Jacob Margolis ‘20
It only took Head Coach Scott Abell three games to do something that former coach Paul Nichols never did in his five years in charge of Davidson’s football program; winning three games in a season. The competition has not exactly been stout. Abell told The Charlotte Observer back in August, “[I’d] like to beef up the non-conference schedule in the future.” That said, it does not take away from the dominance the football team has exhibited so far, winning each game by at least three touchdowns. This dominance is especially apparent on offense, where the Wildcats have utilized Abell’s spread option system to average 58 points per game.
Entering the season, the team’s ability to adjust to a new, complicated style was seen as critical to any sort of success. According to quarterback Tyler Phelps ‘21, this adjustment has gone as well as possible. He stated that while “there’s definitely a difference between running a spread offense [Nichols’ offense] and running a spread option offense, Coach Abell and the whole staff have made the transition as smooth as possible.”
The work is not done, however. Phelps commented that he would like to improve on “becoming as comfortable with the offense as possible, [getting] to the point where [he] sees the offense like Coach Abell sees the offense.”
Besides learning and operating the new offense, what else has keyed the team to a 3-0 start? When asked, wide receiver Will Wicks ‘20, who has compiled an incredible feat of over 400 all-purpose yards and eight touchdowns, answered that “the biggest factor to the team’s fast start has been executing the game plan the coaches provide us. We know that with our offense, we are very hard to stop when we are clicking on all cylinders.” Furthermore, Wicks believes that “Coach Abell calls a great game plan and [the team goes] out and execute[s] it.”
The defense cannot be forgotten either, and Wicks proclaimed that “[the] defense does a great job of getting stops.” When asked about the most positive aspect of the defense so far, Defensive Coordinator Jon Berlin claimed that he has “been very pleased with how well we run and our level of physicality… we have done a nice job of running to the football.” He did caution that “it’s really important that we address our depth on the defensive side of the ball, so we can be effective for four full quarters.”
The program’s revamped culture was another key feature to the team’s success in the first month. Berlin stressed this point when he explained how “[the staff has] begun to establish [a] new football culture,” and that he “was very pleased with how hard our players work and their thirst for knowledge.”
Phelps added that he was particularly impressed by “the way guys have come together and shared a bond,” a feeling that Phelps “didn’t have last year.”
Abell has also tried to put his players in positions to succeed by making everything a bit more manageable. Phelps stated that a major difference between this season and past seasons is that “Coach Abell is a lot more relaxed. Offensively, we don’t put in a new offense every week. We simply run our stuff and make some minor adjustments based on how we think the team we’re playing is going to defend us.”
More so, Phelps reiterated the positive culture change when he asserted that “overall, everyone has a lot more respect for not just Coach Abell but the entire staff. The relationships between coaches and players have gotten significantly better since Coach Abell took over, and that is incredibly important for a team to be successful.”
Beating Division II and III schools is one thing, beating Pioneer League teams is another. Despite losing in their opening league game against Dayton, Wicks stated that he and the team “have a goal of winning every week [and] have high expectations for the rest of the season…We have been having tremendous starts to our games, but sometimes we slow down when we’re ahead or just don’t play as clean in the second half.” At the end of the day however, Wicks is confident and believes that “when we don’t hurt ourselves, we’re unstoppable.”
The Coach Abell era is just four games old but there is a palpable buzz around the program that hasn’t existed in years. The program was featured on EPSN’s SportsCenter and garnered national media coverage for its incredible 91-point outburst against Guilford. It may be early, but it certainly does not seem like a stretch to claim that the program is improving rapidly.