New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady once said, “I don’t think that there is a lot of carry-over from year to year. I don’t think anyone cares about what you did the year before.” Even after going 7-1, winning their first Little Three title in 43 years, and earning a share of the NESCAC championship with Amherst and Middlebury, the 2014 Cardinals still feel motivated to keep improving on both sides of the ball.
Stocked with 47 letterwinners, 29 seniors, and 19 returning starters, including captain and tight end Jon Day ’15, the team will look to better its average of 30.4 points per game from a season ago. Day finished the 2013 campaign with 10 receptions for 139 yards and found the end zone twice. His numbers were good enough to warrant him a second team all-NESCAC selection. Day sat down with The Argus to talk about the success of last season, the team’s plan for fostering that good fortune during the upcoming season, and which professional football player he tries to resemble the most.
The Argus: Last season, the team stormed the NESCAC by surprise and found itself four quarters away from an undefeated season, something that hasn’t been done since Coach Norm Daniels led the 1969 squad to an 8-0 record. Do you think that other teams will approach playing the Cardinals any differently this season?
Jon Day: I definitely think that will be the case this year. Last year, we really surprised the league. No one was expecting us to be that great, and it really spoke to the team chemistry that we had; that we were able to come together and make something that might not have been there on paper. This year, I think that everyone will come out with a target on our back and have our game circled on their schedule. It will be a good challenge for us.
A: The season kicks off on Saturday, Sept. 20, on the road at Middlebury, a team that Wesleyan has not faced since 2011, when it was victorious, 16-15. What do you think will be the key to starting the season off with a win?
JD: We are going to have to approach this like it’s the biggest game of the year. Every single game we play, we have to approach it like it’s the Super Bowl, because we only have an eight-game season, and a single loss on your record can be the difference between [being] outright NESCAC and Little Three champion, and tied like we [were] last year.
A: After the Panthers graduated last year’s conference Player of the Year, quarterback McCallum Foote, a new face will be behind center. How important is it for the defense to get pressure on someone who has little to no experience at the NESCAC level?
JD: Honestly, I think we are going to play within ourselves defensively. Our defense was the heart of our team last year and they’ll probably be again this year. Those guys do such a great job and [Defensive Coordinator] Coach [Dan] DiCenzo has them prepared for any opponent. It doesn’t matter who we’re playing. They’re going to be ready and they’re going to get the job done defensively.
A: How has being a Captain on the team this year changed your perception of how you practice and how you prepare for games?
JD: It’s a lot of responsibility. It’s a lot of weight to carry because you want to make sure that everybody is working as hard as they should be, and ten times that for yourself. I want to make sure that I’m a great leader for the young guys, and even for the guys who are in my grade. It’s a lot of work, but it keeps me honest and it keeps me working hard, and hopefully that [will] reciprocate back through the whole team.
A: Chemistry between teammates is essential for success, especially in a sport like football. How has the pass-catching core, including yourself and fellow seniors Josh Hurwitz and Jordan Fabien, been able to establish such a positive rapport with quarterback Jesse Warren [’15]?
JD: Jesse does a great a job. He knows our offense so well that it just depends on what other defenses are going to do to try to stop those playmakers you just said. Josh, Jordan, and we also have young guys coming in, including Ben Kurtz [’16], whose going to start this year for us, and he’s had a great preseason. As far as the chemistry is concerned, we work every day on getting our timing down and routes and the connection with Jesse. As I said, credit goes to Jesse because he does a great job reading defenses and spreading the ball around.
A: A season ago, Wesleyan was second in the conference in both points per game and opponents points per game. Based on preseason practice, what do you think is the team’s biggest strength?
JD: Our defense is top-notch. Those guys are flying around and having a great season. It’s really going to make our offense better because we get to go against the best defense in the league every day during practice. I’m an offensive guy, and I don’t want to say that our offense is weak, because we are going to have a very strong year, but the defense will definitely be our backbone this year.
A: Wesleyan led the NESCAC in Red Zone efficiency during the 2013 season with a scoring percentage of 83 percent. What do you attribute most to the success of the offense in being able to score when getting close to the goal line?
JD: We’re a run-first football team, so when we get in real tight, we really like to try to power it in there. A lot of credit goes to the O-line, as they do a great job week-in and week-out of mastering the game plan, and getting on blocks, especially in the Red Zone. That is something that Coach [Mike] Whalen preaches all the time. When you get those opportunities in the game, they are so few, so you have to capitalize on them.
A: On a different note, do you have any pre-game rituals that you like to perform the morning of a game?
JD: I always like to shower in the locker room right before the game, no matter where we’re playing. It’s almost like a meditation thing, if anything else. I just like to relax and stretch out a little bit. It’s a big thing, even when we go just down the street to Trinity. I’ll always take a shower before the game.
A: If you could choose one current professional football player whom you try to model your skills after, who would it be?
JD: I try to be Rob Gronkowski of the Patriots. Obviously, it’s a tall order because he’s so good. He’s great guy to watch and emulate on the field because he’s so explosive and strong. He just always seems to be getting the job done, even through his injuries.
A: I know it’s a long time away, but not having beaten our Route Nine rival Trinity since before the Class of 2015 joined the team must be bugging the senior players. How much of a difference will it make that the game against the Bantams is being played at Corwin Stadium this year?
JD: I don’t think necessarily home-field advantage will be the key. I think the difference is that we were 7-0 going into that game last year. We know that we didn’t have a great week of practice up until that game, and so we feel like we let that slip away, and that’s on us. The difference will be that we went there and had a 30-point loss, and we won’t let that happen again, just because it left a bad taste in our mouths.
A: The 2013 season brought many accolades to numerous members of the squad, but that being said, there is always unfinished business. Before the season starts, are there any goals that the team or Coach Whalen has set for this year?
JD: Our goals are to prepare for each game like it’s our last because injuries and crazy things happen every Saturday in college football. Our goal will be to treat every game like it’s the most important game of the season. If we can do that and just take a game-by-game approach, I think that will be the best way to ensure our success this season.