By Cassidy Thornburg, Sports Editor
MONMOUTH, IL – Seven starters in the Wheaton Thunder Football team’s first game were either out-of-state transfers or fifth-year seniors. The game was a 38-0 win over Monmouth College. A combination of new and familiar faces elevated the Thunder to a much better start to their season than last year. Coach Mike Swider summed up how he felt about his team’s performance on the road. “To score 38 points is a good thing, and we showed signs of what we can do if we execute. It’s a good day for the Thunder.”
“Good day” was an under-statement for fifth-year senior Corey Kennedy. The safety had back-to-back interceptions. He got the crowd’s attention with his first interception of the day partway through the third quarter. After catching the ball on the 47-yard line, he returned the pick 30 yards. In the fourth quarter, Kennedy had his first pick-six of the season, a 66- yard return. He is well on track to surpass his totals from last year when he tied for the team lead with three interceptions.
Kennedy addressed how it felt taking the field for the first time this season. “Today felt really great, especially with the pick,” he said. “You know there are 10 other guys on the field. Our D-line was eating the whole day and linebackers were just stuffing stuff up, so [the win] was just a product of the guys around me. Obviously we got a better start than last year so we are just going to keep moving forward and get the train rolling.”
One of the linebackers was Wyatt Lee, a transfer from Lawrence University. As a ViFootball from front king, Lee led Division III in tackles per game, recording 179 tackles in just 10 games. The linebacker had three total tackles and an interception against Monmouth.
Prior to his first season start, Lee said “the whole Christ part” has been the biggest difference between playing at Wheaton and Lawrence, both on and off the field. “Man, it is just so much more encouraging to be on a Christian campus,” Wyatt said. “It challenges you spiritually in all the right ways. I think the school I attended before challenged me spiritually in terms of the fact that it was like a desert. It was tough to be a Christian. I felt like I was alone in it, but in ways that make you want to be a better Christian.”
Back on the turf and the other side of the ball, sophomore transfer Luke Anthony made his debut for the Thunder in the Monmouth game. The starting quarterback had 13-of-23 completions for 150 yards and two touchdown passes. Following the game, Anthony addressed how it felt to help lead his new team to their first victory, but also noted where they have room to improve. “It felt good,” Anthony said. “We won 38-0, but we didn’t play the greatest. We had a lot of mishaps, especially on offense. Defense played unreal, but offensively we just have to get better for Illinois Wesleyan University [next game].”
Anthony knows what it takes to turn over from one game or sport to the next. He came to Wheaton last spring in time to help the Wheaton Thunder basketball team to the NCAA Division III Final Four and catch the tail end of football spring training.
Luke did not make the move to Wheaton alone. His brother, Brayden Anthony also made the switch from Dayton to Wheaton. “I was excited,” Luke said. “We were both at Dayton together; we are pretty close, so it was pretty cool to be able to play college football together again.”
Brayden affirmed his excitement to be at the same school as his brother again. When asked what drew him individually to Wheaton, the defensive end said, “I wanted to be in a community that loved Jesus, on a team that had a culture that loved Jesus. It was different at Dayton. I felt alone there, being one of the only Christians on the team with my brother and some other guys, but that was the big difference, the culture change. I felt like God was calling me here, like coming back home.”
Back from injury and for his fifth season in the orange and blue, Stone Watson had a field day. The Colorado native carried the ball six times for 48 yards and scored one touchdown. He mentioned after the game how good it feels to be back in between the lines and with less academics to worry about. “It’s nice,” he said. “I’m just taking two classes, and one of them is guitar lessons.”
To corral support for their next game, Coach Swider encouraged fans and parents alike after the game: “Come see us play against Illinois Wesleyan in one week at McCully Stadium.” Last year, the Thunder lost to Illinois Wesleyan 24-14. With a total of five fifth-year seniors and five transfers on the roster, this season the Thunder is looking for redemption. The kickoff is Sept. 21 at 6 p.m.