University of Cincinnati head football coach Luke Fickell added defensive line coach Chad Wilt to his staff in February, and he has already made his presence felt throughout spring practices.
“[Wilt] brings all kinds of energy and really gets all of us going,” freshman defensive end Blake Bacevich said. “He brings a lot of different knowledge from a lot of different places, so it’s great both being able to learn technique and take in the energy he brings every day. It’s really contagious.”
Although UC finished 11-2 and won a bowl game last season, the defensive line has some rebuilding to do after losing starters Cortez Broughton, Marquise Copeland and Kimoni Fitz to graduation. The trio accounted for 153 tackles and 15 sacks last season.
“Replacing those guys is a process,” Wilt said. “We’re getting these young guys ready mentally and physically to go step into the roles they need to.”
“[Wilt] has really high expectations because we have a lot of guys to replace,” Bacevich said. “We still have a lot of talent in that room, so he’s holding us to the highest standards possible to fill out shoes and exceed expectations.”
Bacevich, who graduated from St. Xavier High School, is on the list of players who will look to make impact on the defensive line this season. Sophomore Malik Vann (Fairfield High School) is another name expected to have an increased role.
“We’ve just got to take it day by day and make sure we’re taking steps forward and no steps back,” Bacevich said.
Wilt held the position of defensive line coach and run game coordinator at the United States Military Academy (Army) from 2016-18. The Black Knights finished 11-2 and won the Armed Forces Bowl last season.
"Thrilled we could attract a coach of Wilt’s caliber to our staff," UC head coach Luke Fickell said in February. "He's shown to be an impressive teacher, motivator and coach. We are an offensive and defensive line driven program, so this is a critical role for us.”
Wilt said one of his biggest priorities is making sure the defensive line works through different forms of adversity to cultivate mental toughness leading up to the Aug. 29 season opener against UCLA at Nippert Stadium.
Opponents will be forced to take the team more seriously this coming year, he said, as Fickell has established a devoted culture in his first two years and the players have clear visions of what to expect from the coaching staff.
“Our guys have a culture that’s very healthy,” Wilt said. “They’re not accepting where they are. If you do the same things over and over, you’re going to get the same results. Last year, they probably didn’t have a target on them. This year, you probably have more of a bullseye or a target on you. Teams will be watching, critiquing, evaluating us differently.”
The Bearcats finished spring practice Thursday. Wilt replaced Steve Stripling, who has since retired from coaching.