|Noah McMinn is averaging 130.8 rushing yards per game this season, helping Olivet to an unbeaten start.
Olivet athletics photo by Cassie Sabatella
By Joe Sager
“You find out that life is just a game of inches. So is football. Because in either game, life or football, the margin for error is so small.”
That quote, from the 1999 hit movie Any Given Sunday by Al Pacino’s character Tony D’Amato really hit home for Olivet after last season.
After all, the Comets dropped three games by five points or less. Two of them came in MIAA play and cost the team a championship.
So, coach Dan Musielewicz and his staff challenged their players in the offseason.
“It’s all the details, like where you put your hands when blocking an opponent or where you line up – all those things add up,” he said. “When we did our evaluations and met with the players in December, we talked about how close they were and how hard they had to work to make that jump. The details correlate to everything they do on and off the football field, like taking care of teammates and how they encourage their teammates.
“We put a lot of stock into our offseason leadership program and our returning seniors and our leaders decided to take that next step. That leadership has been key. It is on display on Saturdays,” he continued. “That, combined with the work we put in at the weight room in the offseason, has really kind of gotten us to that point where we are now.”
That’s 6-0 and tied atop the MIAA standings at 3-0.
“We went through a hard offseason. We put in blood, sweat and tears and it’s finally paying off,” Olivet senior defensive end Miguel Manion said. “We’re not there yet, though. There is so much room for improvement.”
The attitude shift has bolstered Olivet.
“When adversity hits, we keep each other’s heads up. If we give up a touchdown, for example, no one comes to the sideline and screams. We sit down and adjust what we need to do and go back out there and get the job done the next time,” Manion said. “The last two years, the chemistry wasn’t as good. When adversity hit, I could see teammates going at each other. This year, we’re staying together. We talk to each other. That’s one of the biggest differences.”
Already, the Comets have been able to flip two close games to wins this year – 20-17 over Wilmington (Ohio) and 21-17 over Adrian.
“Now, we believe we are going to win the game when it’s in those close situations. That’s kind of a different feel from the past. I think it boils down to leadership and our leadership has been a lot stronger than in the past,” Olivet senior running back Noah McMinn said. “When we come off the field after a turnover, you never see anyone get down on each other. Everyone is positively encouraging each other and we make our adjustments.”
A powerful running attack, which averages 236.7 yards per game, has helped lead the way. Running behind four-year starters Jarod Bush and Daniel Waber and some veteran linemen, McMinn has 785 yards on 139 carries, so far.
“Running behind an experienced offensive line is a great feeling for a running back,” McMinn said. “Being able to run the ball effectively helps us control the clock, especially late in the game. This past week, we had close to a 10-minute drive (8:55) in the fourth quarter to help us ice the win over Trine.”
Musielewicz has been pleased with the ground game.
“Everything starts up front and that’s a group that’s seen a lot of football. They have a standard of excellence and it shows,” he said. “Noah followed suit. He works incredibly hard. He runs the ball incredibly hard and he is smart. He knows where guys are going; he prepares a lot so he knows where certain holes will be. His commitment has been second to none. They’ve all earned what they’ve done so far.”
Defensively, Olivet has been strong as well. The Comets yield 246.0 yards and 14.5 points per game – tops in the MIAA.
“It all starts up front and in the box there, too,” Musielewicz said. “We have a lot of guys who have played a lot of football there and that’s helped.”
The team will face a big challenge Saturday when it welcomes Hope (5-1 overall, 3-0 MIAA) in a key showdown. The Flying Dutchmen average 439.2 yards and 43.0 points per outing.
“Hope is fantastic. It’s an incredible team playing at an incredible level right now,” Musielewicz said. “It’s like anything else – it all starts with the little things like alignment, assignment and discipline. They are disciplined and tough. They pride themselves on that. Our guys are excited to go up and play a game that means this much.”
The Comets feel ready for the test.
“Hope is a tremendous team. They have had a good year,” McMinn said. “They have put up a lot of points and they have a powerful offense. They are talented and physical on defense, too. A lot of us are really excited for that.”
“My teammates and I are very excited for this matchup,” Manion said. “It is a challenge, but we’ll prepare for it and play our football.”