2023 Wofford Football Preview

Wofford Terriers prepare for 2023 season under Coach Shawn Watson. Transitioning to West Coast offense, building for growth. Predicted record: 2-9.

Wofford QB Bryce Corriston attempting a pass
Source: John Byrum - Wofford Athletics

Team Overview

Head Coach: Shawn Watson (3-3/2nd yr)

2022 Record: 3-8 overall, 3-5/T-6th in SoCon

Returning Starters: 14

Offensive Starters: 5

Defensive Starters: 7

Special Teams: 2

Players to Watch Offense

  • QB Cade Rice (1-of-4 passing, 5 yds)
  • QB Bryce Corriston (0-of-2 passing, 1 INT)
  • WR Dylan Djete (27 rec, 431 yds, 1 TD, 15.9 YPR)
  • WR Alec Holt (4 rec, 42 yds, 10.5 YPR)
  • RB Ryan Ingram (47 rush att, 203 yds, 4 TDs, 4.3 YPC)
  • RB Kyle Parsons (105 rush att, 485 yds, 3 TDs, 4.6 YPC/18 rec, 113 yds, 1 TD, 6.3 YPR)
  • OL Briggs Kearse
  • OL Anthony Garcia
  • OL Jason Swann
  • TE Jacob Ritchie (7 rec, 75 yds, 7.5 YPR)
  • WR Kyle Pinnix (11 rec, 135 yds, 1 TD, 12.3 YPR)
  • WR Devin Matthews (16 rec, 207 yds, 2 TDs, 12.9 YPR)
  • WR Kyle Watkins (11 rec, 130 yds, 1 TD, 11.8 YPR)
  • TE Jordan Davis (13 rec, 125 yds, 1 TD, 9.6 YPR)
  • TE Wyatt Bartkowiak (2 rec, 11 yds, 5.5 YPR)

Key Losses on Offense

  • RB Nathan Walker
  • WR Landon Parker
  • QB Jimmy Weirick
  • OL Al Hogan
  • OL Jysiah Cromer
  • RB R.J. Khayo

Players to Watch on Defense

  • LB David Powers (66 tackles, 4.0 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 2 INTs, 1 PBU, 2 QBHs)
  • LB Eli Purcell (52 tackles, 3.5 TFL, 1.0 sack, 1 PBU, 1 QBH)
  • LB Jalen Marshall (52 tackles, 2.0 TFL, 2 passes defended)
  • LB Harrison Morgan (30 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 2 PBUs, 2 QBHs, 1 FR)
  • FS John-Michael DiRoberto (53 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 1 FR), NT CJ Tillman (8 tackles)
  • DE Brandon Maina (29 tackles, 3.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks)
  • DE Chuck Smith (29 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 2 FFs)
  • DB Amir Annoor (16 tackles, 1 INT)

Key Losses on Defense

  • DE Michael Mason
  • DB Tahir Annoor
  • DB Isaiah Wadsworth
  • DB Oka Emmanwori

Key Additions from the Transfer Portal

  • QB Samuel Cornett (Western Carolina)
  • DB Jahaad Scales (Old Dominion)
  • DB Maximus Pulley (Western Kentucky)
  • LB Rafal Szymanski (Houston)
  • LB Franklin Smith (Wagner)

Preseason All-SoCon Selections:OL Jason Swann (2nd Team), DL Chuck Smith (2nd Team)

Redshirt Sports Predicted Finish: 9th in SoCon

Preseason Outlook

Wofford’s fall from the top of the Southern Conference wasn’t a gradual descent at all. It was a crash. No one has won more in the Southern Conference since 2000, and it could be argued, no program has fallen harder since.

The good news is there is a new optimism surrounding the Terriers football program entering the 2023 season, and much of that has to do with the man named the new head coach of the Old Gold and Black, in Shawn Watson.

Watson is a late-bloomer in the coaching ranks, however, he has spent a brief stint as a head coach once before, heading up the Southern Illinois football program from 1994-96. What Watson brings to the Wofford football program is a wealth of experience, having served on staffs at some of college football’s most recognizable programs and brands.

With that said, when Watson took over as the full-time head coach of the Terriers midway through the 2022 season, his job wasn’t as much involving X’s and O’s or Jimmys and Joes, it was more of being a caretaker and psychologist of sorts, offering positive reinforcement at every turn in order to repair damaged confidence of his players and the collective psyche of Wofford’s tradition rich football program.

