Big numbers inspire hopeful Central outlook

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Central College Quarterback Blaine Hawkins threw for 1,896 yards in the 2018 season. (photo courtesy of Central College)

From Central College’s Sports Information Desk

Football is a numbers game.

And the numbers are favorable for the Central College football team this fall, according to coach Jeff McMartin. Fifteen starters return, including eight on defense, as well as three specialists. There are 43 juniors and seniors back, along with a big sophomore class and a bountiful freshman class that oozes potential.

Depth abounds. That’s especially valuable given the way the game has evolved.

“Depth is a really important thing,” McMartin said. “It helps you on game day but it also helps you in the whole process of practice and how you practice and the decisions you make in how you utilize people. When you have depth, you can be aggressive in certain facets. We like to play fast, both on offense and defense. In order to play fast, you have to be able to be use tempo to your advantage and you have to be able to practice fast. When you don’t have depth, it’s really hard to practice that way. Now you’re trying to do something in a game that you can’t replicate every day. When you have depth, then you can replicate that.”

McMartin also says it more directly.

“Teams that have depth are teams that typically win a lot of football games,” he said.

There’s also this number: One game-changing quarterback. Two-year starter Blaine Hawkins is entering his junior season and his name is already sprinkled throughout the Central football record book.  The Heerema-Schilder Award winner as Central’s MVP last year, he was an American Rivers first-team all-conference pick.  It’s only slightly misleading to note that Central was 8-0 in games he finishes last year and 0-2 when he was sidelined by injury. Those two losses were against two of the better teams on the Dutch schedule, but there’s no debate that he’s a difference-maker.

Yet it’s not a one-dimensional offense.

“We’re a year older up front,” McMartin said. “We’ve got four of five starting offensive linemen back and all of the guys that are going to play for us have been on the field. I think that helps us. It also helps us that we have a very veteran group of wide receivers that has played a lot. Having (returning starters) back at S-back and tight end, that’s huge. We want to continue to develop our running game and be a well-rounded offense.

“We want Blaine to play quarterback and not have to be our leading rusher, necessarily,” McMartin said. “One of Blaine’s strengths is he can extend plays and he can run with it. We understand his effectiveness and the importance he has in our offense. Taking pressure off of him will allow him to play better. We can do that in the running game, in protection, in getting open, all those things.”

Meanwhile, eight of 11 starters are back for the league’s third-ranked scoring defense. The Dutch have vacancies at safety, cornerback and linebacker, but also have returning experience at those positions.

“We have talent on both sides of the ball,” McMartin said. “We need to go out and play with confidence and be ready to compete. We have to earn what we get.”

A young Dutch squad was a surprise last year with an 7-0 start before closing at 8-2 and tying for second in the league. Matching that mark while navigating an even more treacherous schedule is not a lock.

Yet the sting of last year’s two late-season losses left a mark. Consequently, McMartin isn’t sugar-coating his expectations for 2019.

“There’s no other option for us than to work to be a better football team than we were last year,” he said. “I’m not going to be satisfied with being as good as we were last year. That’s not even acceptable. We talked about that a lot in the off-season. We met with our players right before they left for the summer and they have a very clear understanding of what the expectation is and that is that we had better come back a better football team in August than when we left in May.”

Quarterback

Despite missing most of two games, Hawkins’ 1,896 passing yards are the fifth-most in school history. He completed 147 of 219 passes (67.1 percent) with five interceptions and 17 touchdowns. He also rushed for 318 yards on 105 carries with six scores, averaging a team-high 5.0 yards per carry. Hawkins also established a school record with 212 consecutive passes without an interception.

“Blaine had a great spring,” McMartin said. “He’s healthy and looks good. When Blaine has been on the field for us, good things have happened.”

The Dutch should be better equipped if back-up help is needed. Brayden Egli (sophomore, St. Charles, I-35 HS) was pressed into his first collegiate start last year. For the season, he completed 37 of 58 passes for 434 yards with one interception and six touchdowns. He also ran 30 times for 79 yards and one TD.

“Brayden’s got a year of experience under his belt,” McMartin said. “He did a nice job.”

Wide receiver Tanner Schminke (junior, Boone) arrived at Central as a quarterback, has taken some varsity snaps and is available if needed. But with the arrival of some talented freshman quarterbacks, McMartin doesn’t think he will be.

Receivers

Central began last year searching for answers at wide receiver but now brings back an established group.   Schminke and junior Erik Knaack (Reinbeck, Gladbrook-Reinbeck HS) are returning starters at while senior Hunter Robinson (Lisbon) and junior Tylor Obermeyer (Papillion, Neb., Papillion-La Vista HS) both saw regular duty as well.

