Sun sets on coach's career

More news about: UW-Whitewater
Coaches Kehres and Berezowitz spoke to UW-Whitewater players after the game.
Photos by Ryan Coleman,
Coaches Berezowitz and Kehres met at midfield following the game to exchange congratulations.
Coach Berezowitz sought out and spoke to Mount Union's Pierre Garcon following the game.

By Keith McMillan

SALEM — After his team's 35-16 Stagg Bowl XXXIV loss to Mount Union, retiring UW-Whitewater coach Bob Berezowitz recalled a pregame conversation at midfield with Purple Raiders coach Larry Kehres.

"He said to me 'If I have to get beat, I wouldn't mind getting beat today' " Berezowitz said Kehres told him, as a sign of respect for the Warhawks" coach of 22 years.

"I knew he didn't mean it though," Berezowitz laughed.

There was no riding off into the sunset for Berezowitz, who quarterbacked UW-Whitewater to an NAIA football championship in 1966, a year after he was a catcher on the Warhawks' baseball champion. Kehres coached for the 10th time in Salem since 1993, and took home the Walnut and Bronze national championship trophy for the ninth time.

The cast changes, the opponents change and the scores are all different, but one thing almost always remains the same: The happy endings in Salem belong to Mount Union.

Lest anyone think the Purple Raiders hog the titles and don"t appreciate them, witness the parade of key players who harped on how much each year is different.

"We don't ever take it for granted," said star receiver Pierre Garcon, who played his freshman season at Norwich before transferring to Mount Union. "Not too many people get this opportunity."

Defensive end Justen Stickley said he was probably the only Purple Raider who played a significant role on the only Mount Union team to lose in Salem, in 2003, said this team reminded him a lot that team: young, talented and good enough to win it all if they played well.

"The losses do affect you, if you're here for them," Stickley said. "These guys (sophomores Nate Kmic, Greg Micheli and juniors Matt Kostelnik and Garcon) don't know anything else."

They might not. Seven junior starters are expected back next season from this year's top defense in the nation, and the offensive stars mentioned above are all returning.

Kehres was asked about next season, and he said there were some good players in the program who didn't even make the 52-man roster for Salem.

"They'd better get it in gear and keep it in gear," Kehres said. "There aren't any guarantees about getting or keeping your position, and there are no guarantees about winning."

Stickley, who was also a member of the 2004 Mount Union team that lost to Stagg Bowl runner-up Mary Hardin-Baylor in the semifinals, didn't forget that. He spoke to the team during a one-hour players-only meeting the night before.

"We didn't talk about the game," said the fifth-year senior. "We talked about each other. We wanted to win this one for us as a team, not for anybody else."

The legacy at Mount Union is important, he said, as Purple Raiders want to win to uphold the tradition set by those who've gone before them, as well as meet the championship expectations thrust upon them each season.

From afar, it's easy to root against mean old Mount Union, the team who wins practically every year. But the longer you're around the players, the program and Kehres, the more endearing the whole Purple Raiders operation becomes.

And although it hurts to finish second or worse for the other 219 playoff-eligible Division III football teams, we as a division are lucky to have such a classy group to be the face of our level. Players over the years, even when they lose, love to have the opportunity to measure themselves against the best.

Mount Union, once again, proved itself the best.