When that started to take place, a strange thing happened. The Terriers started to win football games, and following an 0-6 start, the Terriers would finally enjoy some success midway through the month of October and with a Palmetto State rival coming to Gibbs Stadium. Wofford’s 31-16 home win over The Citadel snapped a 16-game losing streak, as well as a 15-game streak in the Southern Conference.

Since winning a third-straight Southern Conference title in 2019, posting a 24-7 win over Furman and a 31-11 win on the road at The Citadel to clinch the title outright, the Terriers have seen a swift descent from being the standard of Southern Conference football this millennium.

Including the 28-21 home playoff loss to Kennesaw State, the Terrier football program is just 5-23 since. The good news is that three of those wins came under Watson, as he helped the Terriers to wins in three of their final five games. The Terriers won games over The Citadel (W, 31-16), vs East Tennessee State (W, 48-41) and vs. VMI (W, 34-16),while losses came on the road at Western Carolina (L, 29-36) and at Furman (L, 28-63).

Watson’s next streak he will look to end this fall is a streak of 11-straight road losses, which dates back to Sept.25, 2021 with a 31-23 setback at VMI. The Terriers will have an excellent opportunity to do that right away, with games at Pittsburgh (Sept. 2) and at William & Mary (Sept. 9) to start the season.

With a full spring and now fall camp to install his scheme and assemble his complete staff, Watson had a certain calmness that he seemed to exude to the media at the 2023 Southern Conference media outing last month at Hotel Hartness in Greenville S.C.Watson had his interim tag removed on Dec. 1, 2022, and he became the 24th head coach of Wofford football, as the Terriers embark on their 116th season as a football program.

Watson is now the third coach in a six-year span after having one coach for three decades, in Mike Ayers (1988-2017), who helped lay the successful foundation and establish much of the winning tradition that the Terrier football program is known for. Add to that the fact that he was charged with maybe the most difficult task of any of his predecessors to lead the program, which is leading the transition from NAIA-to-Division II—and then from Division II-to-FCS.

Those traditions and principles that the Wofford program had been built on prior to Watson seemed to get a bit lost under the direction of Josh Conklin. Watson is well aware of the importance of keeping intact what Ayers established in Spartanburg during his three decades of service to the Terriers football program.

While there will be many elements kept intact or reinforced to the Wofford football program by Watson, one area that will be vastly different will be the offense. No more wingbone. Conklin started to phase it out in 2019, and then had to re-introduce it after losses to South Carolina State and Samford early in that campaign, as Wofford went on to claim the league crown using that blueprint. The COVID-shortened season would see the re-introduction of Conklin’s spread style of offense, and things didn’t go well.

Warning signals that began to emerge in 2020 were the departures of TJ Luther and D’Maurie VanCleave, as both entered the transfer portal. Those were two major offensive weapons for the Terrier offense. From there, things started to come apart offensively initially, and then struggles on the defensive side of the football would ensue shortly thereafter for Wofford football.

It was only after Conklin stepped down suddenly just prior to Wofford’s trip to eventual Southern Conference champion Samford did the team start to settle into and find its identity in the West Coast Offense.

It’s a fascinating offense that is one that the SoCon has seen versions of in the past. Probably the most successful iteration of this style of offense in the Southern Conference came when Elon was in the SoCon and under the direction of Pete Lembo circa 2006-10.

With Scott Riddle under center setting numerous passing and total offense records, as well as wide receivers like Terrell Hudgins and Aaron Mellette, the Phoenix’s twist on the West Coast attack was among the most prolific in both SoCon and FCS history. Having said that, as good as the Phoenix were offensively, Elon was never able to break through and win a Southern Conference title. Elon would break through and make an FCS playoff appearance in 2009.

It’s an offense that is a unique version of the air raid and spread with a hurry-up element mixed in. Pro football was the first breeding ground for this type of offense, which evolved into the run-and-shoot. The father of the West Coast offense is widely considered to be invented by former San Francisco 49ers legendary head coach Bill Walsh. The offense would then be perfected by quarterback Joe Montana and wideouts Jerry Rice and John Taylor, as well as versatile running back Roger Craig.

The West Coast offense would evolve in the NFL into the Run-and-Shoot, which is a variation of the West Coast offense without utilizing a fullback or tight end. One of the college’s to make the run-and-shoot such a successful offense was Houston, with quarterbacks like David Klingler and Heisman Trophy winner Andre Ware in the early 1990s under the direction of head coach John Jenkins.

