Some may say Wesleyan could be in for a rebuilding year after losing five starters each on offense and defense from the team that went 11-3 and lost to eventual champion Prince Avenue Christian in the semifinals of the Class A Private state playoffs.
Not so fast, said Wolves head coach Franklin Pridgen, whose program has become a perennial postseason contender and won state in 2008.
“The conventional wisdom is we’ll be rebuilding after losing the talent from last year’s class,” he said. “The good news is our returning players don’t care much about conventional wisdom, so our (coaches’) expectation and theirs is to continue where previous classes left off. I’m excited about that because I think we’re going to be a lot better than observers (on the) outside might think. I think we can catch some teams off guard.”
Wesleyan will miss a senior class that totaled 42 wins, the second most in school history, and included five key starters, most of which are college signees: OL/DT Tanner Bivins (Army; all-state), TE/DE Vance Nicklaus (Florida State; all-region), LB J.D. Chipman (Region 5 Defensive Player of the Year), SR/LB Wyatt Hodges (Presbyterian) and QB Ryan Rose (Rochester University).
But the Wolves welcome back several top players, including six seniors – K/P Brooks Sturgeon (all-state; N.C. State walk-on commitment), C/MLB Matthew Brown, DL Jaydin Brown, OT/DE Michael Soukup, WR/CB Drew Ball, WR Bobby Cook – plus juniors Will Tucker (CB/RB) and Thomas Cook (SR/CB) and sophomore WR/LB Jamie Tremble.
Wesleyan is also expected to get contributions from two transfers: senior starting QB Jett Miller (Centennial) and junior WR/DB Forrest Leitz (Grady).
“We play in a very competitive region, and it’s a small region but one where we’re going to fight week in and week out,” Pridgen said. “We won it last year and have to be considered contenders again this year. Our first six games are going to be very challenging, including Prince Avenue and Athens Academy plus Decatur and Douglass. We have an opportunity to see what we’re made of early and (test) ourselves before a challenging region schedule. ...
“We’ve got to continue to grind through a very dedicated summer training program. I think we need to have our newcomers as well as our younger players gel into a cohesive unit and the sooner we do that, the sooner we’ll get back to that level of contention.”