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A tree grows in Allentown

Mike Donnelly's impact is felt all over the Division III coaching landscape.
Muhlenberg athletics photo

When Mike Donnelly takes a look at Muhlenberg's schedule, he sees plenty of familiar faces.

Of course, that's to be expected when you're in your 20th season as a team's head coach, but these aren't just annual conference opponents that have become familiar over the years. Rather, Donnelly sees opposing coaches he shared practice fields and film rooms with, put together game plans with, and shared the highs of victories and lows of defeats that only football can deliver.

Three teams on Muhlenberg's 10-game schedule this season have head coaches that at some point in their careers worked on Donnelly's Muhlenberg staff. That doesn't include a fourth team that Muhlenberg scrimmaged, or another two teams not on the Mules' schedule. All told, there are currently six Division III football programs with head coaches that have connections to Donnelly and Muhlenberg.

"It makes me feel pretty proud," Donnelly said. "We're very, very fortunate when you can have success both on the field and in your staff room, and success in the staff room is, of course, defined by professional growth and development."

The list is lengthy and impressive -- John Troxell at Franklin and Marshall (hired in 2006), Jeff Knarr at King's (2010), Trey Brown at Wilkes (2014), Tom Perkovich at Susquehanna (2015), Dan Puckhaber at St. Lawrence (2016) and Casey Goff at Defiance (2016).

Donnelly, who took over as head coach at Muhlenberg in 1997, has built a winning tradition in Allentown, Pa. Over the past 19 seasons, the Mules have posted 14 winning records with seven Centennial Conference championships and seven NCAA tournament appearances. That kind of sustained success has helped create a culture that brings out the best in players and coaches alike, and Donnelly attributes that to his years as an assistant under a handful of influential head coaches.

"I learned a lot of good things from a lot of very, very good coaches that I felt were my mentors," Donnelly said.

Donnelly's long, winding path to Muhlenberg began at Christian Brothers Academy in Albany, N.Y., where he played football for longtime high school coach Cliff Lehman. From there, Donnelly enrolled at Ithaca College, where he played four years for Jim Butterfield, one of just 75 coaches with at least 200 career wins in NCAA history. His first college coaching job took him to the University of Albany, where he worked under longtime head coach Bob Ford.

Following that were stops at East Stroudsburg -- under Dennis Douds, who like Butterfield and Ford has also eclipsed the 200-win mark -- as well RPI, before Donnelly returned to Ithaca to coach the linebackers on Butterfield's staff for four years. After that, there were stops at Lafayette, the University of Buffalo, and Columbia, where Donnelly coached Pro Bowl NFL defensive lineman Marcellus Wiley. Then, finally, Muhlenberg.

It was a long road, but one Donnelly said he is happy to have traveled. The time spent on staffs led by Butterfield, Ford, and Douds, in particular, helped Donnelly form his own coaching philosophy and program culture, which stresses a strong work ethic and love for the game among all players.

"Truthfully, we're just all products of our environment," Donnelly said. "I've been able to observe. I'm not the smartest bulb on the circuit, but I can learn pretty good."

Here's a little secret -- every great coach in every sport is influenced by the coaches in their own lives. The trick, Donnelly said, is taking the best ideas from previous coaches and applying your own personality, worth ethic, beliefs and, of course, sense of humor.

Troxell, Knarr, Brown, and Perkovich all share something in common -- they each served as special teams coordinator and offensive coordinator and/or quarterbacks coach while at Muhlenberg. In fact, it had become a natural progression for the special teams coordinator to be promoted to offensive coordinator on Donnelly's staff until Brown landed his head coaching job one year before Perkovich.

"Trey screwed it up," Donnelly said with a laugh. "He left out of order."

Knarr, the second of the six to land a head coaching job, had his King's team scrimmage Muhlenberg earlier in the season. Puckhaber and Goff, the younger brother of former Muhlenberg offensive coordinator and current athletic director Corey Goff, both interned on Donnelly's staff earlier in their careers.

