Judah Newby | Sports Editor
Though the calendar has not quite ushered in the fall by turning to September, it has not kept away the beginning of the collegiate football season. The first game on the Division III football schedule was played last night between Wheaton College and Benedictine University at McCully Stadium. It was the first weeknight football game in program history, and the Thunder won the game 48-7. This win gave fans plenty to be excited about in the young season.
Head Coach Mike Swider enters his 17th season as leader of the Thunder program and his 28th year overall as a member of the coaching staff. In 2011, Swider’s squad notched eight wins and two losses but were not selected to participate in the D-III playoffs, missing the postseason by the narrowest of margins. Their most recent trip to the postseason came in 2010, when the team went 10-2 and defeated Coe College (Iowa) in the first round before falling to Bethel University (Minn.) in round two.
This season, the Thunder are primed to make a return trip to the playoffs starting with their high-powered offense. In many cases the success of any team’s offense is reliant upon the play of the quarterback, but in Wheaton’s case, the quarterback position is still unresolved. The team returns both senior All-American Garrett Meador as well as senior Jordan Roberts, who won the starting job last season but failed to notch a start due to a torn ACL and spent the year on injured reserve.
Meador, a fifth-year senior, thrived in his role as starting quarterback in 2011, throwing for over 2,800 yards and scoring 28 touchdowns, earning him both CCIW Offensive Player of the Year honors as well as All-North Region Offensive Player of the Year. He has also been selected as a preseason First Team All-American by d3football.com.
Roberts, meanwhile, is the program’s most efficient passer, completing over 66 percent of his passes in 2010. Meador completed 65 percent last season, which is second in program history. Before going down with his injury, Roberts was positioned to be the team’s starting quarterback after leading the team to the second round of the playoffs in 2010. That season Roberts threw for 1,575 yards and scored 14 touchdowns while also running for nearly 500 yards, averaging just shy of six yards per carry.
Wherever coach Swider decides to turn with his quarterback – whether Meador, Roberts, or both – the Thunder do not lack for other playmakers on the offensive side of the ball. Returning to the receiving core is sophomore Mark Hiben, who last year caught 38 passes for 628 yards along with scoring eight touchdowns and averaging 15.8 yards per catch. His outstanding season also earned him CCIW First Team All-Conference honors at the receiver position. Senior Morgan Cook is also a returning receiver and a potential big-play threat, as evidenced by his team-leading 17.8 yards per catch average in 2011, during which season he also racked up over 200 yards receiving and two touchdowns.
In the backfield, Wheaton boasts a talented group led by senior tailback Peter Jarrett. Though he suffered a hamstring issue throughout the year that limited him to just five games, Jarrett returns as the starting back in 2012 and hopes to stay healthy and serve as yet another weapon for the offense. Junior Justin Swider backs him up, as well as sophomore Jesse Geary, who was featured in multiple short-distance packages and will also split time as a fullback this season.
Despite all the promising offensive talent for the Thunder, no team is primed for success without a solid offensive line up front that can both protect the quarterback and pave lanes through the defense for the running game. Thankfully for Wheaton, all five of their starting linemen from last season are back for this fall, led by seniors Jesse Peterson at tackle and Charlie Bell at guard. Junior Nolan Randall is the other tackle along with junior Bradley Hahn at the other guard position. Sophomore Spencer Clark returns as starting center.
Wheaton is also ready to have a solid year defensively despite losing a handful of key starters from a season ago. Eight players return in the secondary positions as well as multiple starters at the linebacker positions. Senior Pat Dansdill anchors that group after appearing in every game in 2011, recording 29 tackles. Joining him is junior Brett Anderson, who made 19 total tackles last season, as well as seniors John Carnegie and Sam VanHeest and juniors Ben Johnson and Jordan Higgins at outside linebacker. Juniors Brandon Dykstra and Sam Weatherred shore up the defensive line at nose tackle, while the defensive end positions have yet to be filled but are also supplied with young talent. Sophomore Sam Cote is slated as the team’s starting kicker as well as punter on special teams.
Following the contest with Benedictine, the Thunder get ready for three consecutive road games, the first coming next Saturday at Albion College (Mich.). The non-conference schedule wraps up the following weekend when the team travels to take on Luther College (Iowa) before starting CCIW play with a tough road contest against Augustana College in Rock Island on Sept. 29.
Photo Credit: Allison Freet
Printed in the August 31, 2012, issue of The Wheaton Record. Send comments to email@example.com.