Category Archives: Football

Thunder rolls over North Central and North Park

October 27, 2017

Fall break was an interesting one for the Thunder. On Saturday, Oct. 14, and Monday, Oct. 16, the Thunder faced off against No. 4 North Central. Wheaton won the “Battle for the Little Brass Bell” 42-20. The first half of the game took place under stormy conditions with a lightning delay of two hours. The Thunder left McCully Saturday underwater and down 7-13. On Monday, the only thunder rumbling was the Thunder, who scored five touchdowns in the second half and held the Cardinals to one.

Wheaton had 426 yards of offense, including 321 passing yards and 105 rushing yards. Senior Curtis McWilliams threw for 287 with three touchdown passes and a run. Sophomore Spencer Peterson threw 34 yards for a touchdown to junior Carter Roberts. Senior Sola Olateju ran for 120 yards with one touchdown. Senior Zach Lindquist caught for 78 yards and senior Trey Hanley received 73 yards with one touchdown.

The Thunder defense gave up 296 yards to the Cardinals. Junior Eric Stevenson led the defense with a team-high of 10 tackles. Senior Luke Sahly had eight tackles. Seniors Chase Greenlee and Austin Hoover each had a sack. Senior Nick Blazek and junior Luke Smith both recorded an interception.

After the exciting win against the Cardinals, head coach Mike Swider said, “This is the result of a lot of guys that love each other… the greatest motivator in the world isn’t the hate of your enemies, it’s the love of those guys behind you. This had nothing to do about North Central, this was about Wheaton.”

After winning against North Central, Wheaton walked into their game against North Park on October 21 riding high. Against North Park, Wheaton scored 56 points and held the Vikings to zero. The Thunder gathered 528 yards of offense, with 150 rushing yards and 378 passing yards. McWilliams went 16-22, passing for 252 yards and three touchdowns. Olateju and freshman TJ Williams both gained 67 yards. Olateju scored two touchdowns and Williams had one. Sophomore Phillip Nichols caught for 99 yards and two touchdowns. Hanley received for 83 yards and one score.

The Vikings were held to just 111 yards of offense. Stevenson lead the Thunder again with nine tackles. Junior Jack Bates had eight tackles, including one sack. Sahly and Smith both had six tackles and an interception.

After the North Park game, Olateju has moved into third on Wheaton’s career rushing list with 2,727 career rushing yards. He needs just over 400 more yards this season to claim first on the list.

After two much needed wins, the Thunder are in a bye week. They will resume play in a week against the Augustana Vikings. The Thunder are heading into the game on a two game winning streak, sitting in a comfortable 6-2 overall record and 4-2 in CCIW conference play. The Vikings are 1-7 overall and 1-5 in CCIW play. Wheaton kicks off against the Vikings for family weekend, November 4 at 1 p.m. in McCully Stadium.

Thunder football fails to get back on track

October 12, 2017

After losing to IWU for Homecoming, the Thunder traveled to Decatur, looking to redeem themselves against the Millikin Big Blue. Wheaton put up a valiant effort, eventually falling to the Big Blue 31-35. This brings the Thunder down to a 4-2 season and 2-2 for CCIW standings. The last time that Wheaton had two regular season losses was in 2013, when the Thunder fell to Illinois Wesleyan and North Central. The Thunder are also on a two-game losing streak, something that hasn’t happened since the 2009 season.

Despite the loss, the Thunder offense seemed to finally regain its step with 409 yards of total offense. Wheaton struck early in the first quarter, scoring within the first three minutes. After Millikin briefly tied the game up, the Thunder pulled back ahead and kept the lead until the fourth quarter.

Senior Curtis McWilliams led the Thunder in passing with 264 yards. He also threw four touchdowns. Sophomore Phillip Nichols received three of McWilliams’ touchdown passes and led the game in receiving with 94 yards. Senior Trey Hanley contributed 30 receiving yards and caught for a touchdown.

Senior Sola Olateju played both running back and receiver on Saturday. He led the game in rushing with 114 yards and also received for 76 yards. Sophomore Spencer Peterson gained 41 rushing yards.

Olateju’s 114 rushing yards earned him 2,540 career rushing yards, making him the fifth player in program history to surpass 2,500 rushing yards. He also moved up to fourth place on Wheaton’s career rushing list. Nichol’s three touchdown receptions are the most received by a Thunder player in a single game since 2014.

Senior Stefan Knoerr had the only field goal of the game late in the third quarter, kicking for 22 yards. Sophomore Griffin Bowes kicked for 357 yards, averaging 59 yards per kickoff. Junior Zach Feddeler punted for 252 yards and had 2 kicks inside the 20 yard line. Returning for the Thunder, Nichols gained 69 yards on punts and 24 yards on kickoffs. Junior Carter Roberts returned two kickoffs for 52 yards.

