October 13, 2011

Not settling for 'good'

More news about: Thomas More
Thomas More throws the ball more than it used to, but Domonique Hayden leads the way on the ground with nine touchdowns.
Thomas More athletics photo 

To be the best, you sometimes have to avoid settling for good. When Jim Hilvert took the reins at Thomas More he inherited a program that had tasted some success.

He wasn’t interested in some success, his vision was centered building it into a program will stand alongside the legendary programs in Division III football in time.

In five years the Saints have won three straight President’s Athletic Conference championships. In that span, they’ve gone 39-11 with three postseason appearances. Currently, the eighth-ranked Saints are 5-0 and 4-0 in the PAC; they are in the driver’s seat for similar accomplishments in 2011.

They are enjoying the highest ranking in the D3football.com Top 25 in program history.

As with any coach, Hilvert won’t talk about game-oriented successes. “We have a lot of room for improvement; we look to get better in all three phases of the game.”

If that’s the case, the need for improvement has never looked so good.

According to Hilvert, “It goes back to the offseason and chemistry. We try not to overlook anyone (on the schedule). Our motto is 1-0. We focus on the team we play that week and our guys have done a great job doing just that.”

The offense is scoring more than 41 points a game while pounding out 427 yards (195.6 run, 231.6 passing). They’ve yet to allow an interception and have lost fumbles just five times. They’ve allowed seven sacks in five games. The run game is diversified with five players rushing for more than 100 yards. Six receivers have been frequent targets. Quarterback Robert Kues has connected for 13 touchdowns and 1,158 yards while throwing no interceptions.

“Our quarterback has done a great job. He’s learned a lot. That’s carried him through the season. We’ve been more balanced, so that gets guys out of the box on defense,” Hilvert said. “If you don’t beat yourself, that’s what it’s all about.”

Defensively, the Saints have limited rivals to 294 yards (107.6 rushing/187 passing) and 13 points a game and compiled 12 sacks. They also enjoy a plus 8 turnover ratio.

“I think we wear teams down. I think we get better as the game goes along,” the coach commented.

Aaron Walters is averaging 42.0 per punt, and has converted 24-of-28 extra point attempts. As a team the Saints have an average of more than 20 years per kick return and its two leading punt returners sport a similar average.

How’d the turnabout happen so quickly? Recruiting.

A native of Cincinnati, Hilvert was quite familiar with talent in the area of Crestview Hills, Ky., just across the river. He looked extensively in the tri-state region of Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana. Within two hours were football hotbeds of Louisville, Lexington, Cincinnati, Columbus and Indianapolis.

It was also concerned with tweaking the culture at Thomas More. Hardly a stranger to D-III success, they had three undefeated seasons and advanced to the playoffs in 1992 and 2001, but Hilvert set out to push the bar higher.

“We had to adjust expectations,” he said. “We recruited extremely hard to get the guys we wanted, so we could run the offense we wanted. We had to do things throughout the year and we had to develop a ‘band of brothers’ attitude. It’s not about numbers, it’s about winning. It’s not about individuals. It’s about the team.”

Thomas More recruiters also looked for a specific type of player. Those with winning attitudes that pushed everyone around them to be successful.

“We wanted hard workers, full of passion for the game and who were competitors. Guys who got after it, on and off the field; an attitude that looks to win every day in every area of life.

Once they found the right players, they spent hours selling the vision to them. When they started camp, the coaches worked even harder to remain consistent to the vision.

“I told kids, ‘You come here, we can win next year.’ I really believed it. We were 4-6 my first year so we had to convince the kids weren’t that far away from winning. All that work came together and they started to buy into it more and more.”

“That goes back to expectations. That’s just about how we go about our business. We are never going to be complacent. It’s going to take a lot of hard work, a lot of sacrifice and recruiting special players who can buy in and stay healthy. We are going to need a lot of depth in every area, and not just getting superstars.”

Aiming for heaven on earth? Not really, but for the coaches leading his team through the sea of fans tailgating and down the hill Bank of Kentucky Field is still a special place to be on game day.

