CARROLLTON, Ga. - The 2019 football season is set to begin this weekend for the 15th-ranked West Georgia Wolves, as UWG takes to the road for the season opener, taking on Catawba College in Salisbury, NC. Kickoff on Saturday from Shuford Stadium is set for noon.
West Georgia head coach David Dean enters the 2019 season needing just two victories to become just the third coach in Gulf South Conference history with 100 victories. He has a career record of 98-33 entering his 13th year as a head coach and in three years at West Georgia, Dean has a record of 19-6.
The Wolves have been to the NCAA Playoffs in four of the last five seasons. West Georgia was the sixth seed in 2014 and the top seed in Super Region 2 in 2015. UWG missed out on the playoffs with a 7-4 record in 2016, then was the sixth-seeded team in 2017. Last year, the Wolves finished the regular season with a 10-2 record and were the second seed in the NCAA Playoffs.
For the fourth-straight season, West Georgia was ranked in the preseason, by three publications. the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) rankings came out this past week and the Wolves were ranked 15th in that poll.
The matchup of West Georgia against Catawba in the season opener is happening for the third time in the past five seasons. The Wolves won 44-13 in 2015 in Salisbury, then took a 23-3 victory in Carrollton in 2016.
Four seniors were named as the permanent captains at the end of fall camp. Quarterback Willie Candler and receiver John Hurst were named captains on the offensive side of the ball while Korie Rogers and Chad Price were named on the defensive side.
West Georgia has 50 victories in the past five seasons, the most successful run of that span in school history.
Five games are scheduled to be played on Ra-Lin Field in University Stadium in the 2019 season. The Wolves have three in the first two months of the season, then will close out the year with two home games in the final three weeks of the regular season.
Saturday’s game will be broadcast live on KISS 102.7 in the Carrollton area. This will mark the beginning of Mitch Gray’s 39th season in the broadcast booth as the Voice of the Wolves. Outside of the Carrollton area, fans may listen to the game online via the Listen Live links on the Gradick Communications portal.
Game times have changed this season more than in the past, as the Wolves will host a pair of night games at University Stadium. Saturday’s opener will be at noon in Shuford Stadium in Salisbury, NC, the first of two noon games on the year. The other will be on October 5 against Shorter on Ra-Lin Field. The night games will bookend the season, as West Georgia will host Albany State in the home opener on September 21 at 7 p.m., then host Valdosta State at 7 p.m. on November 16 in the regular-season finale.
All of the preseason rankings are now out, and West Georgia appears in every one. The lowest of the four preseason ratings for the Wolves was in the most recent poll, as West Georgia was ranked 14th in the D2football.com media poll. The AFCA coaches poll put UWG at 15th, and Lindy’s ranked West Georgia 18th. The Street & Smith’s poll put head coach David Dean and his charges in their lowest preseason ranking at 24th.
Year Three Under Dean
On September 7, West Georgia Wolves will enter the third season under head coach David Dean. UWG is 19-6 in the first two seasons with Dean at the helm, reaching the NCAA Playoffs in each of those seasons. This is the 13th season for Dean as a head coach, and he has eight visits to the NCAA Playoffs in his first 12 years. More impressive than that, no Dean team has finished with a record below .500.
For the fifth consecutive season, West Georgia is ranked nationally in the preseason. After a trip to the NCAA Semifinals in 2014, the Wolves were ranked in the top-10 for the bulk of the season, finishing the 2015 season in the top-10 after another trip to the semifinals. Last season, the Wolves were ranked as high as third nationally, and West Georgia opens the 2019 campaign ranked 15th in the AFCA preseason rankings.
UWG vs. Catawba History
Saturday marks the fourth meeting in the history of the series with West Georgia and Catawba. All games between the two programs have either started or ended the season. The first meeting came in 2000 in Salisbury, when West Georgia fell 28-24 in the first round of the NCAA Playoffs, ending the season for UWG. The last three meetings have been the season opener for both teams, as the two teams opened the year in 2015, 2016, and now in 2019 against each other. West Georgia holds a 2-1 lead in the series, with the Wolves winning the last two meetings.