The Thunder defense gave up 438 yards to the Big Blue offense, which is the most yards an opposing offense has gained over the defense so far this season. Senior Marcus Smith and junior Corey Kennedy led Wheaton’s defense with seven tackles each. Junior Eric Stevenson contributed six tackles and senior Kyle Fox had five tackles with an interception. Senior Chase Greenlee had four tackles with two sacks for Wheaton. Junior Jack Bates and seniors Austin Hoover and Theo Selvaggio all had one sack each.

Wheaton’s defense had held Millikin’s offense to two touchdowns up until the fourth quarter. In 18 plays total, the Big Blue scored three touchdowns on the Thunder. Saturday marked the first time since 2001 that Millikin had toppled Wheaton Football. This week, the Thunder move back home, hungry to end their losing streak. They will kick off against North Central on Oct. 14 at 7 p.m. at McCully Stadium.

…or did they?

October 5, 2017

The Titan’s QB stepped back, scanned the field and threw 12 yards to a receiver in the end zone. The refs signaled a touchdown.

But what if the Titan’s touchdown shouldn’t have counted? Looking at the picture below of the game-winning catch, it appears the ball is more on the ground than in the receiver’s hands. There are pictures showing the seconds before the ball hits the ground and it looks like the receiver is bobbling the ball more than having secured it in a way that would count the pass as complete.

According to the NCAA rulebook, a completed catch is defined by a player “[securing] control of a live ball in his hands or arms before the ball touches the ground… and maintains control of the ball long enough to enable him to perform an act common to the game…”

If the player hits the ground and loses control of the ball, the catch is considered incomplete. If the player catches the ball, it hits the ground and then he regains control, it isn’t a catch. A catch that hits the ground is only considered complete if the receiving player secures control prior to hitting the ground and he maintains control the entire time.

In other photos, the receiver seems to completely lose control before being covered by senior Kyle Fox, who was on defense for the play.

At this point, the game is done and the score is final. But it is still important to point out that the play that cost Wheaton the game and caused them to plummet down in DIII football rankings was a fluke.

Wheaton Football wins the first regular season CCIW game

September 28, 2017

Saturday at Elmhurst College was a hot one for Wheaton. With heat wave protocols in place, the Thunder scorched the Bluejays 40-15. This improves the fourth-ranked Thunder to 4-0 for the season and 2-0 for CCIW conference play. However, if you hadn’t looked at the scoreboard, you might not have known just how much of a lead Wheaton had.

The Thunder had a rocky start on their opening drive when the ball was snapped too high, sending the Thunder back 20 yards during second down. The Bluejays quickly took the momentum after the Thunder’s blunder, scoring the first touchdown of the game and going for a two-point conversion. Elmhurst’s lead marked the first time all season that Wheaton has trailed behind in a game. Though the Thunder continued to have some setbacks, they managed to hold Elmhurst scoreless in the second and third quarters and scored an impressive 21 points in the fourth quarter alone.

Wheaton’s offense put up 402 yards, with 236 passing yards and 166 rushing yards. Senior quarterback Curtis McWilliams passed for all 236 of the Thunder’s passing yards, completing 17 of 25 passing attempts. Junior Carter Roberts lead the Thunder receivers with 87 yards. Sophomore Phillip Nichols contributed 48 receiving yards while senior Zach Lundquist had 32 and the lone touchdown for Wheaton’s receiving corps.

Freshman TJ Williams led the Thunder in rushing with 117 yards and two touchdowns. Senior Sola Olateju gained 88 yards and a touchdown. Sophomore Spencer Peterson also added 26 yards for the Thunder. Last Saturday’s game marks the lowest number of rushing yards that Wheaton has gained all season, with their season average at 295 rushing yards before Elmhurst’s game.

The Thunder offense went 7-of-16 in third down conversions, which is an improvement from their 4-of-15 performance against Carthage. Of the six times Wheaton found themselves in the red zone, they scored on five of those chances.

Senior Stefan Knoerr kicked four field goals on Saturday, with all four soaring through the goalposts. Sophomore Griffin Bowes kicked for 430 yards with his nine kickoffs against the Bluejays. He averaged 47 yards per kick. Zach Feddeler had three punts for 117 yards. He averaged 39 yards, with a long kick of 50 yards and a touchback. On the receiving side, sophomore Phillip Nichols caught six punts, returning for 89 yards total. He also returned an Elmhurst kickoff for 23 yards. Senior Adam Sandy had a kickoff return, gaining 27 yards for the Thunder.