In college football, the West Coast offense was made famous by programs like UCLA in the 1990s, as well as BYUunder Lavell Edwards, and run to perfection by former standout and Heisman Trophy winner Ty Detmer.

Variations from the run-and-shoot, air raid, pistol and several versions of the spread are all variations or spin-offs of the original West Coast offense. The Pistol offense, which essentially is the West Coast offense with the quarterback always in the shotgun and running back lined up behind the QB, was made famous at the Division I-AA level (now FCS) as well under former Nevada head coach Chris Ault where he became a legendary coach in the Big Sky Conference at the University of Nevada Reno.

And while Wofford is making a transition from the wing-bone to the West Coast, Kennesaw State, which established a nice rivalry with the Terriers in recent seasons, will be going from a flexbone/triple option to a version of the Pistol offense this season.

So the question many Wofford fans have on their minds heading into the 2023 season is one of personnel to run this particular offense. Fortunately, the answer is yes for Terrier fans. That’s because much of the pieces to fit a West Coast offense have already been sought out in recruiting with the past three signing classes, with two of those under Conklin. The transition away from the wing bone has been ongoing even though at times Wofford has had to revert back to that offense.

In case you were wondering, there won’t be any “co-coordinators” with the offense this fall. Dane Romero will coach the tight ends, while Tyler Carlton will be the wide receivers coach. Like Quarles at ETSU, Watson will be the offensive coordinator for Wofford this fall.

The biggest question mark heading into the season is at quarterback. Record-setting quarterback Jimmy Weirick has moved on, and like conference rival Chattanooga, there isn’t all that much in terms of experience back under center.

Bryce Corriston, Samuel Cornett and Cade Rice are the trio competing for the starting job under center. It looks as though it’s going to be either Corriston or Rice who garners the starting job, but I think all three will likely end up seeing action under center this fall.

The deepest position on the offensive side of the ball going into the season is without question wide receiver. A talented group is back, featuring former quarterback Kyle Pinnix, Alec Holt, Devin Matthews and All-Freshman team selection Dylan Diete all return to the fold.

On defense, the Terriers should be solid within their front seven, with the only major loss being Michael Mason. Chuck Smith and Brandon Maina gives Wofford a good tandem of defensive ends, while all four starters are back at linebacker. So six of seven starters are back within that front seven for Wofford this season, with only Mason being absent. Also, Maina makes the transition from nose tackle to defensive end heading into the 2023 campaign.

Wofford no doubt has talent, but similar to ETSU, there are so many unknowns and a tough non-conference schedule to boot. However, this is the type of young football team that if they are able to get some momentum, say by upsetting William & Mary on the road early on, it could completely change the fortunes of the season heading into conference play.

While I have Wofford finishing ninth, it has more to do with unanswered questions at quarterback and a secondary that is inexperienced and one that struggled last season that give me cause for concern. I also think the strength of the SoCon is going to be one of the top three leagues in FCS football this fall, which will make it hard on the Terriers in year one for Watson.

With that said and much like ETSU, it’s not going to surprise me if this team surprises this fall, and could even break into the top five of the league’s pecking order by season’s end.

Previewing the Terrier Offense

Wofford returns 14 starters to the fold for the 2023 season, however, only five return on an offense that seemingly set new passing records with each passing week a year ago.

The man under center busy setting most of those records was Jimmy Weirick, and due to the lack of passing for Wofford over the past three decades, Weirick finished his career with the Terriers by having a record-setting campaign. Another key loss on offense, although it won’t be felt as much as the departure of Weirick due to the talent the Terriers also have returning at wide receiver, is Landon Parker.

All the senior did was end up throwing for a school-record 2,480 yards as a senior, while also setting the single-game passing yardage mark (428 yds vs Furman), as well as single-season completions (187) and finished his career fourth in school history in career passing yards (3,360 yds). To his credit, Weirick stuck it out and despite seeing five different offensive schemes during his Wofford career, finally began to adapt and learn the West Coast offense about five games in last fall, and his comfortability running that particular offensive scheme was evident down the stretch last season.

With that said, who will Watson look to as the leader of Wofford’s air raid offense heading into the 2023 season? It could be either senior Bryce Corriston (0-of-2, 1 INT), Cade Rice (South Dakota State transfer), or Samuel Cornett (Western Carolina transfer). With Rice having gone down with a minor injury in camp and with Cornett having to likely sit out due to the SoCon rule on in-conference transfers regarding underclassmen,

The good news for whomever is the starter when the Terriers take the field against Pittsburgh on Sept. 2, the Terriers have perhaps more firepower at the skill positions since maybe 2007. That was a Terrier team that seemingly had talent to go around, and was more than just those Terrier offensive attacks that featured all the offensive talent at quarterback and running back due to the nature of the wingbone offense.

