Coach Derrick Moore built the Wayne program up significantly to make a run in 2018. After falling heartbreakingly short against eventual state champion Bishop Dwenger in their Class 4A sectional meeting, it is back to the drawing board for the Generals.
But that will be ok for Moore because Wayne has thrived with an underdog mentality, even when they weren’t one. The Generals didn’t sneak up on anyone last season yet they still played with a chip on their shoulder and felt disrespected. None of that will change this season, even when expected to be in the top half of the league again.
“I think last year’s seniors set the standard. The great thing about that, they set the standard for the sophomores and the juniors coming in, not only on the field but in the weight room, in the classroom and going to college,” Moore said.
Any preview piece for any team will mention quality starters lost to graduation, but it may have hit Wayne with the stiffest blow in the form of Craig Young, now at Ohio State. Young’s athletic act is a hard one to follow and much of the burden will be put on senior running back Keshaun Fields (pictured above, right) and there is no hiding that. Moore will be the first to call out Fields as the de facto leader as he enters the season as one of the top running backs in northeast Indiana.
“We talked about a 2,000-yard season. We are going to put a lot of responsibility on him offensively,” Moore said. “Being a leader, setting the example. By default, everyone looks up to him.”
A year ago, Fields took on the rushing load in part due to the initial absence of Devonair Kelsaw. Now Kelsaw is graduated, leaving the ground game fully in Fields’ hands. Fields ran for 937 yards in 2018 on 180 attempts while scoring three touchdowns. He also caught for a team third-best 177 yards and a pair of scores; he will be the top returning receiver in 2019. Myheir Baker will join him the backfield.
“Expectations are high this year,” Field said. “Leadership is a big thing to me. My intention is to lead this team this year to state. I’m not satisfied, I can tell you that. I am going to continue to work hard everyday to be the best that I can be.”
Here is where things get tricky. Wayne went 9-3 by scoring a ton of points. Only on three occasions in 2018 did it score less than 21 points – all three of those games were losses. Outside of Fields, that offense is gone.
Now the Generals turn to sophomore quarterback Aidan Meek to move the ball through the air and keep the offense a dual threat. Meek doesn’t yet possess the stature of the quarterback he replaces, but he has shown strength in his arm and precision in finding his receivers in the preseason.
“He came up in our system, he’s been around and so he’s young, but we expect a lot out of him,” Moore said.
Luckily for him, he has one of the best returning receivers in the Summit Athletic Conference to help him find his stride. Janarion “Nate” Moore (pictured above, left), a Bishop Luers transfer, went for 836 yards and 14 scores last season and is one of the most athletic receivers Wayne has seen outside of Young.
“I have to work hard and be better than I was last year, just come out humble and do what I do,” Moore said. “These guys haven’t won a sectional. I know what it is like to be in semistate and win a regional. It’s a great feeling. I am going to try to bring what I know here and combine it with that they have and take it as far as we can.”
Juniors Cameron Toles and Chris Thomas saw some action last year, but combined for just 102 of the team’s 1,700-plus receiving yards. Thomas will likely help the rushing depth chart as well, running for 203 yards in 2018. Senior Ronald Elliott is very quick and could see some good minutes on the offensive side of the ball.
Defense is the big ticket for Wayne. Its top seven tacklers from 20189 are all gone and Tristan Pernell, Darius Alexander and Sean Wiedeman all put up big numbers that need replaced. Wayne returns just over 25 percent of its tackles from last year and nobody with more than 2.5 sacks to their credit.
Cameron Webb will return at outside linebacker after racking up 43 tackles last season, the best of any returners for 2019. Cadijuan Mitchell will return at defensive tackle; he had 2.5 sacks and 19 tackles a year ago. Other returners to the defense will be Malik Mickens (20 tackles) and Desmond Davis (two sacks).
While Moore has said he doesn’t see Fields handling as much of a load defensively, he did have 31 tackles in 2018 and is capable of being plugged in anytime.
“We are young up front but our linebackers are fast and physical and we got some young safeties that we will look for big things from too,” Derrick Moore said.
In the secondary, the program returns a pair of two-year starters at cornerback in Baker and Elliott. Each picked up an interception a year ago and Elliott had seven pass deflections and 27 tackles.
Wayne isn’t going to sneak up on people. Moore’s approach has been successful as he built the program up in his own likeness. Few can argue against how well it has worked. There are pieces in the program that expect to play at a high level and that will continue to make sure the new starters are reliable and held accountable for their level of play.
That is the Derrick Moore impact at Wayne.
If the defense can make an impact, the offense is still likely to put up a lot of points and that makes Wayne dangerous every week. The Generals beat everyone in the SAC not named Bishop Dwenger or Homestead last year and they have to know they were so close. Wayne plays with fire and it will again this year. It even received a single first-place vote in the first IFCA poll of the year, a ranking that shows there is respect on the Wayne name right now.
“When we got there, our whole thing was sustainability. We didn’t want to build up a class and go four years and drop off and have to build up another class,” Derrick Moore said.
WHY NOT HIGHER?
It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out who Wayne is behind in Outside the Huddle’s initial 2019 power poll. Two of those three teams beat Wayne last year when the Generals were better than they are as of today in the preseason. Of course, that can all change. But for now, while Fields and Moore are more than capable of carrying the load of expectations, until more pieces make impacts and Wayne shows 100 percent that graduation won’t impact them like it did in years past, No. 4 is the right spot to put the Generals.
Week 1 vs. Bishop Dwenger
Wayne has this circled big and in red on the calendar; probably circled a few times. Last fall the Generals fell by a point to the Saints in sectional play, the team that eventually won the Class 4A state title. Could Wayne have made that run if it beat the Saints? Would the Wayne Generals be the defending state champions? Nobody knows that for sure, but it is possible.
If Wayne wants to be taken seriously by everyone, it has to come out Week 1 and punch Bishop Dwenger in the mouth, figuratively of course. It has been the same for years in Week 1 and after last season’s 22-0 loss to start the year in muddy conditions, Wayne wants to prove something. For all the great SAC rivalries, this one could rank right up at the top if not for this fact: Wayne hasn’t beaten the Saints since 2014 before Moore was the coach; he is 0-7 against Bishop Dwenger. Wayne has just seven wins in the last 36 meetings.
So yeah, Week 1 is probably a big one for Wayne.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Ronald Elliott, senior, wide receiver/defensive back
It will be interesting to see what impact Elliott can have offensively if used on that side of the ball this year. Last season, his defense was quality and his kick and punt returns were often stellar. He did enough, without touching the ball offensively, to be fifth on the team in all-purpose yards with 354. He secured 27 tackles with a sack and an interception while averaging 36.4 yards per kick return, going 90 yards for his longest of his seven returns. He is quick, agile and a unique weapon.