On the other side of the line, the Wheaton defense held the Bluejays to 222 yards of total offense. Junior Eric Stevenson led the Thunder with six tackles. Senior Chase Greenlee and junior Luke Smith both recorded five tackles and an interception each. Senior Marcus Smith had the Thunder’s third interception.

With the offense’s slow beginning, the defense played an integral role in last Saturday’s game with offensive coordinator Jesse Scott stating, “Our defense absolutely carried us through the first half.”

This week, the Thunder are back at McCully Stadium to face off against the Illinois Wesleyan Titans. The No. 20 Titans are currently 3-1 for the season and 1-1 for CCIW conference play. Kickoff for the Thunder’s Homecoming Game will be Saturday, Sept. 30 at 1 p.m.

Wheaton Football wins the first regular season CCIW game

September 21, 2017

This past Saturday, Sept. 16, Wheaton faced off against the Carthage Red Men for their home opener. Despite Carthage being a tougher team than their last two opponents, Wheaton still came out with a W. The Thunder took the lead early on and kept it all the way to a 37-14 victory.

Offensively, the Thunder ran Carthage into the ground with 251 rushing yards and 83 passing yards. Sophomore Spencer Peterson led the Thunder in rushing, with 141 yards and three touchdowns. Peterson had a 39-yard run that resulted in the Thunder’s first touchdown. Senior Sola Olateju contributed 95 yards and junior Stone Watson gained 20.

Senior Curtis McWilliams led the Thunder in passing yards, going 7-13 for 79 yards. He also threw for one touchdown, as did Peterson. Seniors Zach Lindquist and Chase White caught one touchdown each. Lindquist had 24 total yards and White contributed 18. Sophomore Adam Terrini led the Thunder in receiving yards with 29 yards.

The Thunder defense held the Red Men to three rushing yards and 117 receiving yards. Senior Luke Sahly led the line with 10 tackles and a sack. Senior Chase Greenlee and junior Eric Stevenson both had seven tackles. Greenlee, Sahly, seniors Noah Spielman and Austin Hoover and sophomore Patrick O’Connell all lent to Carthage’s six sacks. Senior Kyle Fox caught the only interception for the Thunder during the second quarter.

Sophomore Griffin Bowes saw the most action of the Thunder special teams, kicking for 334 yards, including one touchback. Junior Zach Feddeler gave Wheaton 198 punting yards with two of his punts landing inside the Red Men 20-yard line. On the receiving end of the special teams, junior Stone Watson ran for 55 yards in kickoff returns. Sophomore Daniel Herber gained 13 yards on punt returns.

With the stands packed for their home opener, the Thunder put on quite the performance. After the game, Coach Swider commented, “What a battle we have done here… For all those that had doubts that we didn’t play anybody early on, hopefully tonight answers some questions.” The Thunder are now 3-0 for the season and 1-0 for CCIW conference play. Wheaton will be away this week, traveling to play at Elmhurst College, Sept. 23 at 1 p.m.

Thunder Football rolls over Kalamazoo with ease

September 14, 2017

If you walked into McCully Stadium last week to watch the Thunder practice, you wouldn’t have guessed that they were preparing for a game against Kalamazoo College. That’s because they already had their sights set on Carthage, who the team will play this upcoming Saturday. After beating the Kalamazoo Hornets 60-6 in the 2016 season, it’s easy to see why the Thunder wasn’t worried about the matchup in 2017. The Thunder proved their swaggering attitude was well warranted after beating Kalamazoo 58-6 on Sept. 9, improving their record to 2-0.

Wheaton racked up a total of 516 yards on offense while holding the Hornets to 148 yards. Senior Sola Olateju ran for 87 of the Thunder’s 304 rushing yards and had a 59-yard touchdown on the second play of the Thunder’s opening offensive drive. Junior Stone Watson contributed 67 yards, including his own 59-yard touchdown.

Watson also played as a kickoff returner, taking the opening kickoff 88 yards for a touchdown and returning a total of 115 yards. Sophomore Phillip Nichols returned a punt in the second half for 56 yards, resulting in a Thunder touchdown.

Senior Curtis McWilliams was the starting quarterback for the Thunder, going 4-for-8 with 35 yards. Sophomore Spencer Peterson went 3-for-3 with 44 passing yards. Junior Jesse Furrow lead the Thunder’s quarterbacks, going 10-for-13 with 133 passing yards and one touchdown. On the receiving end, senior Chase White had five catches, totaling 57 yards and one touchdown. Sophomore Adam Terrini put up 72 yards with three catches.

