Pioneers down in the polls

CANTON – With one win combined the last two seasons, the Marietta College football program was shown little respect at the Ohio Athletic Conference’s media day Wednesday at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

The Pioneers were picked to finish ninth in the OAC in the media poll and 10th in the coaches poll. Perennial powerhouse Mount Union was picked first in both polls.

Marietta was represented at media day by head coach Andy Waddle, wide receiver Tannon Roberts and linebacker Cody Rice. Rice acknowledged that it is up the team to prove the poll voters wrong.

“Winning one game last year and zero games the year before, it’s just not looking good,” Rice said. “You can tell in the coaches poll, they voted us last. I think we have something to prove to show that we are not the worst team in this conference. I think we have the coaching staff and the team to do it, we just have to go out there and do it.”

Waddle, entering his second season as Marietta’s head football coach, will be directing a very young team this fall. MC has only five seniors and few returning starters out for the team, so it will be up to some younger, inexperienced players to step in and make significant contributions.

“We will be bringing in a lot of freshmen that we’re gonna rely on to play,” Waddle said.

Marietta’s leading passer (Tom Fulton), rusher (Tim Conner), receiver (Kirby Harris) and tackler (Jake Hammer) from last year are all gone. With Marietta’s first game against Kenyon a month from now, Waddle has some time to figure out who some his new go-to guys will be.

“I don’t know if we’re experienced any places,” Waddle said. “We’re young all over the place. We don’t have a large number of returners or returning experience. We’re gonna rely on the guys that do have playing time to be leaders, but it’s also important that our new players to the program and our first-time starters hit the ground running and understand the expectations that are put in front of them.”

Waddle chose Rice and Roberts, both seniors, to represent the team at media day. Rice, second on the team in tackles last season, figures to be the heart and soul of defense this year while Roberts, in his fifth year with the program after missing most of last year with an injury, will bring experience to one of the key skill positions.

“Tannon got injured in our second game of the year last year and is coming back to finish his eligibility and his degree this year,” Waddle said. “We’re certainly excited about having Tannon back in our offense and he’ll be a great weapon for our quarterbacks.

“Cody Rice is one of our guys that provides great leadership so we’re excited to have him back as well.”

When Waddle addressed the media, one of the main things emphasized was the importance of a change in culture within the program. Roberts agreed and added “I know a lot of people have us counted out. We just want to show the OAC what we can really do and how the team can really push each other if we come together.”

At the conclusion of the event, OAC commissioner Tim Gleason presented the 2014 Bill Nichols Award to Johnny Wharff, who accepted the honor on behalf of his late father, “Big John.” Big John Wharff was the voice of Marietta College athletics for 29 years and is a member of the Mid-Ohio Valley Sports Hall of Fame.

According to the OAC website, “the Bill Nichols Award recognizes a member of the media who has demonstrated an understanding and passion for amateur athletics, while covering the students and programs of NCAA Division III and the Ohio Athletic Conference.”