we will need new senior starters to step up.”

The bread and butter of the Bulldogs program has been its reliance on seniors that have patiently bided their time waiting for a chance to play. Year in and year out Wilson sees significant unexpected contributions from inexperienced players. Clore, Elliot Bobb, Franz Borden, Brian Wright and a few others have that opportunity in 2016.

The cliché about things changing while also remaining the same rings true in West Lawn. While it’s a new season with new players, expectations are unchanged for the Bulldogs.