Knaack grabbed a team-high 47 catches for 801 yards and nine touchdowns.

“Erik kind of became a go-to guy for us,” McMartin said. “He’s got a knack for going up and battling for balls. He’s got good hands, runs good routes and is very competitive when it comes to attacking the football. He does a good job.”

Schminke had 22 receptions for 323 yards and four TDs.

“Tanner got a lot of experience,” McMartin said. “He’s a really good route runner. But he can also take the football on jet sweeps and short passes and make yards. He runs with the ball really well. He’s a good athlete and we feel can be an impact player for us.”

Robinson had seven catches for 61 yards and a touchdown and was also the team’s top punt returner.

“He’s a big, tall athletic player,” McMartin said. “He should have a great year.”

Obermeyer saw increasing action later in the year. He had 16 catches for 183 yards and a score.

“Tylor was equally important to us,” McMartin said. “He rotates with Tanner (Schminke) and Erik (Knaack) and gets on the field quite a bit.”

Sophomore Hayden Vroom (Pella, Pella Christian HS) flashed some potential in limited time.

“Hayden did a nice job for us as a freshman,” McMartin said. “He got in some games and got some quality reps but also developed a lot in our JV program.”

Junior Logan Huinker (junior, Altoona, Southeast Polk HS) was on the field primarily as a holder on place kicks but expects to see more time as a wide receiver this year. Senior Brady Johnson (senior, Stanton) could also contribute.

“Brady’s big, he’s strong,” McMartin said. “He’s got the strength of a tight end and the size of a wide receiver. We’re hopeful he will continue to get better and take advantage of his senior year.

Tight end/S-back

Depending on the formation, the Dutch use either or both the tight end and S-back positions.

Ross Norem (senior, Iowa Falls, Iowa Falls-Alden HS) started at tight end last year and had 15 catches for 238 yards, none bigger than the dramatic winner in the back of the end zone in the closing seconds of a 17-15 triumph over Simpson, his lone score of the year.

“He made the switch from quarterback to tight end and does a great job,” McMartin said. “He made a lot of big catches for us throughout the year. He continues to block really well.”

Sophomores Aaron Roelfs (sophomore, Ackley, AGWSR HS) and Billy Friis (sophomore, West Branch) should play bigger roles at tight end as well.

“They’ve had a good off-season, got stronger and bigger and have done a good job of learning the offense,” McMartin said.

The look of the S-back position can vary.

“For us the S-back is a hybrid position with moving people around either at tight end or slot or wing or in the backfield,” McMartin said.

Caleb Schlatter (junior, Story City, Roland-Story HS) was listed as the top S-back last year, although he didn’t typically start the game on the field. But he had 13 catches for 102 yards and two touchdowns.  Norem can also play S-back.

Schlatter was hampered by injury late in the year, although he stayed on the field.

“Before his injury, he was really effective,” McMartin said. “Once he got hurt, we had to manage his reps and that kind of changed the trajectory of how his season finished. But he can do the job.

“We feel like we’ve got some depth there at S-back,” he said. “We feel like we have some very good football players and some flexibility in terms of what we can do with Ross both as tight end and S-back.”

Running back

A key to the season and a preseason priority is finding an answer at running back. The Dutch graduated a trio of backs who handled the bulk of the carries last year and those three, along with three quarterbacks, were the team’s six rushing leaders.

Consequently, it’s not coach-speak when McMartin declares the position wide open.

The lone senior is Jordon Woods (Orland Park, Ill., Carl Sandburg HS). He’s just 5-4 but shifty and elusive, McMartin said. Woods, who has also spent time at defensive back, had 17 carries for 93 yards in 2017 but none last year.

“He has some experience,” McMartin said.

A pair of sophomores, Jason Hopp (Earlham) and Eddie Doran (Moline, Ill.), are back  Keep an eye on Hopp. He had 13 rushes for 57 yards and turned some heads by returning a kickoff for a record-tying 99-yard touchdown.

“I think Jason Hopp can be a really good running back,” McMartin said. But he likes Central’s other options as well.

“They’re all different runners,” he said. “Jordon (Woods) is really good behind linemen and has a lot of good, quick cuts. Eddie (Doran) is more of a slasher and Jason (Hopp) is a power runner but can also do a good job of making people miss.”

Joey McIntyre (junior, Hoffma Estates, Ill./Saint Viator HS) joined the team in the spring and quickly forced his way into the picture.