On The Road
The Wolves will open the 2019 season as road warriors, as UWG will not play at home until September 21 against Albany State. That will be the only home game in the month of September for West Georgia, as the Wolves will take on Florida Tech the very next week in the 2019 Gulf South Conference opener for both teams. The Wolves will burn up I-85 for the first two weeks, taking on Catawba in Salisbury, NC followed by a battle with Limestone in Gaffney, SC in Week 2.
West Georgia senior quarterback Willie Candler is poised to rewrite the passing record book at West Georgia this season, but Candler is not the only member of the team in search of milestones this season. Head coach David Dean comes into the season with 98 career victories in his coaching career, needing just two wins to become just the third coach in Gulf South Conference history to win 100 career games.
The Magnificent Seven
The front seven for the West Georgia defense will be a tough nut to crack for opposing offenses. Within the front seven for UWG this season are three players with NFL Draft grades entering the 2019 season. Auzoyah “Big Z” Alufohai joins Chad Price and Korie Rogers with that honor. Alufohai transferred to UWG from Kennesaw State, while Rogers is in his third season after transferring from Clemson. Price is a homegrown talent, signing with West Georgia out of Brookwood high school in 2015. He redshirted in 2015 and began his playing career in 2016.
Wide Receiver Corps
Touchdowns No. 2 and 5 of the Willie Candler era as quarterback of the West Georgia Wolves went to Thomas Lester and John Hurst, respectively. That trio will be at the forefront of the UWG aerial attack in 2019. Candler has two receivers who have more than 1,000 yards combined and have been consistent targets for three seasons. Add in an All-American speedster in Laperion Perry and the Wolves have the ingredients for a tough passing game this season.
The 2019 West Georgia Wolves may have the most experienced secondary in many years, but at first glance, that would not be the case. Six seniors are among the two-deep, including two players who are in at least their second season as a regular starter for the Wolves. Chris Blackston (SS) and Jakyron Young (CB) have a combined 26 starts between them, and three of the four other seniors have had extensive playing time at Division I institutions. Rishad Goode played at UWG two years ago and has returned from a one-year hiatus.
The Return Game
To return to the playoffs for a fifth time in six seasons, special teams will play a big role for the Wolves. Speed is prevalent on this team, but the return man with the biggest resume thus far is Laperion Perry, who was an All-American returner last season. He had two kickoff returns for a touchdown as a redshirt freshman and has the speed to carry the Wolves in that area. Add in senior transfer Quan Harrison, who was All-Southern Conference as a sophomore kick/punt returner for East Tennessee State.
Carrying the Torch
Devontae Jackson graduated, but waiting in the wings last season was true freshman Christian Royalston, who rushed for 453 yards and four touchdowns in his rookie campaign with the Wolves. West Georgia also picked up a solid transfer back in Eric Swinney, who most recently played at Ole Miss. Swinney played high school ball at GHSA power Sandy Creek and will give the Wolves a big back this season. Freshman Rajaez Mosley enters the opening week of the season at second on the depth chart, followed by Chauncey Williams, a redshirt freshman who was the Class AAAAAAA offensive player of the year in the state at Meadowcreek High School.
Last week saw the West Georgia Wolves ranked 15th in the AFCA Coaches’ Poll, but this week brought more preseason honors. Korie Rogers, Laperion Perry, and Chad Price were each named Preseason All-American by D2Football.com. Rogers and Perry were named as All-Americans last season and Price was an All-Region performer. In the media poll released by D2Football.com on Tuesday, West Georgia was ranked 14th heading into the 2019 season.
Next Level Wolves
Alex Armah (‘16) continues to be the standard for West Georgia players at the next level, as this weekend will begin his third year as the starting fullback for the Carolina Panthers. Marcus Sayles (‘16) has been outstanding for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers this year, blocking two punts thus far. Malik Henry (‘18) has been added to the San Francisco 49ers practice squad and Devontae Jackson made it to the final cut with the Denver Broncos. He is expected to sign with an NFL practice squad.