Led by local talent, Wayne State has chance to shock Division II football
Wayne State is just two wins away from what would be a shocking Division II title. The Warriors (11-3) will travel to unbeaten Winston-Salem (13-0) for a semifinal game Saturday.
Much of the Warriors' talent has been drawn from Oakland County. In total, Wayne State has 21 players from Oakland County, several of whom have made a major impact.
Senior running back Josh Renel of Rochester Adams has tallied over 2,000 all-purpose yards and 14 touchdowns this season and is a Harlon Hill Award candidate (the Division II equivalent to the Heisman Trophy). Sophomore linebacker Ed Viverette (Birmingham Brother Rice) is a key contributor on defense with 69 total tackles and 7 1/2 sacks as is former South Lyon standout and WSU cornerback Anthony Baskin, who also contributes on special teams. Senior left tackle Joe Long from nearby Lapeer East recently won the the Upshaw Award for Super Region 3, which makes him a national finalist for the award given to the best lineman in Division II.
The players who took a chance on a downtrodden and frankly irrelevant program just a few years ago now have a shot to reshape the Warriors' image.
"It really has been an emotional roller-coaster ride," Renel said. "When we finally saw our name on there (the playoff bracket), it was really a second chance."
The Warriors have made the most of that opportunity.
Just making the playoffs, which they barely did less than a month ago, was a first-time accomplishment for the program. Wayne State lost 43-42, in overtime, to Findlay on the last game of the year -- finishing 8-3. Somehow, the Warriors not only got into the Division II playoffs, but have since reeled off three consecutive road wins including an upset over D-II power Minnesota Duluth last week.
"Losing the last game (to Findlay), you're thinking it's over," said safety Jeremy Jones, who has nine interceptions on the year, three of which came in an upset playoff win over Nebraska-Kearney. "It's very surreal. It's gone by so fast."
Jones, from Rockford High School, was named Division II Defensive Back of the Year this season.
Wayne State coach Paul Winters went 4-16 in his first two seasons after taking over the program in 2004. The talent cupboard was bare and the program's brand recognition extended little further than its stadium placed awkwardly off the highway in what will never be mistaken for the entertainment district of Detroit.
The perception of Wayne State football will change drastically if the Warriors cap off their already improbable run with a national championship. Winters isn't looking ahead though.
"It's hard to talk about what we've done... We're still in the process of doing it," he said.
With mid-December set to arrive and the onslaught of Division I college bowl games about to kickoff, what Wayne State has been able to do in its playoff run should serve as a reminder of what Division I teams are missing.
The chance to do the improbable. Just lining up, winning games and staying alive for another week. That's the way it should be and that's what's happening at Wayne State right now.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this post
Here's more news on the Warriors from around the web:
Warriors a tough team on the road -- The Winston-Salem Journal
Jones resist temptation to quite, finds success at Wayne State -- The Detroit News
Wayne State has built a football winner -- The Detroit News