Wingate, N.C.----The Wingate University football program looks to build from a successful 2016 season, as the Bulldogs finished 8-3 overall and 5-2 in South Atlantic Conference play. All this foundation-building begins in the summer.
Over the course of an eight-week period during the months of June and July, the Bulldogs have what they call the "Dog Days of Summer." This is a period when players come back to campus to conduct the bulk of their preparation for the upcoming season. The Bulldogs train at 6 a.m. four mornings a week.
"Certain days we're running, then lifting, specifically doing speed and power development, other days we lift and then run afterwards for our conditioning work," WU director of sport performance Will Hayes says. "...and the final four-week stretch until camp starts, it's a big push to get everybody geared and ready to go."
Wingate head coach Joe Reich's Bulldogs eclipsed another seven-game winning record last season, which earned them a shot at the SAC championship in the last game of the regular season at Newberry. They fell just shy of claiming their first title since 2010 in a 27-22 loss. The Bulldogs finished second in the league, tying with rival Catawba, which had won the conference the previous year.
"We played with great effort last season, I want us to carry that over into next season," Reich says. "From a league perspective, we got ourselves in the championship conversation last season."
Training camp officially starts on Aug. 7 and Reich and his Bulldogs enter the 2017 season with high hopes and expectations. Redshirt senior linebackerZack Singleton is one of the team's captains. "I'm really looking forward to the season," Singleton says. "We have a lot of athletes coming in, probably the most athletes we've ever had on the team."
Reich believes one of the team's main focuses going into August 7 is to stay healthy throughout camp. The Bulldogs were hit drastically by the injury bug last season, losing starting safety Kameron Johnson, a redshirt sophomore, due to a season-ending foot injury in pre-season camp. In addition, the Bulldogs suffered two more critical blows with injuries to running back Lawrence Pittman and receiver/return specialist Adam Riley II. Both Bulldogs suffered season-ending ankle injuries only one week apart.
Pittman was leading all three divisions of NCAA football in touchdowns scored when he was sidelined for the season. Three-year starting quarterback Kyle Johnson suffered an injury to his throwing arm on the opening drive of the season-ending game against Newberry, in which he did not return.
The Bulldogs lost a number of key seniors from this past season on both sides of the ball. They include defensive end and SAC Defensive Player of the YearRay Edwards, first team All-SAC defensive end Andre Foulks and four-year starting cornerbackCornell Cheron.
On offense, most notably the Bulldogs will lose All-SAC receiver and four-year starter in Jordan Berry, as well as fellow starting receiver Joe Wallace, in addition to quarterback Johnson.
Zack Singleton (LB)
Kameron Johnson (DB)
Josh Shelton (DB)
Robbie Wallace (LB)
James Basham (DE)
Tim Longmire (DB)
Jabari Foster (DB)
Joseph Kelly (DB)
Christopher Birozes (P)
Blake Hayes (RB)
Lawrence Pittman (RB)
The entire Offensive Line
Jake Jensen (TE)
B.J. Muckelvene (WR)
Malik Bledsoe (WR)
Jay Hood (WR)
J.T. Stokes (WR)
Adam Riley II (WR/PR)
The Bulldogs will play seven night games in a 10-game season, four of which will under the brand-new lights at Irwin Belk Stadium and John R. Martin Field. Wingate played numerous night games at Monroe's Walter Bickett Stadium (1986-97), but the Sept. 16home opener against SAC opponent Carson-Newman (6 p.m. kick-off) will be the first at Irwin Belk Stadium.
"We are looking forward to Saturday Night Lights," Reich says. "Playing seven of 10 games at night this year will be a different experience for us. I like the idea of the new reality, playing at night...I think it will really get all of our guys fired up."
The Bulldogs' season begins at 6 p.m. on Sept. 2, as they travel to Charlotte to face off against the Golden Bulls of Johnson C. Smith University. Wingate will visit Fayetteville State University Sept. 9 (also a 6 p.m. contest) to face the FSU Broncos. Carson-Newman visits Union County for the first night in Irwin Belk Stadium history the next weekend.
Wingate University, consistently ranked as a top 10 "best value" in the South by U.S. News & World Report, serves more than 3,200 students on three campuses in Wingate, Charlotte and Hendersonville, N.C. Founded in 1896, the University offers 35 undergraduate majors, 35 minors, 12 career concentrations, nine pre-professional programs, master's degrees in accounting, business, education, physician assistant studies and sport management and doctorates in education, pharmacy and physical therapy.
With a 14 to 1 student/teacher ratio, Wingate students gain the tools and support needed to excel in academics and apply that learning toward an extraordinary career and life. To view current news, video and story ideas, visit www.youtube.com/wingateuniversity.
In addition to a robust intramural athletics program, Wingate student athletes compete in 22 NCAA Division II sports. The University has won the South Atlantic Conference Echols Athletic Excellence Award for the past 11 years. For more information, go towww.wingate.edu.
Wingate is first among NCAA Division II Academic All-America-producing colleges in the 2000's with 96 selections. Among North Carolina's colleges and universities, Wingate is number one in this millennium with 96 Academic All-America honorees. Wingate is tops among all SAC schools with 105 lifetime Academic All-America picks. For more information on WU athletics, go to www.wingatebulldogs.com.
(Wingate University Weekly Triangle staff writer Adam Riley II contributed this article. A rising redshirt junior wide receiver for the Bulldogs, Riley II is doing a directed study this summer with Wingate faculty member Dr. Keith Cannon.)