Donnelly, a standout linebacker during his playing days at Ithaca, has always focused on the defensive side of the ball. Under his guidance, Muhlenberg has earned a reputation as one of the most consistently solid defenses across the college football landscape over the last 10-plus years. He entrusts the offense, particularly during practice, to those assistant coaches, and that kind of responsibility certainly looks nice on a coaching resume.

Donnelly, at least for the next year, can claim bragging rights over Brown and Troxell after Muhlenberg opened the season with wins against Wilkes and Franklin and Marshall, respectively. Perkovich will get his chance when Susquehanna hosts Muhlenberg on Oct. 1.

"The level of competition is extremely high, for all of us," Donnelly said. "You want to do well against your best friends, you want to do well against people you have a ton of respect for. ... It feels great to see them across the field. It also feels great to compete against them."

Muhlenberg went 8-3 last season, but Donnelly said he believes this year's team can be "special." Senior quarterback Nick Palladino, junior running back Nick Savant, fifth-year senior wide receiver Nick Lamb and senior wide receiver Ryan Delaney form an elite core on offense, and while the defense is still a work in progress, there is significant potential.

If history is any indication, keep an eye on Josh Carter and Nate Milne, the Mules' current special teams coordinator/quarterbacks coach/wide receivers coach and offensive coordinator/offensive line coach, respectively. As Muhlenberg's offense continues to shine, they may very well become the next limbs in the Donnelly coaching tree.

Huntingdon stays hot, routs Birmingham-Southern

Huntingdon's lone regular-season loss last season came at the hands of Birmingham-Southern. Almost exactly one year later, the Hawks returned the favor, defeating the Panthers 49-28 this past Saturday.

Last year's meeting -- a 35-34 Birmingham-Southern victory -- had a wild finish. The final minute featured three touchdowns, including a 29-yard pass by Huntingdon with just four seconds left. The Hawks went for two (and the win), but failed to convert.

This year's contest was decidedly less stressful. Senior quarterback Luke Bailey was brilliant, completing 20 of his 26 attempts for 268 yards and three touchdowns, while adding 50 yards and another score on the ground. Bailey guided the Hawks on five touchdown drives in the first half, four of which covered at least 60 yards.

Bailey is surrounded by playmakers on offense, including senior running back John Iwaniec (102 rushing yards, one touchdown), senior wide receiver Nick Haas (128 receiving yards, two touchdowns) and sophomore wide receiver Otis Porter (93 receiving yards).

Huntingdon entered the 2016 season as the team to beat in the USA South, and after two weeks of non-conference play, it's the only team in the conference at 2-0. Games within conference will carry more weight, but right now, Huntingdon looks impressive.

Big plays galore in Guilford-Methodist game

Do you love big plays, plenty of points and general craziness on a football field? If so, I sincerely hope you caught Guilford's 47-32 win against Methodist this past Saturday.

The game featured 79 total points, 47 first downs and nearly 1,000 yards of total offense. Junior running back De'Eric Bell piled up 295 yards and four touchdowns on the ground, both new Guilford school records. Seven different players scored touchdowns in the game. It was a high-scoring, wild affair.

But one particular stretch of scoring plays was simply incredible. As the third quarter winded down, Bell broke free for a 91-yard touchdown run, his third score of the game. On the Quakers' next offensive possession early in the fourth quarter, Bell was in position to score another touchdown, but fumbled as he was nearing the end zone. That allowed Methodist junior defensive back Chris Wimby to scoop up the fumble and return it 100 yards for a Monarchs touchdown. The ensuing extra-point attempt was botched, however, and Guilford senior safety Karl Roberts returned it for a rare 98-yard, two-point defensive point-after.

Three consecutive scoring plays each covering more than 90 yards. That's something you don't see every day.