Cover of 2007 Wofford Media Guide
Source: John Hooper - Redshirt Sports

Remember that ‘07 team, which knocked off an Appalachian State team just two weeks removed from a historic, 34-32, win over Michigan, was able to knock off the Mountaineers due to the fact that it was a time in which the Terriers had talent at all its skill positions.

Quarterback had two capable leaders, in Ben Widmyer and Josh Collier were both capable passers, while the Terriers had speed that could stretch a defense in the passing game, with guys like Andy Strickland and Justice Joslin.

And of course it goes without saying what kind of options were available in Wofford’s run game, featuring Kevious Johnson, Michael Hobbs and current tight ends coach Dane Romero.

That ‘07, which would go down as one of the best teams in program history, ended up as the second-best offense in school history (5,559 yds), and was bested only by the ‘08 unit (5,606 yds), which had many of the same options at its disposal.

While the Terriers were considered by many to be “pass happy” last season, it’s important to note that the running game is intended to be a big part of what the Terriers do offensively this fall, and actually more production is required out of the ground game because due to it being a 65-70% pass offense, it requires more chunk yardage plays in the running game. That’s due in large part to situational play-calling as much as anything else.

Both Ryan Ingram and Kyle Parsons will be the primary ball-carriers in Wofford’s new offensive scheme this fall. Parsons’ 485 yards he concluded the 2022 season with were the fewest yards gained by a Wofford running back since Tim Forman rushed for 373 yards back in 1987. That was a year prior to the arrival of Mike Ayers.

Dylan Djete (27 rec, 431 yds, 1 TD, 15.9 YPR) and Alec Holt (4 rec, 42 yds, 10.5 YPR) return as two of the big play weapons at receiver for the Terriers. Holt entered the season as one of Wofford’s big play options in 2022, however, would be limited to just three games due to injury. In 2021, Holt hauled in 22 passes for 458 yards and five touchdowns, averaging 20.8 yards-per-catch.

Devin Matthews, who has hauled in 26 passes for 357 yards and three scores in his two seasons with Wofford since transferring in from the Navy Academy, will provide both maturity and reliability to the corps. Senior Kyle Watkinshas excellent speed and will provide yet another downfield option.

Like receiver, tight end is one of the deepest and most comprehensive units on the offensive side of the football in 2023. It’s an aspect of the offense that will be utilized as much as it has in a long time this fall. Few will ever forget how important guys like Brent Jones and Dwight Clark were to the San Francisco West Coast offense under coaches Bill Walsh and George Seifert were.

In that same line of thinking, Watson will ask a lot of a young, but talented group in his West Coast offense at Wofford this fall, returning guys like Wyatt Barowiak, Brandon Davenport, Jacob Ritchie, Bryan Dickerson, Corey Seayand Jordan Davis into the fold. It’s a position that is built for both immediate and future success.

The offensive line has been a staple of Wofford teams in the past, but last season’s unit was forced to change its philosophy all together and become a pass-blocking unit. Three starters return along the offensive front, including left tackle Jason Swann, left guard Briggs Kearse, and center Anthony Garcia all return to the fold for the 2023 season, and all three will be rising seniors. That trio hopes to help a Terrier offensive front hope to help a Terrier offense improve, as Wofford ranked 93rd in total offense (322.1 YPG) last season, as well as ranking tied for 49th in sacks allowed (20 sacks/1.82 SPG) last season.

As you might expect, it was a drastic change for the ground attack, which had routinely ranked among the top 10 in FCS football in rushing yards per game for the better part of the previous two decades. The Terriers finished 110th nationally in rushing offense (96.2 YPG) last fall, and in terms of passing yards per game, Wofford was able to finish the season ranking 52nd in passing yards (225.9 YPG).

All told, this unit has the potential to be a prolific unit depending on how soon the adjustment to the offense can be made by the starting quarterback.

Previewing the Terrier Defense

Wofford returns a majority of its front seven on defense, with the only piece being arguably the top player on that defense, in defensive lineman Michael Mason.

He might not be around, but Chuck Smith and Brandon Maina return and set to fill in as the new nose tackle for the Terriers this fall will be CJ Tillman.

