With progress comes change.
Last season was the first time in more than three quarters of a century that the Texas Wesleyan Rams fielded a football team, and of course there were a lot of new faces in the program — every face, to be exact.
The Rams, understandably, struggled on the field, finishing 1-10 with that lone victory coming via forfeit by Wayland Baptist.
Now, as head coach Joe Prud’homme’s team prepares for its second season, there will once again be a lot of new faces. Those, combined with the returners who gained valuable experience from a year ago, have Prud’homme and the Rams hopeful that this season’s team will be more competitive and perhaps pull off a surprise or two.
“We decided to speed up the offense and tempo, and we had to get new players to do that,” Prud’homme said.
That included bringing in senior quarterback Donovan Isom, a transfer from Southeastern Louisiana. In one season at his previous school, Isom played in five games, making two starts. He threw for 344 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions, and he rushed 47 times for 132 yards.
“Donovan brings everything, a maturity we really needed, and a leader to rally around,” Prud’homme said.
“I don’t know too much about last year, but I see a lot of togetherness on this team,” Isom said. “Our coaches tell us to take care of the little things, and they are right. If we do that, we can be successful.”
Isom said he didn’t think he was going to be a Ram, but the more he thought about the direction of the program and its leadership, the more he became convinced he should join.
“I kept talking to coach [Kyle] Cox and kept praying. I felt like they’d take me to where I want to be,” he said.
Cox is in his first season as the Rams’s offensive coordinator after serving as wide receivers coach and passing game coordinator last year. He came to Texas Wesleyan from Texas Christian University, where he was a graduate assistant coach. During his four seasons with the Horned Frogs, TCU’s offense broke over 30 school records; won a Big 12 Championship (2014), the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl (2014) and the Valero Alamo Bowl (2015); and ranked in the top five for both scoring offense and total offense each year.
In all, the Rams replaced about 50 players on their roster for this season. There is, however, some solid talent returning.
Topping that list is fifth-year senior running back Jermarcus Jones. Sophomores Matthew Shelby (49 tackles, team-leading 13 tackles for loss) on the defensive line and Byron Tate (3 sacks, 6.5 tackles for loss) at defensive end return after being named honorable mention all-conference.
Senior cornerback Michael Miller is also back after leading the team in tackles (57) and tying for the team lead in interceptions (2).
“This season we have guys who have been here and been through last season, and we have some great newcomers who are mixing in well,” Miller said. “We’re ready to prove some things. The beauty is we’re an underdog. We like that.”
Other players to watch are senior running back Desmond Nisby, a transfer from Texas Tech; senior wide receiver Erik Richards (11 catches, 167 yards, 2 TD), who can also play quarterback; sophomore newcomer Darnerick Scott at defensive end; sophomore defensive end Chijoke Iwuagu; junior tight end Addison Medigovich; and promising freshmen Chance Carroll and Matthew Atnip at defensive back and linebacker, respectively.
Paul Duckworth returns as defensive coordinator. His squad averaged eight tackles for a loss and almost two sacks per game, along with breaking up 24 passes and recovering nine tackles.
“We’ve got more maturity in our squad, and now we’ve got some pillars in place,” Prud’homme said. “I think everybody having that year under their belt is going to put on a different trajectory this year.”
Along with new players, the Rams are adding something else this season, night games at Farrington Field. The first, in fact, was Sept. 1 at 7 p.m. against Kansas Wesleyan. The Rams lost, 42-7. Others are against Texas College at 7 p.m. on Sept. 15 and against Langston University on Oct. 6 at 7 p.m.
“It’s going to be awesome,” Prud’homme. “It’s going to be a lot cooler, and it’s football under the lights.”
2018 Texas Wesleyan football schedule
(Home games at Farrington Field, 1501 University Drive in Fort Worth)
Sept. 8 at Texas A&M Kingsville, 7 p.m.
Sept 15 Texas College, 7 p.m.
Sept. 22 at Arizona Christian University in Phoenix, 6:30 p.m.
Oct. 6 Langston University, 7 p.m.
Oct. 13 Oklahoma Panhandle State University, 2 p.m.
Oct. 20 at Southwestern Assemblies of God University in Waxahachie, 6 p.m.
Oct. 27 at Wayland Baptist University in Plainview, 2 p.m.
Nov. 3 Lyon College, 2 p.m.
Nov. 10 Ottawa University-Arizona, 2 p.m.