“He looked good,” McMartin said. “He brings another element and more competition to the position. He’s going to challenge for playing time.”

But McMartin is also not ruling out giving a shot to a freshman as the Dutch have a promising group of incoming backs. The opportunity is there, he said.

“We could have a freshman or two make an impact, because of the needs at that position and the requirements of that position,” he said. “Some of it is going to come down to how well they pick it up and some of it is going to come down to instinct and how well they do they just make plays.”

Offensive line

The growth of the running game will be accelerated by a polished offensive line that returns four starters, led by second-team all-conference left tackle Cody Smith (senior, Orland Park, Ill., Carl Sandburg HS).

“It starts with Cody,” McMartin said. “He’s a big body who moves well. He’s strong and has a lot of experience. He understands the position and does a good job with it.”

Other starters back are center Jake Suggett (senior, Chula Vista, Calif., Eastlake HS), right guard Josh Mayhew (junior, Aurora, Ill., West Aurora HS) and right tackle Travis Wagner (junior, Mesa, Ariz., Mountain View HS).

Backing Smith is junior Griffin Sargent (Ankeny, Centennial HS).

The early front-runner for the vacant left guard spot is senior Ed Henning (Hartwick, HLV HS), challenged by junior Cooper Johnson (Cedar Rapids, Kennedy HS) and sophomore Ty England (Boone).

“Ed (Henning) has played for us as both a center and a guard,” McMartin said. “Going into his senior year, he’s got a great opportunity to get on the field. He’s gotten bigger and stronger and Cooper Johnson has also improved a lot in the off-season.”

Suggett is also a versatile player.

“He’s played both center and guard,” McMartin said. “He’s very smart and physical. He’s got good size and he moves well. He’s a quality football player.”

Sophomore Colton Anderson (Boone) opens behind Suggett.

“Colton can also play guard,” McMartin said. “They both do a good job.”

Mayhew became a starter last year at right guard.

“He’s one of the hardest hitters on the football team,” McMartin said. “He’s strong. He’s really embraced a role as one of the leaders on our offensive line. He’s a student of the game.”

He’s pushed by senior Nick Yarkosky (Albia) and sophomore Nathan Daniels (North Liberty, Iowa City West HS).

“Nick has really continued to work hard to get on the field,” McMartin said. “He had a really good off-season and has the potential to help us. Nathan (Daniels) will also be contending.”

At right tackle, Wagner is making strides.

“Travis is a tall, athletic football player,” McMartin said. “He’s gotten bigger.”

Challenging Wagner are senior Carter Smith (Orland Park, Ill., Carl Sandburg HS), Cody Smith’s twin, and junior James Lamgo (Corning, Southwest Valley HS).

“Carter traveled last year and got some playing time,” McMartin said. “They’ve all got size and continue to improve.”

Defensive line

Central returns five of its top six defensive linemen and a pair of juniors have a year of starting experience up front in Blade Durbala (Blairstown, Benton HS) and Matt Glockel (Malvern, East Mills HS).

Durbala made 45 stops, including 11 solos with 3.0 for loss.

“Blade has continued to get stronger and quicker every year,” McMartin said. “He’s a real force for us inside. He’s grow as one of our leaders up front.”

Glockel had 29 tackles with 12 solos and 5.0 for loss. Glockel also forced two fumbles and recovered one.

“He came into camp last year a little banged up,” McMartin said. “He fought through it all season long and showed great toughness and resolve. He’s healthy now and we think we’re going to see the best version of Matt Glockel yet.”

But Central also returns senior Carter Terpstra (Pella), senior Martin Olson (Kimballton, EHK-Exira HS) and sophomores Tom Adolph (Coralville, Iowa City West HS), Tanner Kreitlow (Pinehurst, N.C., Pinecrest HS) and Josh Kuiper (Holland, Grundy Center HS). Terpstra made 25 tackles with four solos and 3.5 for loss, including 2.0 sacks. Olson made 13 tackles with four solos, Kuiper had five stops and Adolph made four.

“Carter (Terpstra) is one of our leaders on the defensive line,” McMartin said. “He’s got the right kind of mindset. He goes out every day to be the best. That translates well to our younger players.

“Martin (Olson) is tremendously strong. He’s very disruptive up front.”

