December 26, 2010

Wheaton alumni meet in NFL

More news about: Wheaton (Ill.)
Studebaker and Ittersagen
Pete Ittersagen, right, was recently activated off the Tennessee practice squad, while Andy Studebaker has been a mainstay at linebacker for Kansas City.
Kansas City Chiefs photo

By Bryan Holmgren

It’s a play, not unlike the many thousand you’ll see on a typical NFL Sunday. Dexter McCluster of the Chiefs hauls in a kick and looks for an opening that isn’t there. Bodies fly, whistles blow, the ball is repositioned and both teams quickly move onto the next. In reality, an otherwise routine opening kickoff has been anything but.

With Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Andy Studebaker paving the way for the return unit and Tennessee Titans corner Pete Ittersagen streaking down the opposite side in hot pursuit of the ball carrier, NFL history is made – even if very few people realize it.

Studebaker – a sixth round draft pick in 2008 from Wheaton College – and Ittersagen – a rookie free agent in 2009, also out of Wheaton – are unofficially the first pair of former Division III teammates to share an NFL field in 24 years.

“It’s something that neither of us takes for granted,” says Studebaker afterward. “Not a lot of guys from our level get this opportunity.”

“Obviously Andy and I have a special place in our hearts for Wheaton College, so any time we can represent our college, it’s an honor,” says Ittersagen. “The fact that we could do that today is really, really special.”

Division III players on NFL rosters make up an elite fraternity. When Ittersagen was elevated from the Tennessee practice squad on December 17, he joined a list of just seven D3 alums with a current home on an active roster.

“It was such a blessing to be activated,” said Ittersagen, who toiled on Tennessee’s practice squad for 14 weeks before getting finally his chance. “It’s been dream come true.”

Ittersagen has been through the wringer over the last year and half – released by the Jaguars, waived by the Colts, then cut twice more by Tennessee. His 4.4 speed made him an All-American corner and an elite kick returner during his Wheaton days. With Tennessee he’s just one of the guys, though that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

“Every opportunity I have on the football field, I don’t take for granted. I work my butt off and it’s a passion of mine, so –“ ... as Ittersagen visits with a reporter in the lockerroom after the game, his teammates begin to tease him, sticking imaginary tape recorders in front of his face and cutting off his answers with fake questions. By NFL standards, he’s considered a second-year player. On the Titans, he’s still one of the low men on the totem pole.

“Any time I’m out there I’m just enjoying life,” he finishes. And you can tell he means it.

That passion has been on display the past two weeks. Buried on the depth chart behind All-Pro corner Cortland Finnegan, Ittersagen’s making the most of his opportunities on special teams. In his debut against the Houston Texans, Ittersagen logged three tackles, though a week later against the Chiefs, his chances are limited.

Despite a healthy contingent of former Wheaton players on hand to watch, the so-called “Wheatie Bowl” has failed to generate much buzz. In a section of the Kansas City game notes listing some of the obscure connections between the Chiefs and Titans, the Studebaker-Ittersagen relationship is omitted entirely. The closest the two come to making any on-field contact comes deep in the third quarter after a downed punt. As Ittersagen turns back toward the Tennessee sideline, his former teammate makes an abrupt turn to cut him off. To the rest of the world, it probably looks like two rivals jawing at one another.

“We just kind of slapped each other, said hello,” laughs Ittersagen. “That was cool.”

“I wanted to bump him real quick – let him know that I was watching him,” Studebaker says. “Yeah, it was a lot of fun.”

Rewind to the first quarter, with Tennessee on the ninth play of a long, sustained march. On third-and-5, Studebaker – who sees extensive playing time as a pass rusher on throwing downs – slips around his man and pulls down quarterback Kerry Collins from behind to move the Titans out of field goal range. A sell out Arrowhead Stadium crowd erupts as Studebaker pumps his fist.

“Embrace the opportunities, embrace the experiences.” says Studebaker. “It’s a great opportunity for me, and hopefully Pete follows in that same direction.”

 Studebaker’s road has been a bit smoother, but by no means easy. Being a D-III alum in the NFL is rare, but being drafted out of a D-III college is almost unheard of. Studebaker – who was taken in the sixth round of the 2008 draft by the Philadelphia Eagles – is closing out his third season.

