In college football, there are always teams that are in contention no matter what. The University of Alabama, for example, can be looked at as the best example of this. Oddly enough, The Rock and Alabama both find themselves in a similar position this offseason.
They face the task of filling holes that have been vacated by graduating senior players. Both programs have a similar strategy as well, and while Slippery Rock is not Alabama, they can take lessons from them.
The mantra for SRU is “We don’t rebuild, we reload.” It’s a task that’s much tougher done than said, especially when this 2021 class has made SRU records that exceed those of The Rock’s past.
Among them were The Rock’s three veteran, star receivers: Jermaine Wynn Jr., Henry Litwin and Cinque Sweeting. To compare to Alabama again, the Crimson Tide lost their top two receivers as well in John Metchie and Jameson Williams.
In total, The Rock has 30 student athletes incoming. 10 of them are transfers and 20 of them are coming from high school. The official position count is eight offensive lineman, six defensive lineman, four defensive backs, three running backs, three receivers, two tight ends, two linebackers and a kicker.
The Rock received two transfers at the wide receiver position in Jacob Odom and Cohen Russell and one incoming freshman in Jaiyell Plowden. Odom spent time at the University of North Dakota with current starting quarterback, Noah Grover. Russell returns to The Rock after a couple years away. Both are receivers that Coach Shawn Lutz thinks can have immediate impacts on the field.
“You’re never going to replace a Litwin, Sweeting or Wynn, but we’ve got Kyle Sheets who’s coming back next year and can be big time along with Qaadir Dixon and Gavyn Barnes, but to add Jacob Odom, who will be one of the fastest outside receivers in the country and is a pipeline with Noah Grover from North Dakota is big,” Lutz said. “Then we got Cohen Russell back, who’s fast and can make people miss, so to add them to what we already have coming back is exciting.”
The return of Noah Grover and Brayden Long played a big role in the most important position not being recruited. But the back field was recruited, however. With the loss of Evyn Holtz, Lutz felt they still had an impressive one, two punch with Tim Smith and Chris D’Or, but now add Chris Wells to the mix and the back field has the opportunity to be one of the best in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC).
“You need running backs, because they get hurt easily and I’m very comfortable with our one, two punch in Tim Smith, who can get the tough yards, and Chris D’Or, who is just a homerun waiting to happen,” Lutz said. “But then you add in Chris Wells, who has three years of eligibility left, and now we’ve got a really good one, two, three punch.”
The offense really found their groove towards the end the season right when Noah Grover stepped in to take the helm at quarterback, but another aspect that they lost some depth on the offensive line. The team lost Jake Tecak and Austin Wayt in the big senior class, and now have to fill their spots.
In order to do that, Lutz brought in eight offensive linemen. Jeff Burkhart, a transfer from Lock Haven University, will be one of the linemen to help do that. Burkhart is one of two transfers on the offensive line, with the other being Michael Toten, who comes all the way from Grossmont College in California.
Another thing that you’ll hear if you’re around The Rock football program is the emphasis on family. This graduating class took that quite literally. The Rock welcomes punter Kyle Butt’s younger brother, Cory and they also brought in the brother of Rock men’s soccer goalkeeper, Hossam Aly: Mohamed Aly.
“I love brother combinations, it’s a family in our program, but just to get a brother combination is pretty cool,” Lutz said. “I’ll admit this, he might he even have a bigger leg than his brother.”
Slippery Rock also brought in another tight end to go along with Max Maciejewski, who when he returned to the field, made an immediate impact on the offense. He made it clear just how big that position really is and how much it truly means to The Rock’s pass dominate offense.
The arrival of Carson Heckathorn helps The Rock be flexible as he can do it all. Now, Kameron Kruzelyak who comes from West Liberty University where he caught 25 passes last season, will be playing at linebacker.
Linebacker is one of the bigger needs for The Rock. They lost some key pieces with the departure of Tim Vernick, Peyton Remish and Trysten McDonald.
“We feel we’ve met all of our needs in recruiting, except at linebacker, because we lost a lot of pieces there, so we’ll still even be looking to bring in a transfer in the spring,” Lutz said.
The spring is going to be huge for the program. The Rock is coming off of their third straight year in the PSAC title game and now with losses like Chad Kuhn and Garrett de Bien, the veteran presence won’t be there as much next year.
It’ll be almost an entirely new group of players that Lutz will have the challenge of meshing together. But that’s what makes it fun, and Lutz’s goal is always the same: bring home a championship.
“I can’t wait to just reload the program, and I think a lot of people will count us out with all of the seniors we lost this past season, but I truly believe that in this program, we don’t rebuild, we reload,” Lutz said.