November 11, 2009

Whalen helped spark change at Case

The past four years have gone quickly for quarterback Dan Whalen and his Spartan teammates at Case Western Reserve, but the memories made during those Saturday afternoon games in blue and white uniforms will last long after this season’s seniors leave the Cleveland campus.

Prior to Whalen’s arrival, Case was a program fighting to get into the upper half of the four-team University Athletic Association. They had only one winning season in the seven years before Whalen’s first day on campus and posted a winning record in conference play just once.

Since the beginning of Whalen’s sophomore year, the Spartans have run off 29 consecutive wins and 30 in a row dating back to the end of his freshman year. Case has won back-to-back UAA championships and made consecutive appearances in the postseason, including the team’s first-ever playoff game against Widener in 2007.

A win over Washington University on Saturday will give the Spartans three straight outright UAA titles.

“It’s the biggest goal that we’ve had since we started this thing,” Whalen said Tuesday. “When our freshman year ended, we had lost four games in a row and then we beat a playoff team in Week 11 that we probably weren’t supposed to beat. From then on, it just kind of sparked a little thing inside of us that we can be as good as we want to be, we can beat the best teams on our schedule every year.

“To make the playoffs, that was pretty much gibberish when you were talking Case Western football,” he added. “My quarterback coach in high school, he played four years here as a quarterback. When I was getting recruited, he said, ‘You’ll get a great education and have that to put on your resume, but you’ll never win a championship.’ It’s just great to turn things around, prove people wrong and give this university a new face when it comes to athletics and especially football.”

Once the Spartans got the ball rolling on a winning tradition, it was no longer a problem to motivate players to work harder in the film sessions and practices to better not only themselves, but the team as well.

“I love competition,” said Whalen. “You’d probably be hard-pressed to find a guy that wants to win as much as I do. I think our whole team has that kind of spirit within them, especially now. It’s easier to have that spirit when you’re winning games.

“As far as I’m concerned, I’ve always been that way, even as a kid,” he added. “I played three sports when I was younger. I played on three baseball teams in the summer. I always had to be doing something that was competitive. Being a leader just came from that. The old saying, ‘Leaders are born,’ I don’t believe that. In pressure situations, if you step up and take charge, whether it’s vocally or by example, people will follow you.”

Beyond all the accomplishments and records he has broken, Whalen has contributed to the program in ways not measured by statistics. In addition to making himself better physically through rigorous training, Whalen has been a big part of the recruiting process.

In helping recruit future Spartans, Whalen has ensured the program will be in good hands once it is out of his control.

“Right away his freshman year, he became very involved,” said Case coach Greg Debeljak. “There was rarely a kid who came up on campus every weekend that Dan didn’t have contact with. When we brought the better kids up, Dan went out of his way, even when they were quarterbacks, to make sure that he spent some time with them and try to convince them that Case was a place for them to be. That’s been his biggest plus. He’s helped us recruit some quality kids.

“Guys see his performance not only on the field, but in the weight room and on the track,” Debeljak added. “I know this is overused, but nobody works harder than Dan. He’s our strongest kid, almost. He’s our fastest kid and that developed through really hard work that he’s put in over the last four years. It’s just a great amount of respect that our kids have for him.”

Whalen views helping the Spartans stay on top of the UAA is only returning the favor for the opportunities he has been given at Case.

“The support I’ve gotten on an individual level has been amazing, especially from our coaches,” said Whalen. “The respect that our team has gotten and all that stuff, I couldn’t have asked for a better situation because we weren’t a winning football team a few years ago and no one really cared about football.

“It’s just completely changed at our school,” he added. “You can see that walking on campus. You can see it on Saturdays. The whole energy that wasn’t there before is great to be a part of. It’s awesome to say that our class is going to leave as the winningest class in school history and we’ve changed the nature of football at our school.”

