|COLLEGE FB PACKAGE: Little Mount Union builds big dynasty|
|Written by Admin|
|Wednesday, 24 October 2007 11:42|
Yes, Mount Union, the tiny Division III school in northeastern Ohio. What the Purple Raiders are doing is as impressive as anything the major programs have accomplished. Nine national titles, eight in the last 11 years alone. A 223-10-1 record since 1990 that's the best in all of college football.
They are, no surprise, undefeated again this season. They've posted four shutouts and haven't allowed a touchdown in over a month. They put up 52 points in the season opener against Averett - and that was just in the first quarter.
``Before you get here, you know all about Mount Union's great history, its tradition, the win streaks, all the great accomplishments,'' said Nate Kmic, a junior who is already Mount Union's career rushing leader. ``You're just hoping you can live up to those standards. You're just trying to keep up with that great tradition.
``You don't want to leave Mount Union being the senior class that didn't win the Stagg Bowl,'' he added, referring to the Division III national championship game. ``You don't want to be that class.''
When Larry Kehres took over as Mount Union's coach in 1986, he didn't dream of building a dynasty. Kehres had played at Mount Union and served as an assistant coach for 11 years, watching the Purple Raiders grow from an average program in the 1960s and '70s to the Ohio Athletic Conference champions in 1985.
His goal was consistency, to make Mount Union a team that could contend for the OAC title each year.
``I'd seen growth and improvement, better players, our facilities were improving. I had a feeling we could be successful,'' he said. ``I didn't envision this.''
In 1993, Kehres' eighth season, Mount Union had its first undefeated season and won its first Stagg Bowl. It was the start of something historic.
Since then, Mount Union has made it to the D-III semifinals or better every year but one (they lost in the quarterfinals that ``down'' year). The Purple Raiders have won three straight national titles twice, from 1996-98 and 2000-02.
Notre Dame leads Division I with eight national titles, but it took the Irish 50-plus years to get them.
The two trophy cases in the lobby of the athletic training facility at Mount Union are so packed, space will have to be cleared if the Purple Raiders bring home another national title. And, yes, all those gleaming trophies, plaques and rings are for football. The exploits from other sports are showcased elsewhere on campus.
``We don't talk about national championships,'' quarterback Greg Micheli said. ``We talk about one game at a time and getting where we need to be. But I know if we fall short, it's going to be a great disappointment.''
Especially this year.
The Purple Raiders returned 14 starters from last year's national champion team, including quarterback Micheli; Kmic; Pierre Garcon, a receiver who's drawn the attention of NFL scouts; and safety Matt Kostelnik, a D-III All-American. The offensive line consists of five seniors, and the first-string defense has yet to give up a touchdown this year.
Mount Union put everyone on notice in the season opener, when it set an all-division record with those 52 points in the first quarter. Kmic scored four touchdowns on seven carries, and the defense contributed a pair of scores.
``Coming into this season, we knew we had a pretty good team,'' Kmic said. ``It is surprising to put up that many points in the first (quarter). But I think that we knew we were going to do great things this year, and that's what we're trying to do.''
The home of this powerhouse is decidedly understated. The 2,200-student private school is 70 miles southeast of Cleveland, a short drive from Canton. Busy Route 62, with its strip malls, gas stations and mom-and-pop shops, borders the campus.
Picturesque buildings dot the green lawns, and a large pond graces the northeast corner. Chapman Hall, the five-story building that is the campus centerpiece, is on the National Register of Historic Places.
There is no athlete's dorm and, like all D-III schools, players don't get scholarships. With a covered grandstand and a track around the outside, the 5,500-seat Mount Union Stadium looks more like Churchill Downs than the Big House.
``We're not trying to make football something that it shouldn't be,'' Kehres said. ``We're trying to be successful, but we want our men to be on target academically. They have to be. There's a social element to their lives that's respected and valued.
``So I think we have balance in terms of how we see the objectives of what we're trying to do.''
Winning has become part of the fabric of Mount Union, though. For the Purple Raiders to do anything but is almost unimaginable. The Purple Raiders won 55 straight from September 2000 to December 2003, an NCAA record, and had a 54-win streak before that.
They've currently won 30 in a row.
``It's weird when you get on SportsCenter for losing a game,'' said senior offensive guard Derek Blanchard, who has lost two games in his three-plus seasons. ``People just expect you to win. It's kind of eerie. The campus gets kind of quiet.''
Though his players shudder at the thought of not continuing Mount Union's past success, Kehres doesn't talk a lot about national championships. Or even winning in general. He knows most of his players' careers will end when they leave Mount Union, and there are larger life lessons to be taught through football.
Even in a continuous drizzle, a Purple Raiders practice this week was a model of efficiency and consistency. Players joked and laughed during warm-ups, but when drills began, they were more focused than some teams are during a game.
``I'm proud of the fact that our men do learn that you have to do, day in and day out, what you're supposed to do,'' Kehres said. ``I don't expect (victories). However, do I expect a certain level of performance throughout the offseason in terms of what we do and then, in the season, in how we practice so that we would have a chance to go down that path? Yes, I expect that.''
The formula obviously works. Just look at Mount Union's record.
``There are teams out there that wish they could have one national championship season, and we're looking back on a stretch of them,'' defensive lineman Pat McCullough said. ``I think that's just something special.''