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The Echo
Taylor University, Upland, IN
Thursday, May 30, 2024
The Echo

A deep dive into Indiana Wesleyan Wildcats football

Coach Andrew Rode provides an inside look

The No. 4 IWU Wildcats (5-0) are nothing short of spectacular this season under first-year head coach Andrew Rode.

The Wildcats’ offense has been electrifying, averaging 403 yards a game. Most of those yards are coming behind the arm of senior quarterback Xander Stokes. Stokes has a 149.7 passer rating, which puts him in the top 25 in the NAIA. Stokes averages 248.6 passing yards a game and has 14 touchdowns on the season and only four interceptions.

“Stokes has really led this team well,” Rode said. “He keeps a cool head in the pocket and knows how to run this offense well.”

Stokes’ favorite target has been senior wideout Levi Tidwell. Tidwell leads all receivers on the team in receptions, yards and touchdowns. He has 32 receptions for 555 yards and six touchdowns.

Tidwell has also put his name in the IWU record books. On Sept. 23 versus Roosevelt University, he broke the school record for most receiving yards in a game when he hauled in 10 catches for 190 yards. But Tidwell wasn’t done. During the very next game versus Siena Heights University, he broke his own record with 13 catches for 237 yards.

Another producer on offense has been senior running back Dederrain Williams. Williams leads the Wildcats with 492 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns. He is also a prolific pass-catching back with four receiving touchdowns so far this season.

The Wildcats have been stellar on the defensive side of the ball as well. Opponents are only averaging 14 points and 290 yards a game against the smothering IWU defense. 

Junior linebacker Luke Bays leads the Wildcats in tackles with 48, three of which are tackles for loss. He also has an interception to his name.

Senior defensive lineman Isaac Abeo leads IWU in sacks with five. Abeo has been penetrating opponents’ backfields all year and has consistently put pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

“Our defense is extremely balanced, and we have playmakers everywhere,” Rode said. “Any one of those guys can make a play at any point in the game.”

The school continuously brings in highly touted recruits to Marion, Indiana — a city surrounded by cornfields. Coach Rode says it has to do with the reputation of the university.

“IWU is known as a great academic university as well as athletics,” Rode said. “Recruits know that if they come to IWU, they’re going to get a degree that really matters and will help them in their future after athletics.”

Last season, Indiana Wesleyan finished No. 7 in the nation after losing to the Raiders of Northwestern College (IA) in the semifinals of the NAIA tournament. Northwestern went on to win the National Championship.

Coach Rode says that IWU needs to take a week-by-week approach if they are going to return to the tournament again.

“We need to make sure that we are focusing on the game we play every Saturday,” Rode said. “Continuously going out every week and focusing on getting better every day is what will help us the most.”

IWU looks to continue their dominance on both sides of the ball as they get ready for the rest of their conference schedule.

The Wildcats will play their next game versus the University of Saint Francis (Ind.) (2-2) at 1 p.m. on Oct. 28.