(Statistical Information Courtesy of Professor Briggs' archives)


Head Coach: Brandon Phillian, 3rd year (25-3)
Last Year: 12-1 overall, advanced to PIAA Class 2A semifinals


By Joe Sager
Special To

It was quite a “rebuilding” year for Wilmington.


Coming off big graduation losses from the 2018 squad that reached the PIAA Class 2A championship game, the fresh-faced Greyhounds rattled off 12 straight wins, another District 10 title and reached the PIAA semifinals last fall.


With eight starters back on offense and nine on defense, Wilmington has high aspirations for this campaign.


“The kids are absolutely thrilled to be able to play this fall. You can just see the passion and enthusiasm, effort and energy. For some of these guys, this is something they’ve invested in since the third grade. We’re thrilled with the fact we’re able to have a season,” Wilmington coach Brandon Phillian said.


“When you look at this year’s team, it’s a very talented senior class with great leadership. I think it has big goals and big expectations. One of our favorite team beliefs is to be humble and hungry. We want to stay hungry every time we take the field and improve. It doesn’t really matter where you’re ranked in the preseason – the guys have remained humble and hungry, knowing they have a target on their back. As long as they keep that hunger and humility, I think they have a chance to achieve some big goals this year.”


The ’Hounds return a lot of firepower to a Wing-T offense that cranked out 282.5 yards per game on the ground and averaged 41.3 points per tilt last year.


Senior All-State honoree Caelan Bender returns under center. The athletic quarterback passed for 1,342 yards and 21 touchdowns last year. He lugged the pigskin 89 times for 465 yards as well. Backfield mates Darren Miller, Ethan Susen and Luke Edwards are back as well. Miller, a senior, racked up 1,444 yards and 18 scores in 2019, while Susen, a senior, had 882 yards and 12 scores. Edwards, a junior, was behind the two seniors with 308 yards and five scores.


“There’s certainly no substitute for experience. We’re fortunate to have a plethora of it. The Wing-T offense is predicated on four backs – our quarterback and the three guys who carry the ball,” Phillian said. “Caelan Bender is a true dual-threat quarterback. Having Darren Miller, Ethan Susen and Luke Edwards back – it’s quite a luxury. Those guys are a year older and more mature.”


Sophomore Gage DeCaprio could see some carries as well. He had 29 for 191 yards and four scores a year ago.


Four senior linemen are back to lead the way for those guys – left tackle Jake Chimiak, left guard Morgan Whiting, right guard Weston Phanco and right tackle Connor Vass-Gal. Chimiak and Vass-Gal both earned All-State honors last fall.


“It’s one thing to have their size, but those guys have the agility and quickness. They move well and understand the blocking schemes,” Phillian said. “We are looking forward to those guys paving the way up front.”


Seniors Brody Miller and Xavier McDonald, juniors Brayden Penwell, Skyler Sholler and Elon Horchler and sophomore Hunter Koi could all see time on the line as well.


Bender needs to find new targets through the air. Senior Mason Reed is expected to step in at receiver. Junior Cole McCallister could see some targets, along with senior tight ends Braxton Shimrack, Jordan Hess and junior Cole Mahle.


With so much experience back, expect to see Wilmington dive deeper into its playbook this fall.


“One thing we’re fortunate to have, our Wing-T offense is run throughout our youth program. The fact these guys are experienced and so many are returning starters, it allows us to try some other things and instill some creativity on the offensive side of football,” Phillian said.


The "Hounds Hammer" defense is even more experienced. Almost everyone is back from a group that shut out five of its 13 opponents and yielded 11.5 points per fray.


“I think we’re in a really fortunate situation returning so many guys from a defense that did so well,” Phillian said. “We have so many returners, it allows us to put in some different schemes and add a little variety there, too.”


Phanco and Chimiak are back at defensive tackle, along with Whiting at defense end. The other defensive end spot is open and Hess, Horchler, Mahle and Koi are battling for time.


Sholler and Miller return at linebacker. Edwards, Horchler and DeCaprio could all see time as well. Wilmington’s secondary returns intact with All-State pick Susen and Reed at cornerback and Shimrack and Bender at safety. McCallister could see time, too.


“What an advantage having that much experience in the secondary,” Phillian said. “Those guys can recognize routes and adapt coverages accordingly.”


Senior kickers Daniel Hartwell and Ethan Winters are back as well. “What a great duo they make,” Phillian said. “Not just having one great kicker, but two is a great advantage for a football team.”


A pandemic-shortened season brought a new challenge to the ’Hounds – a revamped Region 2 schedule. They will play Farrell, Sharpsville and Greenville twice.


“It’ll definitely have a different feel playing multiple teams twice in a season,” Phillian said.


Nevertheless, Wilmington remains focused on being tough to play against each week. “One of the strengths we have is our balance between our skill players and linemen,” Phillian said. “I don’t think teams can really key on one guy, either. Our defense is balanced to stop the run and the pass. We’re looking forward to the challenge.”