Tradition • Character • Service

Tradition • Character • Service

Thursday, August 31, 2006

This could be the season Chargers rise above .500

This could be season the Chargers rise above .500

Thursday, August 31, 2006
By Chip Mundy

As Keith Otterbein enters his fifth season as Hillsdale College coach, he's chasing a .500 record and beyond.

But Otterbein knows that getting to .500 -- something the Chargers have not done since 1999 -- is the first hurdle. He thinks it's time, especially after last year when Hillsdale won its final three games to finish 5-6.

"The message we're giving the team is that we are a good football team," Otterbein said. "What we need to do is make plays on Saturday afternoon to allow us to win football games.

"It always comes down after a game to identify a half-dozen plays that win or lose games."

Hillsdale, which opens the season at 1 p.m. Saturday against Gannon in Erie, Pa., seems to have the weapons to win several games.

Speedy senior tailback Phil Martin returns after rushing for more than 1,000 yards last year, and he needs just 210 yards to surpass Jeff Cameron for the No. 2 spot on the all-time list.

Martin will be joined in the backfield by quarterback Mark Nicolet, a talented passer whom the Chargers wanted to redshirt the previous two years. Nicolet, however, was pressed into service because of injuries, and this season he will begin as the No. 1 quarterback.

"He came in and his performance in the fall in each of the last two years has proven that he's the guy who needs to be the starter," Otterbein said. "But that put us in another dilemma because Aaron Scholl, who had been our quarterback, is too good to have holding a clipboard."

So the Chargers decided to put Scholl at wide receiver, and Scholl embraced the idea.

"Those kids are very, very close friends," Otterbein said. "The unselfish attitude of both of them was great, and they realized we can be a better football team because of it.

"It was instant acceptance."

The rest of the offense is experienced, including the offensive line, where Concord High School graduate Chet Crowley is moving from tackle to guard. Crowley, whose cousin, Brad Rumsey, is a Concord graduate in his third year as long snapper, is joined by returning starters left guard Josiah Swartz and center Dan Stapf. Newcomers to the line, Jared Veldheer and Phil Davignon, have Otterbein excited.

"The offensive line is better than it has been in the time I've been here," Otterbein said.

Defensively, the Chargers are looking to the front line for leadership after Eric Weber and Andy Dion sparked a unit that tripled its sack output from the previous season.

Sophomore linebacker Tom Korte also draws Otterbein's praise, and that should not be taken lightly. Otterbein was a star linebacker when he played for Hillsdale in the late 1970s.

"He might be our best defensive player," Otterbein said.

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