Quick hits

Jonathan Germano passed for 293 yards and two touchdowns, Ryan Cary rushed for 83 yards and a touchdown, and Kyle Bonci (two sacks) fueled a strong defensive effort as No. 11 Johns Hopkins routed Susquehanna 41-7. ... Malik Adams caught 11 passes for 113 yards and a touchdown, but N.C. Wesleyan was defeated soundly by No. 1 Mount Union 45-10. ... Charlie Nelson rushed for a touchdown and threw the go-ahead touchdown to Witt Hawkins as Washington and Lee erased a 17-point, fourth-quarter deficit in a 21-17 win against Sewanee. ... Tre Frederick rushed for 177 yards and scored three total touchdowns, and Joseph Vairo accounted for three scores in Randolph-Macon's 44-10 victory over Averett. ... Nick Myers passed for 231 yards and accounted for three total touchdowns, Donaven Wise rushed for a pair of touchdowns and Maryville's defense pitched a shutout in a 38-0 win against Hanover. ... Mike Hayes passed for 265 yards and accounted for four total touchdowns, and Chris Negron rushed for 167 yards and two TDs as Moravian upended McDaniel 55-27. ... Matt Perno piled up 201 yards, including a 55-yard touchdown reception, from scrimmage and Nick Esposito rushed for 94 yards in Catholic's 27-14 win over Rochester. ... Hank Coyne passed for 280 yards and three touchdowns (two to Kirby Breault), and Ryan Bologa tallied a team-high nine tackles and returned a fumble 22 yards for a touchdown in Juniata's 42-21 victory over Dickinson. ... Hayden Bauserman threw for 374 yards and four touchdowns (to four different players) as Shenandoah topped Ferrum 53-33 in a shootout. ... Sam Wagner rushed for 136 yards and a touchdown, and Kevin Saxton tossed a pair of touchdown passes to Jesse Santiago as Emory and Henry defeated Division II Brevard 28-14. ... Danny Thompson and Justin Davidov combined to pass for 360 yards and five touchdowns as Gettysburg beat Ursinus 42-17.

Top 25: Huntingdon moves up two spots

Another win, another bump in the D3football.com Top 25 poll for Huntingdon.

A 49-28 win against Birmingham-Southern helped the Hawks rise from No. 21 to No. 19 in this week's poll. Johns Hopkins held steady at No. 11 for another week.

Guilford, along with Washington and Lee, continued to receive votes.

Looking ahead

Moravian (2-0, 1-0) at No. 11 Johns Hopkins (2-0, 1-0), noon, Saturday: This was one of the games we highlighted two weeks ago, and it's still just as important. Both teams have looked solid through two games, but Johns Hopkins hasn't lost a CC game since 2012. History, and home-field advantage, favor the Blue Jays here.

Susquehanna (0-2, 0-1) at Dickinson (0-2, 0-1), 1 p.m., Saturday: This was another matchup we highlighted at the start of the season, but comparatively, it carries less appeal than the Moravian-Johns Hopkins tilt. Susquehanna topped Dickinson in a thrilling 42-35 win last season, and the potential for another shootout is there. Both teams enter the game with identical 0-2 records.

Ferrum (1-1, 0-0) vs. Hampden-Sydney (0-2, 0-0) (at Salem Stadium), 1 p.m., Saturday: It's not been a strong start to the season for Hampden-Sydney, which has won at least six games in each of the previous nine seasons. To make it 10 straight, the Tigers will need to finish 6-2, and that would include a win Saturday.

Other games of note: Juniata (2-0, 1-0) at Gettysburg (1-1, 1-0), 1 p.m., Saturday; Catholic (2-0, 0-0) at Coast Guard (1-1, 0-0), 1:30 p.m., Saturday

Contact me

I'm always happy to hear from you, whether its questions, feedback or story ideas. Please reach out to me by email at andrew.lovell@d3sports.com and follow me on Twitter (@andrew_lovell).

Andrew Lovell

Andrew Lovell is a writer based in Connecticut and a former online news editor for ESPN.com, as well as a former sports staff writer/editor for the New Britain Herald (Conn.). He has written feature stories for ESPN.com, currently contributes fantasy football content to RotoBaller.com, and has been a regular contributor to D3sports.com sites since 2007. Andrew has also written for a number of daily newspapers in New York, including the Poughkeepsie Journal, Ithaca Journal and Auburn Citizen. He graduated from Ithaca College in 2008 with B.A. in Sport Media and a minor in writing.

2012-2015 columnist: Adam Turer
2007-2011 columnist: Ryan Tipps
2003-2006: Pat Cummings
2000: Keith McMillan
1999: Pat Coleman

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