N.C. Wesleyan eyes future after first winning season since 2010
BY PATRICK MASON
Wednesday, November 16, 2016
Football doesn’t stop for Jeff Filkovski. The N.C. Wesleyan coach who just finished his fourth season, will soon hold player exit interviews then begin recruiting for next season.
And Filkovski will do all of that with a little extra excitement after the Bishops wrapped up their season with a win at Ferrum last Saturday, meaning the team earned its first winning season since 2010 with a 5-4 record.
“It took us six years to get back to a winning season,” Filkovski said. “I’m proud of the team. You’re always going to look back at what could of been, but parts of (this season) are very promising for our future.”
The Bishops opened the season with back-to-back losses against what ended up being a pair of 9-1 teams in Stevenson and perennial power Mount Union. The Bishops never lost two in a row the rest of the way, and ended the season by wining three of the final four games.
What makes this season stand out is that N.C. Wesleyan was able to post a winning record despite playing the fifth-toughest schedule in Division III, according d3football.com. Out of the top 5 teams that played the toughest strength of schedule, N.C. Wesleyan was one of just two to emerge with a winning record.
The development of young players was key. Freshman running back Deandre Gillis figured out how to run against college defenses and used his speed to make an impact when injuries weakened the backfield. Gillis’ first full rushing load came in a loss to Averett when he rushed for 211 yards and two touchdowns. Gillis finished with five rushing touchdowns in seven games, and finished the season with a 6.8 yards per carry average, a team high.
Last season’s USA South Offensive Rookie of the Year Adrian Minondo, meanwhile, had six rushing scores in nine games. He was used as a power back, giving the Bishops a couple different looks, and helped solidify a rushing attack that averaged a little more than 184 yards per game.
“It’s certainly a testament to the guys up front,” Filkovski said. “Progressively, since I’ve been here, the offensive line has gotten better, and that’s where the games are won. They’re giving these guys room to run. We’re slowly growing in these areas.
“Offensively, we’re four years in the same offense, and two years in the same defense, and we’re starting to learn how to play in the schemes, we’re stopping the run a bit more, and those are great things.”
The run defense allowed 141 yards per game, down from 200 last season and 247 in 2014. The strength in the front seven proved tough for opposing teams to deal with. Senior linebacker Michael Clemmons led the Bishops in tackles with 64, while defensive linemen Rakeem Cooper and Camara Rawls tied for the team lead with five sacks apiece.
In the receiving ranks, the Bishops will lose one of the better players to come through the program in Malik Adams. The senior finished his career with nine program records, including receptions in a season, receiving yards in a game and season, and receiving touchdowns in a game, season and career. In his junior season, Adams set the USA South Conference record for single-season touchdowns with 19.
Filkovski believes Adams could still continue to play football beyond college.
“Malik, he’s had a stellar career,” Filkovski said. “He’s a dynamic receiver, and we’ll see what holds as far as the furture goes and those types of things. We’ve had an NFL scout at practice, and hopefully he can run some pro days. I think he warrants a look. He’s certainly not going to embarrasss himself out there.”
As for next season, the Bishops hope to take the next step to becoming a playoff team, and they might not be far off.
“I think we’re close,” Filkovski said. “Every year we’re getting better, and the dynamic of D-III football is always who’s going to be back. We don’t have scholoarship kids, so it’s about their want to play the game. The whole thing every year at our level is about moving forward.”