Expectations are rightfully high for the Wilson Bruins this season with 28 seniors on the roster and eight experienced returners on offense, but fifth-year head coach Mark Ziegenhagen said his team is dealing well with the pressure.
“On paper we look pretty good with the amount of returners we have,” Ziegenhagen said. “They’re humbled and hungry. The last couple of years have been down.”
Ziegenhagen is referring to the 5-6 and 6-5 seasons that followed consecutive 10 win seasons and a trip to a CIF-SS semifinal. However, he doesn’t want to talk about the fact that the 31-16 record over that span is the best at Wilson since the 1960’s.
“That’s the culture we’ve created now,” Ziegenhagen said. “We’ve proven you can win here. 6-5 isn’t good enough anymore. The seniors right now were freshman when we went to the semifinals so they remember getting called up for those games, and they talk about wanting to get back to that status.”
Ziegenhagen added that the continuity of his coaching staff and scrimmaging St. John Bosco when he took over the program has helped adjust expectations on and off of the field at Wilson, and the timing is perfect. This season comes for a senior class full of three-year starters in a year when Poly is rebuilding, Lakewood and Millikan have new head coaches, and the Bruins have been dropped to the winnable Division 7 because of recent results. They are ranked in the top ten preseason poll for their division.
“We really need a good jump start,” Ziegenhagen said. “Last year was a tough 0-2 start. We had to make a bunch of changes to kind of get back on track and I don’t want to have to do that. These games (against Mayfair and San Jacinto) will test where we are as a team and a program.”
Wilson has more returners on offense, but the linebacking corps of seniors Ethan Moxley, Brett Dowgiewicz and Logan Ziegenhagen is one of the most talented and experienced units in the city. Both Moxley and Dowgiewicz had over 100 tackles last year while Ziegenhagen had his season cut short by a knee injury. Moxley and Dowgiewicz are also All-Moore League wrestlers.
“They have an IQ for the game,” coach Ziegenhagen said. “Some of the problems come when they want to do a little too much. Sometimes they want to do someone elses job instead of their own, and it’s getting them to trust the guys around them.”
They’ll be running versions of the 3-4 and 4-2 schemes this season with junior Alama Collins, senior Jaylen Ferrera, senior Terren Monette and sophomore Cole Henderson on the defensive line.
Wilson isn’t very deep in the secondary, but All-CIF defensive back Soloman Bowie is one of the best in the area. He transferred in from Narbonne last year, but Ziegenhagen isn’t surprised his teammates already voted him a team captain this season.
“He’s a very animated kid who expects a lot of his teammates and hoots and hollers to get guys going,” Ziegenhagen said. “He gained that respect last year, and now he’s showing leadership in the weight room and on the field. He even organized private workouts and other off field hang outs. A lot of guys look up to him.”
The leader on offense is three-year starting quarterback Ryan Pettway. The senior has thrown for almost 3,000 yards and 24 touchdowns in two seasons behind center.
“Pettway is a year older and a little more mature,” Ziegenhagen said. “He’s got to take the attitude of not trying to go for the home run ball and just take what the defense gives him.”
Pettway will be looking to get senior running back Dillon Harris and junior receiver Tyrie Robinson involved first and foremost. Harris gained 593 yards on 73 carries last season (8 yard average) with eight touchdowns in eight games before he got injured. Robinson had a breakout sophomore season in the slot with 354 yards on 44 catches (8 yard average) plus four touchdowns.
Belmont Shore Rubgy player turned running back Peter Sio will also get carries, and junior Michael Bruner will be the big target on the outside.
The Bruins offensive line is also full of experience with seniors Jakob Belton and Adrian Tejada back at tackle, seniors Jaylen Ferrera and Justin Navarro at guard, and senior Terren Monette moving to center.
“There’s not a lot of egos on this team,” Ziegenhagen said. “Now we need to just execute.”