Additional contenders include juniors Joe Pepe (Gladbrook, Gladbrook-Reinbeck HS) and Isaiah Arana (Phoenix, Ariz., Goldwater HS) and sophomore Deryck Cleppe (Chelsea, Belle Plaine HS). And McMartin said that linebacker Henry Fair (junior, Sycamore, Ill.), who was in Europe through Central’s study abroad program last spring, may actually spend more time on the defensive line this year as well.

“They’re all strong and this off-season we’ve continued to see them increase their strength,” McMartin said. “They’re athletic. They do a good job of getting off blocks and making plays. What we’re looking for from them is to take another step in strength and quickness, but I think experience will help them a lot. All those guys played a lot of football for us.”

McMartin considers the line between starter and back-up to be a blurry one, with several linemen in a regular rotation.

“Where we’re at in the game of football today, if you can have eight guys who can play for you up front, that’s a great thing, because you want to rotate guys in and out,” he said. “It’s kind of gotten almost like hockey, with lines going out because of all the plays and the tempo teams are using. You’ve got to be able to substitute people up front. So what I like is that we have depth. We can play two lines and be effective.”

Linebacker

There are also numbers at linebacker.

“We feel really good about our depth and the people who are going to be asked to play there,” McMartin said.

The linebacker position is evolving.

“Outside linebackers are really becoming kind of hybrid players,” McMartin said. “They’re guys you’re going to ask to cover slot receivers and play in space. They’re also going to have to force things in the running game and, at times, line up on the line up of scrimmage against tight ends.”

The Dutch have the least experience among their Will linebackers, who play outside but can also be utilized on the line of scrimmage. The early leaders there are senior Jeffrey Banks (Clearwater, Fla., Countryside HS) and junior Hunter Maddy (Mystic, Centerville HS).

“Jeffrey worked very hard this off-season and had a solid spring,” McMartin said. “He brings a lot of energy and a positive mindset to the group.”

Maddy made 19 tackles last year, with four solos and 2.5 for loss.

“Hunter played quite a bit of football for us last year,” McMartin said. “We’ve also used him as a pass-rush specialist on the defensive line.”

Also competing are Cody Wonderlich (junior, Pleasant Hill) and Kirk Jenkin (junior, Kewanee, Ill., Wethersfield HS). Jenkin is back after missing all of 2018 with injury.

The Bandit linebackers handle strictly an outside linebacker role. The Dutch are in good shape there with the return of senior Tate O’Tool (senior, Fort Dodge, St. Edmond HS) made 56 tackles, including 20 unassisted with 1.5 for loss. He also broke up three passes and blocked two kicks.

“I think he had a really solid season last year,” McMartin said. “He made a lot of really big plays for us and is going to be one of the leaders on our team.”

He’s backed by sophomores Cole Moss (Plainfield, Ill., Neuqua Valley HS) and Jahi Craig (DeKalb, Ill.).

“They’re two really good athletes, They’re very football-smart. They do a good job of disguising things. They can also cover and run really well. I’m expecting to see them help our football team this year.”

Joining the group is J.R. Zeitler (sophomore, Bloomfield, Davis County HS).

“We’ve moved him from defensive back because he’s physical and can run really well and we feel like that’s a good position for him,” McMartin said. “It’s a good fit.”

Depending on how Central lines up, the Mike linebackers could play either inside or outside, McMartin said. Either way, Connor Lewin (senior, Stillman Valley, Ill.) was Central’s second-leading tackler last year and the top returning tackler. He made 66, including 32 solos with a team-high 7.5 for loss and 3.5 sacks.

“He’s a versatile enough athlete he could play either inside or outside linebacker for us this year,” McMartin said.

Also seeing time there is Cade Humphries (junior, Geneseo, Ill.), who had 30 tackles, including 17 solos with 2.0 for loss.

“Did a nice job on special teams for us,” McMartin said.

Others at the Mike linebacker spot are Reid Taylor (sophomore, Polo, Ill.), Cody Fields (senior, Lowden, North Cedar HS) andAlex Cloyed (senior, Moravia).

“Reid (Taylor) does a nice job,” McMartin said. “He’s going to battle for playing time.

“Cody (Fields) has worked really hard and had a good spring. He’s the type of player that does whatever is asked of him. He’s shown great jumps of improvement each year.”

Cloyed returns after a semester of study abroad.

“Alex has worked hard,” McMartin said. “He comes into his senior year hoping to contribute.”

Back at the Sam inside linebacker spot is junior Drew Smith (Joliet, Ill., West HS). He overcame injury to record 50 tackles last year, including 16 solos. Smith was also in Europe during the spring.

Also contending is junior Malik Hatch (St. Charles, Ill., East HS), who made seven tackles.