Like Ittersagen, Studebaker spent time on a practice squad. He was working with the Eagles late in the 2008 season when the struggling Chiefs snapped him up, looking for some extra depth at linebacker.

That offseason Kansas City fired almost its entire coaching staff and also turned over much of its front office. Typically, a total housecleaning in an organization means bad news for the holdovers, but not for Studebaker. He has survived and even thrived in two years under new coach Todd Haley and general manager Scott Pioli.

With the Chiefs in rebuilding mode and the organization focused on developing youth, Studebaker has gotten some long looks from the Chiefs brass. He’s made the most of just about every opportunity. In his first and only career start during the 2009 season, Studebaker intercepted two passes and recorded five tackles against the defending champion Steelers. A few weeks later, he scored his first touchdown, falling on a blocked punt in the endzone against Cleveland.

In November 2010, Pioli awarded Studebaker a new contract, making him the first Chief to receive an extension from the new management.

“I really love playing here, we love the community here, love the team here, love the organization. After you battle and battle for two years, three years in the league, it’s nice to have a small amount of security.”

Studebaker’s success has been a lift for Ittersagen, too. Good friends in college, they’ve grown even closer during the past two years, sharing their struggles and successes against some of the best competition in the world.

“He did the whole draft process and NFL thing a year before I did, so he’s always been a big instrument for me in helping me,” says Ittersagen.

“We keep in touch, probably once every couple of weeks I’ll call him and see how things are going,” Studebaker adds. “Sometimes last year when he was a rookie and grinding, he could call and ask questions. It’s amazing to see his progress. “

After the Chiefs’ 34-14 victory over the Titans, Studebaker makes a bee-line, not for Ittersagen, but for the team photographer. He’s been planning this all week. The former teammates, turned enemies, turned friends pose near midfield with the towering stadium walls as a backdrop.

It’s a perfect keepsake for the two of them, but Studebaker is thinking big picture – literally.

“We’re going to get this framed and everything for the program, for the coaches at Wheaton.”

