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A Titan in the backfield

More news about: UW-Oshkosh
Dylan Hecker leaps a UW-Whitewater defender.
Dylan Hecker's presence in the backfield improves UW-Oshkosh's offense by leaps and bounds.
UW-Oshkosh athletics photo
 

By Josh Smith
D3sports.com

Four years ago, UW-Oshkosh coach Pat Cerroni recruited Dylan Hecker to play quarterback for the Titans.

The thought was Hecker would compete with Brett Kasper for the starting job. But after Kasper assumed the role of signal-caller, the Titans wanted to keep Hecker involved. So he moved to running back, where he has flourished to the tune of 3,000 career rushing yards and a school-record 51 touchdowns.

“You can use all the clichés in the world,” Cerroni said while trying to describe his running back. “But, man, he is a fierce competitor.”

Hecker, who was named first team All-WIAC the past two seasons after earning a second team nod his freshman year, didn’t anticipate being a collegiate halfback.

“Up until my senior year, I was thinking I was going to be a linebacker,” Hecker said. “I was a linebacker going into the high school all-star game, and they moved me to running back the day we moved in there.

“But in high school, my senior year, I was a quarterback,” he continued. “We ran a lot of option, and I would sprint out and either chuck it deep, or usually run it, to be honest. I wasn’t your standard quarterback. It was more being an athlete and trying to make plays.”

Cerroni said Hecker was a good defensive player throughout his high school career. But the coach felt Hecker was a more dynamic threat on the offensive side of the ball. That prompted Cerroni to bring Hecker in as a quarterback.

“You put the ball in the kid’s hand, and he had that knack to make yards and the competitive spirit to get in the end zone,” Cerroni said. “Every time he had the ball, he was possessed.”

Throughout their competition as quarterbacks, Hecker and Kasper’s relationship was never contentious.

Kasper ultimately took over the position. He got the start when former starter Dylann Rauch was injured. However, Cerroni noted that if not for an ankle injury suffered earlier that week, Hecker would have gotten the start over Kasper.

“As soon as Brett won the job and stayed there, Dylan moved to running back,” Cerroni said.

The move worked out as Hecker rushed for 489 yards and nine touchdowns his freshman season. He followed that with a 963-yard, 19-touchdown sophomore season before helping the Titans reach the Stagg Bowl in 2016 with 1,142 yards and 17 touchdowns.

“I’m glad it was the way it worked out because Brett and I can both play the same amount. I think we work really well together,” Hecker said. “I enjoy the wildcat stuff. It brings me back to my quarterback days. But I like running back a lot.”

At 6-1 and 230 pounds, Hecker has learned to use his size to his advantage. He said he ran more timidly as an underclassman before taking advantage of his size.

“Sometimes, I think it helps me when things don’t go my way,” Hecker added. “I like to run with attitude.”

With his personal success in the backfield and team’s deep run in the postseason, the tailback said his confidence has improved as well.

“We’ve played on the biggest stages, against the best teams,” Hecker said. “The confidence level is the highest it’s ever been. I’ve had every experience I need. Now, it’s about going out there and performing.”

UW-Oshkosh certainly has performed well so far.

However, the Titans had a few uncertainties coming into the season with 10 starters on defense lost to graduation and just two non-conference games on the schedule.

But Oshkosh started their WIAC season strong, weathering a UW-Whitewater comeback before pulling away to beat the defending conference champs, 37-20.

The Titans followed that victory with a convincing 49-14 homecoming win vs. UW-Stevens Point on Saturday behind four touchdown passes from Kasper and two rushing touchdowns from Hecker.

Given the early results, it appears an abbreviated non-conference schedules hasn’t had a negative effect on UW-O.

“We were healthy. We beat a team we normally struggle with,” Cerroni said. “If you ask me to grade our non-conference schedule, I’ll give it an A right now because we accomplished every goal we set (for the WIAC opener). I’m extremely proud of the coaches and players for understanding the situation we’re in, and not letting it affect our ability to compete.”

Following a successful campaign last season and strong start this year, goals are set high.

“We know what it takes to get there now,” Hecker said of reaching the 2016 Stagg Bowl. “I’m glad I’ve got another year and another shot at it.

“We have a lot of depth, and that’s one of the most important things,” he added. “Not only that, but we have the confidence. I think that confidence can take you a long way.”

Defenses stand tall

There were four shutouts in the West Region this week, two of which came in MIAC play.

In a battle of Top 25 teams, the St. Thomas defense held Concordia-Moorhead to 108 total yards of offense while Tucker Trettel scored twice in a 21-0 victory.

Meanwhile, Bethel outgained Carleton, 659-166, in a 49-0 shutout. Jake Marsh was 22-of-25 with 320 yards and three touchdown passes to lead the Royals.

In WIAC play, Cole Wilber threw first half touchdown passes to Tony Gumina and Marcus Hudson while the UW-Whitewater defense forced three turnovers in a 14-0 win over UW-Stout.

