NORFOLK, Va. - It's unlike any preseason camp Old Dominion University head football coach Bobby Wilder has ever experienced. And the reason is not because his program is preparing to open up a brand-new, $67 million stadium.
Last season, the Monarchs struggled to a 4-and-8 record - the first back-to-back losing seasons in program history (ODU went 5-and-7 in 2017). So, in need of an overhaul, Bobby Wilder didn't just hire five new full-time assistant coaches. He also revamped his roster.
ODU's 2019 football team features 46 newcomers.
"This is the most-different camp we've ever run," Wilder admitted to News 3 Tuesday. "From the standpoint of it's trying to get the 46 new players introduced to what we're doing. We've got new scheme in two phases. Defensively we're entirely different. Offensively we've made a lot of adjustments."
"With all the new guys, for me, the approach I took is becoming their friend first before getting to football," Old Dominion junior linebacker Lawrence Garner explained. "If you ever get bored and want to play basketball or volleyball, I'm here. I can get you assimilated to campus. Football, I want you to be at your best. I want you to compete. Being a friend first and then motivating them to get better and get on-board with the process, it makes it easier when you get out here on the field because we can put our trust in each other in doing the right thing on the field."
Of the 46 new players on the Monarchs' 2019 roster, 17 are junior college transfers. Among those 17 is junior quarterback Messiah deWeaver, a transfer from East Mississippi Community College by way of Michigan State.
deWeaver, who Wilder says is in a three-way battle for ODU's starting quarterback job, is close friends with another QB in this region currently competing to be his team's starter. deWeaver is close with Redskins rookie QB Dwayne Haskins.
"He's a really, really good friend of mine," deWeaver explained. "I actually just talked to him before his last game. We were talking about the lifestyle he has right now and how many eyes are on him. I thought he did pretty good his last game - had a big touchdown pass. He's doing really well and I can't wait to see him grow and grow and become the guy up there."
Like Haskins, deWeaver was ranked as one of the top quarterback recruits in the class of 2016. They often crossed paths at QB prospect camps during the recruiting process. Adding to their connection, deWeaver is from Dayton, Ohio - not far from Columbus where Haskins starred for Ohio State University.
"We both know the lifestyle of playing quarterback," deWeaver noted. "He knows the pressure of the position and I know the pressure, so it's easy to talk to him. We go back and forth with different ideas."
The Monarchs open the 2019 season at newly-built S.B. Ballard Stadium Saturday August 31st vs. Norfolk State.