|For a quarterback like Neal
Posey, name recognition is fine, but it's his 1,257 passing yards
over four games that speaks volumes.
Huntingdon athletics photo
The life of an independent college football team is a challenging one at the Division III level. Without a conference, a program needs both a strong schedule and very few, if any, blemishes on its record from year to year. Wesley has been the poster child for how to get this done as an independent team, but Huntingdon of Montgomery, Ala., has built a solid resume of its own lately.
The Hawks are still in their infancy of football as the college began the program in 2003. After a winless season in its inaugural year, the Hawks turned to a new head football coach and Montgomery native Mike Turk to quickly get the program moving in the right direction.
Turk delivered, winning four contests in his first season in 2004, and since taking over, he has compiled a 51-27 entering into the 2012 season. Huntingdon has had two eight-win seasons (2008, 2009) and two seven-win seasons (2005, 2011) with the team's lone playoff appearance occurring in 2009 in just its seventh season as a program. Success as an independent team has been a double-edged sword, said Turk.
"It's really a catch-22 in a lot of ways because it's difficult to find games without spending a fortune traveling, and secondly as your program progresses, it makes it more difficult to schedule," said Turk. "So the teams that will play you end up being against better teams like the Wesleys and Trinitys, which makes it tougher to win games. There's a fine line between challenging yourself and winning enough games to continue to be attractive to guys you are recruiting."
The Hawks suffered an early season loss to No. 16 Birmingham-Southern on Sept. 8 in a 45-38 home game. Losses can be ill afforded to a program without the opportunity of an automatic qualifier, but on Saturday, Huntingdon got back on the right track with a 24-21 road win over No. 22 Hampden-Sydney.
Not only did the win help the Hawks water down the impact of the loss to B-SC, but the win propelled the program to its first ever national ranking by D3football.com at No. 24.
"It was a big win, Hampden-Sydney is a great program with a beautiful campus and facility, and to pull it off on the road I think is a much tougher challenge," Turk said. "That was recognized by the pollsters obviously, because we won those games last year and didn't crack the top 25, but since we did, I think it says a lot."
But like any good coach, Turk knows, and wants his players to know that in the end, the national rankings won't matter.
"I told the team, don't be concerned about how other people view us, but be concerned about how we rank ourselves," he said. "We can't get excited about it too much one way or the other. Our work is to continue to improve as a team each week."
Saturday, the Hawks scored on a 30-yard touchdown pass from Neal Posey to Tyler Robinson with 4:16 to play to take the lead for good. (The effort was a finalist for Play of the Week.)
Posey threw for three touchdowns with no interceptions and 245 yards in the game and has been a solid performer all year.
But Posey isn't the only one of his family to provide heroics for the athletic program. His grandfather, Neal N. Posey was the first coach hired at Huntingdon in 1957, and he became the first athletic director for the school serving until 1985. Young Neal's father, Terry played basketball for his father at Huntingdon as well.
The youngest Posey who grew up in Pensacola, Fla., remembered visiting Montgomery to see his grandparents as a kid.
"My grandparents' house, and the house my dad grew up in, is literally across from the football field," he said. "We'd visit, and he'd want me to go play football, and field ground balls, and shoot buckets in the yard. Then, he'd take me on campus, and everybody knew him, everybody would say hey to him and enjoyed being around him."
Terry Neal Posey Sr. was inducted into the Huntindgon Athletics Hall of Fame, and in addition to starting the men's basketball program in 1957, he also started the Hawks' baseball program. Huntingdon's baseball field adorns his name "Neal Posey Field."
Turk, since his arrival in 2004, said that many at the school still speak of Coach Posey and his impact on the school.
"They remember him fondly not only as a coach but an educator," Turk said. "They talk about how he was such a mentor and not just a coach, but an educator. And, being a teacher and a basketball and baseball coach he touched a lot of lives."
Though the eldest Posey passed away five years ago, young Neal said Huntingdon's biggest fan is his grandmother Jean.
"My grandma loves Huntingdon; she is all about the Hawks. When I said I was going there to play football, she was so excited," Posey said. "She hasn't missed a single home game, and tries as much as she can to go on the road."
Terry's wife, and Neal's mother also graduated from Huntingdon, and Neal said he's open to the possibility of one day a fourth generation Posey being involved with Huntingdon College.
"If it works out it wouldn't hurt my feelings, that's for sure."
Posey has passed for 1,257 yards, thrown 10 touchdowns and just one interception through four games this season.
Turk said that the family story line is a neat one, but that the third-generation Hawk earned his spot regardless of his last name.
"The Posey name is big on our campus, and it is really cool to me that he's our quarterback and playing so well. He's not just our quarterback who's out there and just managing things; he won the job outright, and has earned his spot and continues to be a productive player for us," said Turk. "He was voted team captain by his teammates, and he's worthy of any recognition that he gets."
Posey and the Hawks take their 3-1 record into Saturday's game with Ave Maria, with Millsaps and Wesley still on the schedule.
The Hawks will try and make the playoffs for the second time in four seasons as an independent team, but it will be their last chance for a while. Huntingdon accepted an invitation in the spring to join the USA South in the fall of 2013.
-- Mary Hardin-Baylor defeated Trinity 49-28 and received an all-around performance from defensive lineman Alex Kemp. The freshman from Canyon Lake, Texas, racked up 3.5 tackles for a loss, three sacks, forced a fumble and was credited with one quarterback pressure on top of that
-- Preseason first-team All-America kicker Allen Cain was just 1 of 3 on field goal attempts coming into Saturday, however, he showed his true colors over the weekend when he scored 19 of Texas Lutheran's 43 points on a 5-for-5 performance on field goals and was 4-for-4 on extra points. He helped the Bulldogs to a 43-35 win over NAIA Southwestern Assemblies of God. Cain nailed field goals from distances of 41, 29, 48, 50 and 30 to earn American Southwest Conference Special Teams Player of the Week Honors.
Mary Hardin-Baylor ruined Wesley's chance at a perfect season and the Wolverines may have had a bit of a disappointment hangover. However, Wesley scored the last 11 points of the game after trailing 22-14 and Dan Tryon was the hero with a last-second 31-yard field goal for the victory. LC had the ball with 3:42 remaining and the score tied; but Wesley's Luke Maginnis returned an interception for 23 yards and wildly fumbled before teammate Dewayne Glass picked up the ball to retain possession. Wolverine quarterback Justin Sottilare completed two passes and carried the ball six yards to the Wildcat 14-yard line to set up Tryon's kick. Louisiana College cannot afford another loss the remainder of the season if it wants to make the playoffs. That will be tough with Mary Hardin-Baylor, Hardin-Simmons and an emerging Sul Ross team on slate in the final seven games of the season.
Maybe these Panthers have had clear eyes and full hearts, but will their remaining schedule allow them not to lose? A 16-2 win over Rhodes was the first-ever Southern Athletic Association victory for any member of the newly formed five-team conference. But, that means that Birmingham-Southern had to schedule a few tough games against independents. The Panthers still have nationally-ranked Wesley to contend with on the road Oct.6, and though the Trinity Tigers have a pair of black eyes on their records this season, they will always prove to be a tough team. And, finally don't forget about undefeated Millsaps the last game of the season.