August 29, 2011

Growing, maturing week after week

Charlie Westfal
Charlie Westfal returns for another season running the Washington and Lee option offense, with a chance to bring the Generals to new heights.
Washington and Lee athletics photo

As observers of the game, we find ourselves drawn to the beginnings and the endings: Weeks 1 and 11 of the regular season, the opening round of the playoffs and, of course, the Stagg Bowl.

In a couple of days, we will be at the alpha of the 2011 season.

But a season is more than the anticipation of the beginning and the excitement of the finale. The middle, meaty part of the fall is when we watch teams develop. The team that began the season is, at the end, the same in name only. Maturity comes through. Leaders appear. Skill improves.

This is really what football is all about, especially in Division III. Because maturity, leadership and skillfulness are ways in which student-athletes grow within themselves and as a team. Those qualities and more are what allow teams to climb the mountains of practice and gameday time and time again throughout the season. It’s personal accomplishment, no matter what the scoreboard says.

For most teams, 10 Saturdays throughout the year prove truly exciting. And while many look with envy to the reigning Purple Powers of Division III -- UW-Whitewater and Mount Union -- such envy is unnecessary. Their challenge for most of the season is not as great as that of the teams in the Mid-Atlantic.

As a writer who loves seeing teams overcome the odds to win a game, it’s much more exciting to see an underdog Mules or Captains or Wasps or any of the others battle toward a win. And I mean really battle.

They do so at least 10 times a year. UWW and UMU can’t say that. There isn’t the same excitement when the final score reads 51-0, 38-0, 63-14. How often is their skill truly challenged?

For the typical player on the typical team, Saturdays help shape the person he will become. The goal is to win, but the losses are important, too. That means players sometimes get pain without bruises, and pride without victory.

To those who sacrifice on the field and the fans who show up in support, I wish everyone a healthy and personally successful season.

If this is your first visit to D3football.com, welcome; for returning readers, welcome back.

Games to watch

Franklin and Marshall at Washington and Lee, Sept. 3: Talk is not cheap as the Diplomats manhandled the Generals in this matchup last fall. But this is going to be a vastly different W&L on opening day, one that has earned veteran status and has dabbled in the postseason. The Generals will likely end their three-year skid against F&M, but the Dips are rarely a team to roll over. They’ll make it exciting through the whole 60 minutes.

N.C. Wesleyan at Ohio Northern, Sept. 3: Since I began writing the Around the Mid-Atlantic column, I’ve been thoroughly impressed with N.C. Wesleyan’s choice to take on some of the toughest teams in Division III. As competition for the postseason gets ever more intense, even one loss -- against a good team -- can leave a squad out in the cold. (Just ask Pacific Lutheran.) The Battling Bishops began their team in 2005, and by 2007 were playing the likes of Wesley, Widener, Hampden-Sydney and Salisbury. It takes stones to step up and challenge like that. NCWC isn’t disappointing this year either, facing one of the powers from Ohio. (And, yes, the game is in-region.)

Hobart at Dickinson, Sept. 3: A good matchup between two teams that are perennial contenders in their conferences. Over the past several years, they’ve traded wins with each other, with Dickinson coming out on the losing end in 2010. Later in the season, also look for the Red Devils playing in two of their big rivalry games, against Franklin and Marshall on Oct. 1 for the Conestoga Wagon Trophy and against Gettysburg on Nov. 5 for the Little Brown Bucket.

Guilford at Greensboro, Sept. 3: The annual “Souper Bowl” is a clash of cross-town rivals and charitable efforts via a canned-food drive. Over the past two seasons, the Pride has bested the Quakers, which previously enjoyed a good stretch of wins in this matchup. A close game has become the norm, but even more significant is that wins have been few and far between for these two teams. There will be pride at stake as well as a highly coveted “W.” Also, look for Guilford to showcase a vastly changed defense thanks to new head coach Chris Rusiewicz.

Maryville at LaGrange, Sept. 17: The first time I wrote for D3football.com’s preseason publication, mention was made of a fledgling LaGrange program in Georgia potentially snagging students that were in Maryville’s recruiting zone. Whether recruiting has changed or not, Maryville typically plays tough against LaGrange, usually coming away with a win. This year will be the last time these two squads will be nonconference rivals. LaGrange joins the USA South next fall; but for that matter, Maryville will enter the conference as a full member institution then, too.