The Terrier linebacking corps and its four starters from a year ago returns intact. The strength of the corps is at inside linebacker, where Eli Purcell and David Powers started all 11 games for the Terriers last season. Powers paced the Terrier defense in tackles last season, posting 66 tackles, which included four behind the line-of-scrimmage and also posted 2.5 sacks.

Powers’ two INTs led the team last season, and Wofford, which was routinely one of the best in the league in causing turnovers under former legendary head coach Mike Ayers, has struggled in the past couple of seasons. Powers had nearly half the team’s five INTs last season, and in terms of turnovers gained last season, the Terriers finished tied for 78th nationally in turnovers gained (15) last fall, while ranking a solid 37th nationally in turnover margin (.27) last season. The five INTs by the Terrier defense last season ranked Wofford 113 out of 122 teams in FCS football.

The clear weakness on the defensive side of the football entering the 2023 season appears to be in the secondary, where just one of four starters returns to the fold.

The lone returning starter in the Terrier secondary for the 2023 season will be Isaiah Wadsworth, who started all 11 games at cornerback for Wofford last season. Wadsworth finished off the 2022 campaign registering 32 tackles, a tackle-for-loss and a fumble recovery.

While Wadsworth returns, the Terriers must replace starting cornerback Oka Emmanwori, starting free safety Tahir Annoor and starting strong safety Miles Richardson from last season.

Wadsworth will likely be joined by Tahir’s brother, Amir Annoor, at cornerback this fall. Annoor started three games and saw action in a total of 10 games last season for the Terriers. He finished the season with 16 tackles, three passes defended and an INT.

The two new starters at safety will likely be John Michael DiRoberto at free safety, while sophomore and Western Kentucky transfer Maximus Pulley will likely lock down the starting strong safety spot. DiRoberto logged action in all 11 games last season for the Terriers, finishing third on the squad with 53 tackles.

Wofford finished the season ranking seventh in the SoCon and 99th in total defense (433.1 YPG), while finishing the campaign ranking seventh in the SoCon and 86th nationally in scoring defense (31.8 PPG). It’s an area that has talent, but must see some serious improvement this fall.

Previewing the Terriers Special Teams Unit

There is good news for the Wofford special teams unit heading into the 2023 season, with a pair of starters returning for the upcoming season. Place-kicker/punter Atkins Roberts returns to handle the kickoff responsibilities after averaging 55.4 yards-per-kickoff last season.

As far as punting was concerned last season, Roberts has some room for improvement, averaging just 35.6 yards-per-punt last fall, which ranked him dead last in the league last fall.

Bridger Jones returns to handle the field goal and extra point responsibilities this fall. Jones also logged some time kicking off in addition to his primary responsibilities. He connected on all 24 of his PATs a year ago, while going 5-of-8 on field goals. He averaged 57.9 yards-per-kickoff last fall.

As far as the return game is concerned this fall, look for both running back Kyle Parsons and defensive back Amir Annoor to figure into the kick and punt return responsibilities, respectively.

Overall Synopsis

Wofford is a program that is in the building phase again, and it’s my opinion that while talent is there and the Terriers are certainly capable of getting on a roll and winning some games, the more realistic outlook is it's going to be a season in which growth will be seen, however, it might not show in the win-loss column at the end of the season. The Terriers are still a year away from being the type of program that will be competing for the SoCon title again. That said, Shawn Watson will get this program where it needs to be much sooner than later.

While the Terriers went out and took some players from the transfer portal, Wofford under Watson will about player development according to Watson.

“We went out and took some kids from the portal only because we had immediate needs because our model is really a four-year model and I want to develop kids because I think that’s what really develops a team,” Watson said at SoCon Media Day last month.

2023 Schedule prediction

  • Sept. 2 at Pittsburgh (L, 14-42)
  • Sept. 9 at William & Mary (W, 28-21)
  • Sept. 16 vs. Presbyterian (W, 48-6)
  • Sept. 23 at VMI (L, 31-35)
  • Sept. 30 vs. Chattanooga (L, 20-35)
  • Oct. 7 vs. Samford (L, 20-28)
  • Oct. 14 at ETSU (L, 17-18)
  • Oct. 21 at Mercer (L, 7-24)
  • Nov. 4 vs. Western Carolina (L, 28-42)
  • Nov. 11 at The Citadel (L, 24-34)
  • Nov. 18 vs. Furman (L, 17-45)

Projected Final Regular-Season Record: 2-9 overall, 0-8SoCon

  • Special thanks to Wofford aficionado and historian Joe James for information provided on Wofford’s quarterback battle as well as the overall culture shift that is taking place in Spartanburg