Football team kicks off fall ’16 season with new recruits

Guilford may have lost a few star players to graduation last year, but the team feels more cohesive than ever.

“I think we’re all coming together as a family,” said junior quarterback Christian Miles. “That’s something I’ve seen grow since my first year to this year. We all know each other. We all treat each other like family.”

Despite losing star quarterback Matt Pawlowski ’16 and receiver Adam Smith ’16, both All-Americans and Guilford record holders, the team still has a lot of student leadership.

“I think my freshman year we graduated about six seniors,  … and then this year, it’s 26, which I think is the biggest senior class in the history of Guilford football,” said senior Wes Johnson, offensive lineman and captain.

Of the 22 starters, 16 are returnees this year. Among them is junior running back De’Eric Bell, who broke the Old Dominion Athletic Conference record for all-purpose yardage in a season last year and was a third team All-American. He is joined by four teammates who made first team All-ODAC, including two of the team’s captains: Johnson and senior linebacker Hunter Hoots.

The Quakers were ranked third in the ODAC preseason polls this year after Washington and Lee University and Hampden-Sydney College, a drop from last year’s first place ranking.

“Washington and Lee brings back a lot of guys, and Hampden-Sydney brings back a lot of guys as well,” said senior long snapper Ben Winstead. “So where we’ll be young in some areas, I think those teams will have a little bit of experience.

“But I don’t want to give them too much credit. I think we can beat them.”

The loss of Pawlowski in particular may have affected Guilford’s ranking.

“It’s pretty obvious when you lose your quarterback who’s a four-year starter, people are going to drop you a little bit,” said head coach Chris Rusiewicz. “But I think we’ve done a great job here as a program with coaches, players and all the way down recruiting great student athletes to come in and build off of what we had. … The team that won (the conference) last year was preseason number five, so it really doesn’t matter. It’s just an opinion at this point.”

Last year, Guilford went 9-1 but lost a heartbreaker to eventual conference champion Washington and Lee. This year, the team is hoping for a perfect season.

“(We hope) to do better than we’ve ever done before, and in order to do that, we have to win 10 or more,” said Rusiewicz. “It’s going to be quite a challenge.”

Along with changes to the team, there have been some changes in the staff, after three coaches left last spring. All three positions were replaced by former Guilford College players and alums.

“We lost a few older people, or older coaches, but we’ve replaced them with youth, and I think the youth has brought a lot of energy into the staff and into the program,” said Hoots. “They’ve all played football in the last two to three years, and they know what it takes to be good, so I think that’s actually helped us and revitalized the team.”

After a scrimmage with Ferrum College on Aug. 26, the team is looking forward to starting their season with the 20th annual Soup Bowl on Sept. 3 against Greensboro College. Admission is free for anyone who brings two cans of non-perishable food items for charity.

“I hope people are as excited about us as we are,” said Rusiewicz. “We work hard every day, and we do it, obviously, for Guilford College.”

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