Ferrum last made the playoffs in 2005, falling in the first round.
File photo

Ferrum at N.C. Wesleyan, Oct. 8: Over the past few season, the USA South has proven to be one of the more difficult conferences from which to predict the playoff qualifier. NCWC has established itself as a contender year in and year out, but I think Ferrum will surprise people. The Panthers return the bulk of an offense that is led by returning conference Player of the Year Marcus Mayo. With their defensive losses, it’s clear that there will be concern about stopping the run, but Ferrum should be in a good position to make some noise and perhaps reach the postseason. In the USAC, other top teams like Christopher Newport and N.C. Wesleyan took bigger hits from graduation.

Ursinus at Johns Hopkins, Oct. 29: It’s always exciting to see what two teams with quality skill players can achieve. Among JHU’s returners are the quarterback-wideout duo of Hewitt Tomlin and Sam Wernick, while Ursinus has rushers Bryan Ellis and Teddy Conrad. A wealth of starters is also back, and there’s little reason to think that this late season game won’t be the de facto Centennial Conference title game.

Salisbury at Wesley, Oct. 29: The Route 13 rivalry extends beyond conference affiliation, and the Gulls have typically provided one of the stiffer challenges to Wesley, which has long struggled to land top caliber D-III teams during the regular season. Last year, Salisbury and Wesley were close through the full 60 minutes, and the Gulls actually commanded the lead during much of that. Though Wesley, as of late, has won this matchup most years, it often promises to be exciting.

Washington and Lee at Hampden-Sydney, Nov. 5: Over the past five seasons, two of the three ODAC teams to have made the playoffs are the Generals and Tigers. And few likely predicted the 2010 meteoric rise of W&L, which began that year 1-2 (its lone victory coming against a team that finished winless). Even Generals coach Frank Miriello hinted in an Around the Mid-Atlantic column last year that he expected 2011 to be the year his team would take off, not 2010. There was so much youth and inexperience at the time. Well, here we are in ’11, and there’s likely to be a fight at the top of the conference between these two teams. W&L brings nearly its whole squad back, led by Luke Heinsohn on offense and Jake Pelton on defense; H-SC will again have a potent pass attack with quarterback Travis Lane and receivers Kyle Vance and Sean Cavanaugh in the fold.

Hampden-Sydney at Randolph-Macon, Nov. 12: Year to year, it’s tough to find something new to say about one of the country’s biggest rivalries. Both teams come in knowing what’s at stake: pride and, often, the playoffs. Having graduated from Wabash, which plays DePauw annually in the Monon Bell Game, I understand this kind of rivalry. The excitement and focus is almost all-encompassing. It’s emotional and physical. Many times, “they” say you can chuck the record book out the window, because it’s not how you come into the game but rather how you leave it. It’s what makes a great rivalry. And Hampden-Sydney and Randolph-Macon have such a rivalry.

Moravian at Muhlenberg, Nov. 12: This is another rivalry game that needs little elaboration on how important it is for these two teams. What should be noted, though, is that last year’s one-point victory by Moravian put a kink in Muhlenberg’s postseason seeding. The Mules had already bounced to a surprise conference title, but the Greyhounds denied them the momentum they needed to make the most of their season finale.

Contact me

I would be happy to hear from anyone who has questions or feedback regarding the Around the Mid-Atlantic column or Division III football in general. Follow me on Twitter (@D3MidAtlantic), email me, or go to the message board’s Around the Mid-Atlantic thread.

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Adam Turer

Adam Turer graduated in 2006 from Washington and Lee University, where he was a two-year starter at free safety. He lives in Cincinnati and covers area high school sports in addition to his full-time job as an attorney. Adam has contributed to D3football.com since 2007 and is in his second year as Around the Mid-Atlantic columnist.

2007-2011 columnist: Ryan Tipps
2003-2006: Pat Cummings
2000: Keith McMillan
1999: Pat Coleman 

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