There is one more change Whalen would like to make before leaving Case. He wants to earn the respect of his opponents

“I want teams to fear what I can do,” he said. “I want them to be nervous when they’re preparing for us. That’s how I want to play. That’s part of my competitive nature. I want to be the best player on the field and I want teams to know that I want to be the best player on the field.”

News and notes

Wittenberg quarterback Aaron Huffman threw for 299 yards in the team’s 52-10 win over the Allegheny Gators last Saturday. Huffman, who entered the game needing 239 yards to break Wittenberg’s career passing mark, bested the 5,575 yards amassed by Charlie Green between 1961 and 1964. Green helped the Tigers to a 25-0-1 record during his four years at Wittenberg and was inducted into the National College Football Hall of Fame in 2002.

Seeing the Mount Union Purple Raiders earn a postseason berth has become something of a tradition in Alliance since Larry Kehres took over the program 24 years ago. Although each Ohio Athletic Conference and National Championship come with added pressure and heightened expectations, the Purple Raiders again lived up to the billing. With the defense forcing six turnovers, Mount Union cruised to a 58-7 win over the Otterbein Cardinals and claimed the OAC’s automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament.

The Presidents’ Athletic Conference champion, Thomas More, got all it could handle in the early going against Geneva, but the Saints were able to withstand giving up an 80-yard fumble return for a touchdown for a 21-12 win. Quarterback Trevor Stellman tossed a pair of second half touchdowns, the first to Jeff Brinck from 5 yards out and the other a 9-yarder to Justin Smith with 9:06 remaining in the game.

The Spartans of Case Western Reserve might have been the talk of northeast Ohio small college football fans since the 2007 season, but the Trine Thunder have been making their presence known in Angola, Ind., during that same stretch. On Saturday afternoon, Trine sophomore defensive back Aaron Shoemaker registered 13 tackles and one quarterback sack in the Thunder’s 21-16 win over Adrian. With the win, Trine earned its second straight Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association championship and an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament.

Great Lakes Region Teams in D3football.com Top 25

No. 1: Mount Union (OAC): No change following 58-7 win over No. 23 Otterbein
No. 9: Case Western Reserve (UAA): No change after 34-17 win at Carnegie Mellon
No. 11: Thomas More (PAC): No change following 21-12 win over Geneva
No. 12: Wittenberg (NCAC): Up two spots after 52-10 win over Allegheny
No. 13: Ohio Northern (OAC): Up four spots following 31-21 win over Capital
No. 15: Wabash (NCAC): Up one spot after 41-0 win at Hiram
No. 20: Washington and Jefferson (PAC): Up three spots after 49-0 win over Bethany
No. 23: Otterbein (OAC): Down eight spots following 58-7 loss to No. 1 Mount Union
Others Receiving Votes: Trine (MIAA), Capital (OAC)

Games of the Week

Washington U. (4-5, 1-1 UAA) at No. 9 Case Western Reserve (9-0, 2-0), Saturday, Noon: Whalen and the Spartans know the only way to their goals are through the Washington University Bears. For the longest time, the Spartans struggled to win a game against their rivals from St. Louis, but the situation is now reversed.

A Bears win will prevent the Spartans from winning a third straight University Athletic Association title, something Case has been working for since the end of last season.

No. 11 Thomas More (9-0, 6-0 PAC) at No. 25 Mount St. Joseph (9-0, 7-0 HCAC), Saturday 1:00 p.m.: Bridge Bowl XIV feels like more of a first round playoff match-up than a regular season finale and in a sense, it is. The Saints and Lions are both in the hunt for a home playoff game if they close out an undefeated season, but only one team may be able to avoid a first round road trip next weekend.

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Brian Lester

Brian Lester is a reporter in Findlay, Ohio. He has 14 years of experience at newspapers in Virginia, North Carolina and Ohio, spending the last 10 at The Courier in Findlay. Lester also writes an Around the Region column for D3hoops.com. He is a graduate of Eastern Illinois and lives in Ottawa with his wife and daughter.

2011 columnist: Dean Jackson
2007-10 columnist: Matt Florjancic

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