Game Notes

Ryan O'Rourke threw for 230 yards and one touchdown. Tyler Lohr gained 123 rushing yards on 28 carries and three touchdowns as Baldwin-Wallace topped Otterbein 27-21. Austin Schlosser threw for 350 yards and three touchdowns for Otterbein. Trey Fairchild had nine catches for 154 yards and a score.

Jordon Fowler threw for 271 yards for Allegheny in a 31-17 win over Kenyon. Kenyon's Dan Shannon had 243 yards passing.

Damon Brown rushed for 138 yards to lead Adrian to a 56-18 win over Olivet.

John Proano rushed for 144 yards as Westminster eked out a 30-27 win over Bethany. Matt Grimard threw for 215 yards and two touchdowns.

Max Paulus finished with 288 yards passing with two touchdowns as Denison lost 38-23 to Chicago.

Albion held off Alma 27-26. The Britons were led by Spencer Krauss who had 241 yards passing with two touchdowns. Jarrett Leister threw for 394 yards and two touchdowns for Alma. Scot teammate Barak Henderson had 10 receptions for 160 yards and two touchdowns.

Matt Bliss threw for 305 yards and ran for 43 yards, but Washington and Jefferson lost 35-27 to St. Vincent. Alex Baroffio had 13 receptions for 187 yards for W&J.

Zac Hurtt recorded 15 solo tackles, 19 overall for Wittenberg in a 39-20 loss to Huntingdon.

John Horn had seven receptions for 117 yards and a touchdown in Wabash's 24-3 win over Washington U.

Case Western Reserve’s Dan Calabrese had three interceptions, two for scores in the Spartans’ 47-21 win over Oberlin.

Blaek Combs picked off two LaGrange passes, including one in overtime as Trine edged LaGrange 20-14.

Tyler Rue connected for 245 yards and four touchdowns in a 38-20 Ohio Northern win over Capital. Capital’s Ryan Kremchek threw for 258 yards. Matt White had 16 catches for 189 yards. Chad Coward had two interceptions and blocked a PAT kick for ONU.

Heidelberg's Germany Woods rushed 33 times for 136 yards in a 17-7 win over Muskingum. Muskingum's Alex Thomas tallied 17 tackles, including one for loss.

Shawn Jackson rushed for 119 yards and a touchdown and Michael Atwell threw for 239 yards in Hope's 22-16 win over Kalamazoo.

Josh Graham connected for six touchdowns in a 311 yard passing performance as Waynesberg beat Geneva 47-33. Christian Jackson had eight catches for 157 yards and a touchdown.

Jasper Collins had five catches for 106 yards and a touchdown in Mount Union's 62-0 win over Marietta.

Robert Kues threw for 264 yards and four touchdowns as Thomas More topped Grove City 37-7.

Great Lakes Region teams in D3football.com’s Top 25 poll this week
No 2 Mount Union – Steady at No. 2, with four first place votes.
No. 8 Thomas More – Remains at No. 8
No. 12 Wabash – Firm at No. 12.
Dropped out: Wittenberg (NCAC) was No. 14.
Receiving votes: Wittenberg (NCAC), Adrian (MIAA),Ohio Northern OAC),Trine (MIAA), Baldwin-Wallace (OAC).

Games to Watch

Ohio Northern (3-2, 2-2 OAC) at Baldwin-Wallace (4-1, 3-1 OAC), 2 p.m. ET: Both teams need this one to stay in the OAC title chase. A loss here by ONU would snuff out any fading hopes of a postseason bid. B-W, has a little more room for error, but a big win here against a traditional playoff team would help their case for their first playoff selection since 2003. Don’t forget, it’s homecoming in Berea. 

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Brian Lester

Brian Lester is a reporter in Findlay, Ohio. He has 14 years of experience at newspapers in Virginia, North Carolina and Ohio, spending the last 10 at The Courier in Findlay. Lester also writes an Around the Region column for D3hoops.com. He is a graduate of Eastern Illinois and lives in Ottawa with his wife and daughter.

2011 columnist: Dean Jackson
2007-10 columnist: Matt Florjancic

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