“Malik has played several positions but right now we’re looking at him as an inside linebacker,” McMartin said. “He’s done a nice job for us.”

They’re backed by junior Andrue Wright (Independence) and sophomore Devon Murray (Mount Carroll, Ill.).

“Andrue got on some special teams and made big strides,” McMartin said. “Devon shows a lot of great promise from his freshman year.”

Defensive backs

The Dutch will have some new faces in the secondary, but some experience as well.

Central rotated three players at the two safety positions. Two graduated but the Dutch return a good one in strong safety Jordy Borman (senior, Eagan, Minn.), who earned first-team all-conference honors and was a third-team all-region pick for his special teams play. Borman ranked ninth in Division III with six interceptions. He also recorded a blocked kick along with 44 tackles, including 21 solos, and six pass breakups.

“He’s a heady football player,” McMartin said. “He plays really hard and is opportunistic.”

Juniors T.J. Snyder (Marshalltown), who moved to the secondary last year after a season at wide receiver and Will Diaz (Tampa, Fla., Gaither HS) are both contending. Central has also added junior Reece McCaslen (Montezuma), who joined the team in the spring.

But the Dutch also have a sophomore, Tyler Cavil (Olathe, Kan., South HS), who will make a strong push for the starting free safety job.

None has seen significant playing time and McMartin is eager to get it sorted out.

“Figuring out who those safeties are, that’s going to be really pivotal to the success of our defense overall,” he said.

Central also has one returning starter and one opening at cornerback. Senior Danny Anderson (Boone) made 25 tackles, including 14 solos with nine pass breakups. He’s got 20 breakups in three years as a starter and also returns kicks. He’s a men’s tennis letterwinner as well.

“Danny’s got a chance to be a four-year starter for us,” McMartin said. “He’s done a nice job.”

Senior Ryan Sprain (senior, Waverly, Waverly-Shell Rock HS), back after missing last year due to injury, is expected to make a run at the other cornerback spot, as are juniors Tre Wilridge (Crowley, La., Tombstone, Ariz. HS) and Mason Cross (Osborn, Mo., Bishop LeBlond HS).

“Going into the fall last year, we were really looking for Ryan (Sprain) to make a big step,” McMartin said. “He had a great spring and we think he’ll take that step this fall. We like the way he’s competing.”

Wilridge made 24 tackles last year, including 10 solos, had an interception and three pass breakups.  Cross made seven stops.

“Tre (Wilridge) had a great year,” McMartin said. “He created some turnovers for us. He has great feet, does a good job in coverage and has continued to get stronger and bigger.”

Backups include senior Christian Escobar (Addison, Ill., Addison Trail HS) and sophomores Tommy Smith (Maryville, Tenn.)and Brady Porter (Winterset).

“I feel like as a group we’ve got we’ve got some guys that are very competitive and we’re going to need them to step up for us to be great on defense, but I do feel that we’ve got talent there,” McMartin said.

Special teams

Central was in the unusual position of having two all-conference punters last year but both have graduated. Equally unique is that the lone returning upperclass contender for the job is a defensive end/linebacker, Maddy. He was the junior varsity team punter last year.

“It’s either going to be him or a newcomer,” said McMartin, who indicated that there are some encouraging options in the freshman class.

There are no questions at placekicker, where Jon Alberts (senior, Huntley, Ill.) was a first-team CoSIDA Academic All-America selection as well as a second-team D3football.com all-West Region pick and a first-team all-conference honoree. He was a finalist for the Fred Mitchell Award as the national kicker of the year. In the eyes of McMartin, all-America should be added to that list of honors.

Alberts missed a 46-yard field goal try in the season opener, then nailed all eight of his other attempts last year, including a school-record 55-yarder. He was 45 of 46 on extra-point attempts, getting one blocked in the rain, which McMartin blamed on a protection issue. On 64 kickoffs, he had 12 touchbacks.

“He has just been a great kicker,” McMartin said. “We’ve had a tradition of great kickers here and he is raising the bar. Just a rock-solid kid and a rock-solid kicker. He loves the big moment. He really pushes himself. Our kickers do a great job of doing the little things and working to get better and Jon is no different. He is clutch and made a lot of clutch kicks for us.

“I felt like he was one of, if not the top, kickers in Division III last year.”

Glockel gained experience as a long snapper last season.

There are plenty of options in the return game. Robinson had 16 punt returns for 151 yards (9.4-yard average). Meanwhile, Lewin had 18 kick returns for a 22.4-yard average, Schminke returned seven for 36.4 yards and Schminke had three for 47.0 yards.