Sep. 1: All times Eastern
7:00 PM
Coast Guard at Anna Maria
7:00 PM
Defiance at Baldwin Wallace
Live Stats
7:00 PM
Washington and Lee at Johns Hopkins
7:30 PM
Trine at Manchester
8:00 PM
Millsaps at Belhaven
Sep. 2: All times Eastern
TBA
Muhlenberg at Wilkes
6:00 PM
Mass-Dartmouth at Mount Ida
6:00 PM
Delaware Valley at Wesley
7:00 PM
N.C. Wesleyan at Stevenson
7:00 PM
Western New England at Springfield
7:00 PM
Fitchburg State at Becker
Video Live Stats
7:00 PM
Albright at Salisbury
7:00 PM
WPI at MIT
7:00 PM
Salve Regina at Worcester State
7:00 PM
Bridgewater State at Curry
7:00 PM
Morrisville State at St. Lawrence
10:00 PM
Adrian at Pacific
Sep. 3: All times Eastern
TBA
Endicott at Framingham State
TBA
Kean at Christopher Newport
TBA
King's at Moravian
Live Stats
TBA
Lebanon Valley at Franklin and Marshall
TBA
Marietta at Denison
TBA
McDaniel at Catholic
TBA
Wisconsin Lutheran at Trinity Int'l
TBA
Sewanee at Kenyon
TBA
UW-Platteville at George Fox
Live Stats
12:00 PM
Washington U. at Carnegie Mellon
Live Stats
12:00 PM
Chicago at Case Western Reserve
12:00 PM
Husson at Alfred
12:00 PM
SUNY-Maritime at Maine Maritime
Video
12:00 PM
Cortland at Heidelberg
12:00 PM
Otterbein at Buffalo State
12:00 PM
Ursinus at Bethany
1:00 PM
Plymouth State at Castleton
Live Stats
1:00 PM
RPI at Norwich
1:00 PM
Randolph-Macon at Dickinson
1:00 PM
Oberlin at Kalamazoo
1:00 PM
Emory and Henry at Ferrum
1:00 PM
Wooster at Washington and Jefferson
1:00 PM
Alfred State at William Paterson
1:00 PM
St. Vincent at Alma
1:00 PM
Concordia (Wis.) at Finlandia
1:00 PM
Olivet at St. John Fisher
1:00 PM
Rowan at Widener
1:00 PM
Hobart at Brockport
1:00 PM
Union at Ithaca
1:00 PM
Susquehanna at Lycoming
1:00 PM
Utica at Misericordia
1:00 PM
The Apprentice School at Methodist
1:00 PM
TCNJ at UW-Whitewater
1:30 PM
Wilmington at Bluffton
1:30 PM
Monmouth at Hope
1:30 PM
Bridgewater at Gettysburg
1:30 PM
Muskingum at Waynesburg
1:30 PM
Juniata at Grove City
2:00 PM
Lakeland at Carroll
Video Live Stats
2:00 PM
UW-Stevens Point at St. Norbert
2:00 PM
Austin at Hendrix
2:00 PM
Maranatha Baptist at Martin Luther
Live Stats
2:00 PM
Millikin at Greenville
Live Stats
2:00 PM
Eureka at Knox
Live Stats
2:00 PM
MacMurray at Rockford
Live Stats
2:00 PM
Gustavus Adolphus at Westminster (Mo.)
Video Live Stats
2:00 PM
UW-La Crosse at Luther
2:00 PM
Beloit at Lake Forest
2:00 PM
Concordia-Moorhead at Jamestown
2:00 PM
Crown at Hamline
Live Stats
2:00 PM
Carleton at Macalester
2:00 PM
Bethel at Dubuque
2:00 PM
St. Scholastica at St. John's
Live Stats
2:00 PM
St. Olaf at Grinnell
2:00 PM
Buena Vista at Mayville St.
2:00 PM
Simpson at UW-Stout
2:00 PM
Aurora at Carthage
2:00 PM
UW-River Falls at Coe
2:00 PM
Ripon at Concordia-Chicago
2:00 PM
Elmhurst at Loras
2:00 PM
Huntingdon at Louisiana College
2:00 PM
North Central (Ill.) at Robert Morris-Chicago
2:00 PM
Benedictine at Wheaton (Ill.)
2:00 PM
John Carroll at UW-Oshkosh
2:30 PM
Southern Virginia at Earlham
Live Stats
2:30 PM
Lawrence at Presentation
4:00 PM
La Verne at Puget Sound
Live Stats
4:00 PM
Central at Whitworth
5:00 PM
Hartwick at Western Connecticut
6:00 PM
Wabash at Albion
6:00 PM
Maryville (Tenn.) at Berry
6:00 PM
Augustana at Mount St. Joseph
6:00 PM
Thomas More at Franklin
Live Stats
6:00 PM
Hampden-Sydney at Averett
6:00 PM
Redlands at Trinity (Texas)
7:00 PM
Hiram at Westminster (Pa.)
7:00 PM
Thiel at Allegheny
7:00 PM
Capital at Wittenberg
7:00 PM
Shenandoah at Gallaudet
Live Stats
7:00 PM
Illinois College at Rose-Hulman
Video Live Stats
7:00 PM
Hanover at Centre
7:00 PM
Geneva at Frostburg State
7:00 PM
Nichols at Westfield State
7:00 PM
Greensboro at Guilford
Live Stats
7:00 PM
LaGrange at Birmingham-Southern
7:00 PM
Hardin-Simmons at Southwestern
7:00 PM
Anderson at North Park
7:00 PM
Ohio Wesleyan at Mary Hardin-Baylor
7:00 PM
East Texas Baptist at Texas Lutheran
7:10 PM
St. Thomas at UW-Eau Claire
Video Live Stats
8:00 PM
Willamette at Rhodes
8:00 PM
Cornell at Iowa Wesleyan
Live Stats
8:00 PM
Augsburg at Northwestern (Minn.)
Live Stats
8:00 PM
Southwestern Assemblies at Howard Payne
8:00 PM
Sul Ross State at UT-Permian Basin
Dec. 18: All times Eastern
Final
Mount Union 49, at St. Thomas 35
@ Salem, Va.
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