September 24, 2013

Wheaton winning methodically

More news about: Wheaton (Ill.)
Jordan Roberts' 2011 medical redshirt season makes him available to add to Wheaton's talented 2013 senior class.
Photo by Thunderphotos.com

There is no need for urgency for the 29 seniors who are playing for No. 15-ranked Wheaton (3-0), just the next job and getting it done.

Coach Mike Swider said that's what happens when you have one of the largest senior classes in school history. Led by the even-handed All-CCIW quarterback Jordan Roberts, the Thunder hopes to return to the Division III playoffs this season for the first time since 2010.

"We're a pretty poised and mature football team," Swider said. "Like our quarterback, we're down to earth and there's a pretty methodical way they look at things. They understand the job at hand and understand what it takes to do it with some poise. They love their teammates and are even keel."

Swider said he doesn't expect a big show of emotion out of Roberts, who leads the Thunder in rushing and passing this season after three games. Roberts is rushing for 90 yards per game and passing for another 204.7 yards per contest (52-76-0). He has rushed for six touchdowns and passed for four more in leading Wheaton to a 3-0 record.

"That's a fifth year senior you have there," Swider said. "He's not high-strung or boisterous. He's playing exceedingly well, but he's not going to get wrapped up in the moment. He is a calming influence on the team and I think the offense has taken their cue from him. As long as he's playing well, we're going to be okay."

The Thunder is anchored by a strong group of seniors, led by All-American nose guard Brandon Dykstra, along with linebackers Brett Anderson and Jordan Higgins, safety Tony Varyas and cornerback Jackson Edwards.

"Those guys are critical for us," Swider said of his senior group. "If we can keep them healthy we're going to be a good football team."

Wheaton is usually nationally ranked but the Thunder is on the verge of going three years in a row without making the Division III playoffs. Swider said, though, playoffs are rarely talked about among players.

"Our No. 1 goal is to win the CCIW championship," Swider said. "If we win the conference, we make the playoffs. We tied for the conference title last year and didn't get in. I think our focus is on our seven conference games we have to play right now."

Swider said the best part about having a senior-led football team is that they usually don't get ahead of themselves. They know that rival North Central is ranked No. 4 in the country. They know that some have picked Illinois Wesleyan as a better bet to knock off the Cardinals this year than the Thunder. But those conference games are down the road (Nov. 9 and Oct. 26, respectively).

"If we beat North Central, we only get one win for that, not two," Swider said. "The games against North Central and Illinois Wesleyan have significantly less importance if we lose games beforehand. We have to respect every opponent and be ready to play every week."

Swider said one of his greatest joys this season is coaching two of his sons. Justin Swider, a senior running back and kick returner, was named the CCIW special teams player of the week for his 146 return yards in the opener against Benedictine Sept. 7, including a 93-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the second quarter. Mike Swider is a sophomore inside linebacker for the Thunder.

"It's the greatest joy to see your kids every day," the elder Swider said. "A lot of parents have to watch their kids go off to college and mine are right here. I watch them on the practice field with their uniforms and I thank God for the gift they've been to me. I just appreciate them for who they are, the way they live, how hard work and I'm just happy to call them my own."

The Swider family and the Thunder will take their first step in trying to claim another CCIW title Oct. 5 when they host Augustana for homecoming. It's another job that has to be done.

Undefeated teams dwindling

Just three weeks into the regular season and undefeated teams in the Midwest are few and far between.

In the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin, No. 15 Wheaton has won all three of its games while No. 4-ranked North Central and Illinois Wesleyan are each 2-0. In the Midwest Conference, Illinois College and Lake Forest are both sporting 2-0 records.

The Chicago Maroons makes the sixth Midwest team, going 3-0 after a 10-0 victory over CCIW's Elmhurst on Saturday.

The Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference and the Northern Athletic Collegiate Conference teams have been taking it on the chin, as one team (Benedictine 2-1) has a winning record between them. Mount St. Joseph, in the HCAC, does sport a 1-1 tally sheet.

The quirk in those stats is No. 14 Franklin, which loss thrillers to No. 1-ranked Mount Union and non-scholarship D-I FCS opponent Butler in its opening two games. The Grizzlies bounced back to beat Manchester 48-7 in its HCAC opener on Saturday.

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Clyde Hughes

Clyde Hughes has been writing sports at various times over the past 24 years, covering everything from high school, college and sporting events. A native of football-crazed Texas, Hughes works in Indiana and has written for numerous newspapers and magazines.

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