“In our return game, Hunter Robinson, Connor Lewin, Danny Anderson, Tre Wilridge, Tyler Cavil have all worked there and have done a good job,” McMartin said.

McMartin puts a special emphasis on special teams play and said the Dutch are well-equipped to make it an asset.

“We’ve got a lot of linebacker/safety/hybrid players that can cover and run well,” he said. “When you look at special teams, we’ve got a lot of people that can make you strong in those areas because of their athleticism, strength and playmaking ability. I think we’ve got good depth in our coverage game, we’ve got good depth in our return game, we’ve got a good kicker coming back. I feel like special teams can be a real strength in our program this year.”

The freshmen

McMartin isn’t downplaying his enthusiasm about a freshman class that, on paper, is among the largest and most talented recruiting hauls the Dutch have notched in recent memory.

“I’m really happy with our recruiting class,” he said. “Regardless of where some of these guys land on the depth chart this season, a year from now, two years from now, I think this class is really going to make an impact.

“We have really good depth coming in at a lot of positions,” he said. “This is the biggest group of offensive linemen we’ve brought in. Quarterback, running back, wide receiver; we’re able to find some very talented linebackers. And the other positions, the other freshmen we have at cornerback, safety and defensive line, they really complement us very well. They fit our team and our needs.”

And even with an experienced squad, McMartin said some of the newcomers could force their way onto the field.

“Where there is opportunity, they will get on the field. They’ve got a lot of work to do when they get here, but there’s also great opportunity. They can help us.”

The schedule

Six of Central’s 10 games are at Ron and Joyce Schipper Stadium. That excites McMartin, yet he downplays its significance.

“You always want to use the home field to your advantage, and it’s great to play in front of our home crowd,” he said. “We have tremendous support the campus and from the community.  It’s always special to be at home. But I think if you look at us over the years, our home record and away record are pretty similar.”

In fact, over the past five years, the Dutch are 17-7 at home and 20-6 on the road.

More significant than the site is the opponent. The Dutch had first-ever meetings with the University of Northwestern-St. Paul (Minn.) and DePauw University (Ind.) last year and both teams make the trip to Pella this fall.

“It’s unique in that we open with two teams who have never been here before,” McMartin said. “They will be good competition for us. They’re well-coached teams and certainly a lot to prepare for. Then we have a week off and we start the conference season.”

Meanwhile, the American Rivers Conference was hotly contested last year and McMartin expects no different. Wartburg College took the title, just a game in front of Central, the University of Dubuque and Simpson College, knotted in second place, with Coe College two games back.

“You just go down the list,” McMartin said. “We’ve got a lot of challenges.”

And Central’s wealth of experience won’t necessarily provide a huge edge.

“A lot of people have talked to us about how many people we have returning but I think you could say the same for just about everybody in the conference,” McMartin said. “It was a young league last year. Everybody was young.”

It’s scary to think about. So McMartin doesn’t.

“Our best bet is to focus on us,” he said. “We’ve got to improve. We’re not satisfied with where we were last year. We won some great games and suffered a couple of tough losses. And the combination of those things should push us to want to be better.”

There may not be another sport where the margin for error is as razor-thin. An early stumble can spoil a season. Dwelling on it afterwards can effectively end it.

“Every game is critical,” McMartin said. “In Division III, your playoffs start in week one. You’re always battling for the opportunity to win a championship and compete in the postseason. Every week is a battle.”

Fans tire of the one-game-at-a-time mantra, yet McMartin insists it’s the only way to endure the demands of a schedule where defeat lurks just a few missed assignments away.

“You can talk a lot about championships in the off-season,” he said. “That’s what keeps you motivated. It’s what gets you out of bed to work out on a cold winter morning. But once the season starts, you’ve got to focus on the day-to-day process. You have one opponent and that’s the team you’re playing that week. That’s playoff football. That recipe has worked really for us over the years. I think this team understands the magnitude of each game.”

And despite the obstacles that await, traversing the schedule with this team is what excites McMartin the most.

“One of the great things about this group of guys, they understand how to play hard,” he said. “They give a great effort. In practice and in games, this is not a team that is slow to get going. These guys are motivated and they play really hard. That is probably their best quality, the effort that we get from them.

“We’ve got a group of people in the program who understand speed and effort and how to be productive. These guys have one gear and it’s all-out. I like coaching them. I like that they give you a great chance to be successful. We need to continue to improve on the little things, not look back and keep looking ahead.”

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