Riding a string of four consecutive winning seasons into the 2001 campaign, Wesleyan football will still be looking to improve upon its 5-3 posting of a year ago while seeking a fifth consecutive winning ledger. From 1997-2000, Wesleyan football has compiled a fine 23-9 mark, third best in the 10-member New England Small College Athletic Conference. The Little Three colleges Williams (27-5), Amherst (24-8) and Wesleyan (23-9) have been dominant in the conference with a combined 74-22 mark for a .771 winning percentage. Eliminating the results of the three teams against each other over the four-year stretch, the Little Three has an even better percentage of .861 as Wesleyan, Amherst and Williams have won 62 of 72 NESCAC games.
What has eluded Wesleyan since 1970 has been an outright Little Three title. Last year during Homecoming, Wesleyan locked horns with Amherst and despite holding Amherst's offense to just 184 yards, nine first downs and no points while collecting 16 first downs, 271 yards and a key 60-yard TD strike from QB Brennan Carney to wide receiver George Thompson for seven points, two special-team scores (one a 68-yard punt return and the other a safety on a blocked punt) proved to be the difference in the 9-7 Amherst triumph. Williams nursed a 14-7 lead into the fourth quarter against Wesleyan before clinching the win with a pair of TDs early in the final frame. So while Wesleyan is 2-6 in the Little Three over the last four years, the Cardinals are 21-3 against the rest of the league, with two of those setbacks coming against Colby.
Brennan Carney, named NESCAC offensive rookie of the year in 2000 after completing 87 of 201 passes for 1,180 yards and 12 TDs, returns for his sophomore season while the rest of the top offensive skill men all return as well. Running backs Greg Thomas (49-202) and Young Douglas (22-108) are the front runners to resume duties in the backfield along with Dan Quinones. On the receiving end, Todd Themistocles (36 catches for 478 yards), quad-captain George Thompson (22-393 before missing the last three games due to injury) and Pat Moffett (10-144) along with tight end quad-captain Larry Woolard (16-143) combined for more than 82 percent of the team's aerial yards and 11 of the 13 receiving TDs. Every player who caught a pass a year ago is back for the 2001 season. Wesleyan lost the bulk of its offensive line to graduation and will rebuild around returning veteran Don Badger. Others who have seen limited action in the past as well as several newcomers will battle hard to fill the other four holes.
Defensively, quad-captains Dion Mueller and Derrick Brantley will lead the troops from their spots at linebacker and cornerback, respectively. Mueller amassed 61 tackles to rank third on the team last season while Brantley had 26 tackles and four pass breakups. Other returning starters on defense include Tacuma Bradley at tackle, Keilembo Ellison at linebacker and Scott Perceval, who'll move from the secondary to linebacker. Another top returnee is Dave Laferriere, who move into the starting spot at strong safety.
Vin Balsamo is the returning veteran at placekicker. John Stokel who did the holding will likely continue in that role. Top return men include George Thompson, Pat Moffett and Dave Laferriere. The team's biggest loss is punter Mark Olschefskie, a two-time NESCAC and ECAC all-star with better than a 40-yard average. Jim Rooney was the backup a year ago and should be the starter in 2001.
The Little Three rivalry in 2001 will be as fierce as ever as the three squads again battle for league supremacy. Wesleyan's schedule is identical to the 2000 slate with home and away reversed, bringing Williams to town for the Homecoming game Nov. 3 which will be televised live on NESN starting at noon..