Heidelberg University’s turnaround on the football field had to start somewhere with one class and this year’s seniors were that special group of players.
Four years ago, this year’s crop of seniors had to adjust to the college game under a head coach that was new to the program and also deal with a stigma of joining a Heidelberg team that had gone 1-39 over four years under a previous coaching regime.
However, the Student Princes went 4-6 in their first year under coach Mike Hallett and have followed it up with two more 4-6 campaigns. Now, with two weeks remaining in the schedule, and in the playing careers of many players, Heidelberg has an opportunity to close out a winning season for the first time since 1994.
“That was one of my main goals coming into this program,” said senior quarterback Andrew Miller. “Heidelberg was kind of a school that I didn’t put a whole lot of consideration in. My high school coach, Bob Ramsay, knew coach Hallett and was like, ‘Go up there and give it a shot.’ I came up and I learned about what was going on and what the school’s been through.
“I wanted to be a part of something different,” he continued. “I live real close to Mount Union, less than 20 minutes from Mount, and obviously, they’re doing great things up there, but I wanted to be a part of something new. I wanted to be a part of a change.”
“Looking back at where we started and how far we’ve come, you look back and see how much work you put into the program, it puts a smile to your face,” fourth-year wide receiver Mike Preston added. “Obviously, we’re not where we wanted to be with the amount of wins, but we set the example for the next couple classes coming in. It’s very special to me, something I’ll cherish for the rest of my life. It taught me about hard work and buying into the program, how we could take it from being average to the verge of being something great.”
While previous success has sparked confidence within the program, the task of finishing with the school’s first winning record in nearly 20 years will not be easy. Standing in Heidelberg’s way are John Carroll and No. 11 Ohio Northern.
“These last two games are big for us,” Miller said. “We’ve lost to John Carroll by less than a field goal, if not a field goal the last three years. Ohio Northern’s a team that is perennially in the top three (in the OAC) since I’ve been here. I have yet to play a very good game against Ohio Northern. We want to continue and we think we can do some things against Carroll and we want to put up some big numbers. We want a signature win and that would be one of them.”
If there is anyone Heidelberg wants to have playing against John Carroll and Ohio Northern, it would be Miller and Preston.
This season, Miller has completed 137 of 251 passes for 2,113 yards and 25 touchdowns against ten interceptions. He has also run for 105 yards on 50 attempts and leads the conference in total yardage, accounting for more than 277 yards per game.
“That starts with my boys up front,” said Miller. “My o-line has really come a long way since coming into the program. Those guys have roomed together and I don’t know if I know a closer bunch of guys. That’s just the kind of guys they are. If I don’t have any time to throw, it doesn’t matter how wide open (Preston) is. He’ll be in the NFL making plays on Sundays; at least I hope he does. They make my job pretty easy to tell the truth.”
Preston has hauled in 61 catches for 980 yards and 14 touchdowns, all of which lead the Ohio Athletic Conference.
“The biggest improvement that I’ve made during my career is learning to read defenses and learning how to watch film,” Preston said. “There’s so much you can get from film study. It teaches you how linebackers line up and move and that’s definitely helped me out on the field the most, just anticipating what’s going to happen before it does. That puts me one step ahead of the competition.”
The bond Miller and Preston formed through success on the football field and friendship away from the game has given the Heidelberg program a much-needed lift.
“It’s unbelievable, the opportunities those guys give us to force the defense to play coverage and open up running lanes for our young running backs,” said Hallett. “It’s really been fun watching those two. They came in together, matured together and have such a great bond between a quarterback and wide receiver. They’ve gone through this whole process together. They’ve got an unbelievable relationship and it’s been special for us to be a part of it.
“I think those two have a really good understanding in, ‘Against this coverage, we’re running this route and here’s where the window is,’” Hallett concluded. “It’s a sixth sense to make what seems impossible not only probably but routine.”
News and Notes
The Wabash Little Giants have turned blocking kicks into an art-form. They have blocked ten kicks this season, which set a school record. Last Saturday, sophomore Jonathon Koop recovered a blocked punt and returned it for a touchdown. Should he take one more punt return back for a touchdown, Koop would tie an NCAA Division III single-season record for most punt return scores.
Wooster equaled the program’s best-ever rushing performance by running for eight touchdowns en route to a 62-0 win against Hiram. Quarterback Richard Barnes, just a freshman, threw for 320 yards and had 33 yards and scored two touchdowns on the ground.
Thomas More junior special teams standout Kendall Owens gained 166 yards on five returns of kickoffs and punts in the Saints’’ 37-13 win against Westminster (Pa.) last weekend. In addition to three kickoff returns for 64 yards, Owens had a 96-yard punt return for a touchdown which increased what was just a ten-point lead near the end of the third quarter to 17.
Albion sophomore Clinton Orr has proven to be a tough running back to bring down this season and Adrian can attest to that fact. Orr gained 233 yards and scored touchdowns from 63 and 68 yards out. It is the third time in the last eight Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association games in which Orr has gained more than 200 yards on the ground.
All good things must come to an end and Case Western Reserve’s 38-game regular season winning streak falls into that category. The Spartans dropped their University Athletic Association opener 24-20 at the University of Chicago.
In the loss, senior wide receiver Zach Homyk, a Chicago native, caught eight passes for 142 yards.
Great Lakes Region Teams in D3football.com’s Top 25 Poll This Week:
No. 2 Mount Union (OAC): No change following a 28-10 win at Otterbein
No. 9 Wittenberg (NCAC): No change after a bye week
No. 10 Thomas More (PAC): No change following a 37-13 victory over Westminster (Pa.)
No. 11 Ohio Northern (OAC): No change after a 45-6 win at John Carroll
No. 14 Trine (MIAA): Up one spot following a 51-14 victory over Olivet
No. 25 Wabash (NCAC): Into the Top 25 after a 20-3 win over Allegheny
Others Receiving Votes: Baldwin-Wallace (OAC)
This Week’s NCAA North Region Rankings:
1. Wheaton (CCIW)
2. North Central (CCIW)
3. Mount Union (OAC)
4. Ohio Northern (OAC)
5. Trine (MIAA)
6. Baldwin-Wallace (OAC)
7. Franklin (HCAC)
8. Case Western Reserve (UAA)
9. Wittenberg (North Coast Athletic Conference)
10. Wabash (NCAC)
Games of the Week
Wabash (7-1, 5-0 NCAC) at Wittenberg (8-0, 4-0), Saturday, 1 p.m.: The North Coast Athletic Conference race again comes down to the Wabash-Wittenberg game this weekend. Wabash has controlled the series by winning six of the last ten meetings, but the Tigers were able to overcome that obstacle last season, en route to a postseason berth. Should Wittenberg win Saturday and against next week against the Wooster Fighting Scots on the road, they would clinch the NCAC title outright. The Tigers would also need just one win to become the first NCAA Division II or III team to reach 700 victories.
Thomas More (8-0, 6-0 PAC) at Waynesburg (6-2, 4-1), Saturday, 1:30 p.m.: The Saints head into this matchup in first place but they will be facing a team whose offense is just as powerful. Thomas More has scored 303 total points and the Yellow Jackets have the second-highest total in the league (282 points). If Waynesburg pulls out the victory, it could create a three-way tie for first in the Presidents’ Athletic Conference between the Yellow Jackets, Saints and Washington and Jefferson.