In Southern California, Claremont-Mudd-Scripps cruised past struggling Occidental, 37-0, as Sam Healy threw two touchdown passes. Healy was one of five players to complete a pass for the Stags Saturday. The win was the first shutout for CMS since 2001.

Number of the week

86 – as in the 86 yards Eureka’s Chris Friend returned a fumble recovery in Saturday’s 48-6 win over Westminster (Mo.). Friend had a big game for the Eureka defense adding 2.5 tackles for a loss, including one sack, to go with his touchdown.

The rest of the West

George Fox improved to 4-1 on the season as Brad Lander hauled in six catches for 163 yards and two touchdowns in a 43-23 win over Whitworth. … Wartburg’s running duo of Dylan Binion and Parker Hammel powered the Knights to a 44-20 win over Central. Binion had a team-high 142 rushing yards and two touchdowns while Hammel added 123 yards and one score. … Gregoire Franchomme caught five passes for 123 yards and three touchdowns to help Greenville topple Crown, 59-6. … UW-Platteville scored 10 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to put away UW-River Falls, 24-14. Sean Studer had 91 rushing yards and two touchdowns for the Pioneers. … St. John’s scored 35 unanswered points in a 49-3 rout of Augsburg. Dusty Krueger carried the ball 20 times for 138 yards and three touchdowns. … A roughing the passer penalty on fourth down extended Buena Vista’s final drive, and seven plays later Reed Kruse scored on a 1-yard touchdown run to lift the Beavers over Dubuque, 44-41. … Brandon Boyd scored his second touchdown of the game in the final minutes of the third quarter, and the Pacific defense held Pacific Lutheran scoreless in the fourth quarter to secure a 24-20 victory. Boyd finished the game with 125 yards on 16 attempts. … Cal Lutheran gave up a touchdown pass in the final minute, but successfully defended the ensuing 2-point conversion to top Pomona-Pitzer, 43-41. Adam Friederichsen threw for 326 yards and four touchdowns to help the Kingsmen win. … St. Scholastica got 202 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns from Jeff Lemay en route to beating Iowa Wesleyan, 38-28. … Tarek Yaeggi fired three touchdown passes to go along with 290 passing yards as he helped UW-La Crosse improved to 5-0 with a 45-14 win over UW-Eau Claire. … Chidubem Nnoli racked up 197 yards and three touchdowns on just 13 carries to power Linfield past Willamette, 55-14. … Levi Plante ran for three touchdowns and threw two scoring passes to propel Redlands past La Verne, 48-14. … Simpson topped Loras, 31-21, punctuated with Ryan Lehr’s 98-yard interception return for a touchdown with 5:18 remaining in the game. … Josh Schroeder caught a 6-yard touchdown pass from Ian Paulsen with 7:51 left in the third quarter to break a 7-all tie, and Martin Luther held strong to beat Minnesota-Morris, 14-7. … Cory Wirth’s 25-yard field goal in overtime was the difference in Luther’s 41-38 victory over Nebraska Wesleyan. … Jack Goldstein passed for 212 yards and four touchdowns and Troy Peterson had nine receptions for 144 yards and a score to help St. Olaf top Hamline, 40-33. … Duncan Varela jump started the Puget Sound offense with a 68-yard touchdown run as the Loggers went on to defeat Lewis and Clark, 35-15. … Chapman built a 31-point lead in the first half and went on to top Whittier, 45-24. Ricky Bautista was 21-of-27 with 320 yards and four touchdown passes. … Chazz Middlebrook piled up 150 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 40 rushing attempts to lift MacMurray to a 22-9 over Northwestern (Minn.).

Rank ‘em

Eight teams from the West Region were ranked in the Top 25 this week.

No. 3 UW-Oshkosh, No. 6 St. Thomas, No. 7 Linfield, No. 8 St. John’s and No. 9 UW-Platteville all retained their positions from a week ago.

George Fox and Wartburg both entered the Top 25, checking in at Nos. 21 and, respectively.

Meanwhile Concordia-Moorhead slipped three spots to No. 23, and Whitworth and UW-Stout both fell out of the Top 25.

UW-La Crosse (32), Redlands (19), UW-Whitewater (9), UW-Stout (9) and Whitworth (1) received votes in the Week 6 poll.

Be heard

Do you have a story idea for the Around the West column? Contact me about approaching milestones, broken records, breakout players or any other storylines in the Region. Or just drop me a note to let me know what you think of the column. All ideas and feedback are welcome. Email me at josh.smith@d3sports.com or follow me on Twitter @By_Josh_Smith.

Josh Smith photo

Josh Smith has covered Division III sports for more than five years. He writes for multiple publications, including D3football.com beginning in 2012. He has won multiple awards for reporting and photography and lives in southern Wisconsin near UW-Whitewater, where he graduated with a degree in print journalism.

2011-12 columns: Jason Galleske
2010: Tim Walsh
2003-09: Adam Johnson
1999-2000: Don Stoner 

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