The Thunder defense also had an impressive night. Sophomore Dallas McRae led the defense with seven tackles while senior Luke Sahly and junior Eric Stevenson both had six tackles and a sack each. Sophomore Robby Schwartz had the only interception of the game during the third quarter. Wheaton held the Hornet offense to 42 rushing yards and 106 passing yards.

Saturday’s game was “a great opportunity for a lot of kids to play,” Head Coach Mike Swider said. As many teams do when playing weaker opponents, the Thunder put in several players that normally do not see as much playing time, allowing younger players to gain more experience at the collegiate level.

Yet no time is being wasted reminiscing on the game. “Our kids played well, but now we’ve got to move on. There’s no time to rest,” Swider said. Senior Noah Spielman echoed Swider’s attitude, saying that “Carthage is a totally different team than [Benedictine and Kalamazoo] …” The Thunder will be matching up against Carthage College this upcoming Saturday for their home opener in McCully Stadium at 6 p.m.

Thunder roll to victory in opener

September 7, 2017

The Wheaton Football team began their quest for the National Championship with a bang on Saturday, defeating Benedictine 57-14. Rainy conditions didn’t seem to hinder the Thunder as they gained 545 yards of offense, including an astonishing 331 yards on the ground, while holding Benedictine to 210 total yards.

Senior quarterback Curtis McWilliams made his first start for the Thunder, but rainy conditions and the lopsided score limited him to 11 passing attempts (six complete) for 183 yards and two touchdowns. Senior running back Sola Olateju racked up a remarkable 170 yards and two scores on eight carries.

In addition to holding Benedictine to 210 yards, the Thunder Defense put up seven points on a 95-yard pick-six by Senior DB Tyler Sigler, as well as a safety.

The Thunder special teams were solid as well, as senior kicker Stefan Knoerr made two field goals and five extra points, earning him CCIW Special Teams Player of the Week honors.

The 57 points scored represented the most ever in a season opener in Wheaton’s football program history. In short, the Thunder dominated. Still, as is often the case in season openers, the Thunder showed signs of rust. Wheaton gave up 155 yards on 14 penalties and lost the time-of-possession battle. They will need to improve these stats if they hope to make a deep playoff run.

Overall, Head Coach Mike Swider thinks this game showed what his team is capable of. “We showed our offense is pretty explosive,” he said. “You can see that there’s tremendous opportunity for us to score points and score them quickly.” Yet he cautioned his team about getting too high on themselves. “We can’t look past [our next opponent] … the only thing worse than a team that doesn’t think they can win, is a team that doesn’t think they can be beaten.”

The Thunder will be back in action on Saturday, as they head up to Michigan to take on Kalamazoo University.

All stats courtesy Wheaton Athletics

Veteran depth and fresh talent

The Wheaton Thunder will be rolling into the 2017-2018 season high and mighty. After finishing 11-2 last year, the Thunder grabbed the top spot in the CCIW preseason poll, receiving 61 points and five first-place votes.

In the postseason last year, the Thunder beat out Huntington College and North Central in the first two rounds of the NCAA DIII Playoffs. Their playoff run ended after losing to Mary Hardin-Baylor in the Quarterfinals.

Coming into the 2017 season, the Thunder boasts an impressive 70 upperclassmen, including 35 seniors — one of the largest groups the team has ever had. Head Coach Mikey Swider feels confident with his large group of older players, saying that the juniors and seniors “know what it takes to win games.”

With several starters from past seasons returning, the Thunder has a lot of talent, experience and leadership to work with. In addition to their returning players, Wheaton will have 28 newcomers to the field.

Two notable returning players include seniors Kyler Kregel, who played center, and Chase Greenlee, a defensive end. Kregel and Greenlee were both named preseason All-Americans by D3football.com. Kregel was named to the First Team, improving from his Second Team selection last year. Greenlee was recognized as a Second Team All American. Last season, he received a honorable mention by D3football.com.

On offense, Wheaton has four returning All-CCIW players from the 2016 year. In addition to All-American Kregel, the Thunder will have six other starters returning. Senior Sola Olateju returns at running back, and at wide receiver, senior Trey Hanley is coming out for his final season after leading the Thunder with 836 receiving yards in 2016.

The most noticeable gap in the offense can be seen at quarterback. According to Swider, there are four contenders for the spot of starter: Senior Curtis McWilliams, junior Jesse Furrow, and freshmen Spencer Peterson and David Beamer.

In the 2015 season, McWilliams missed all of last season due to an injury. Furrow was five-of-six in 2015 and six-of-11 in 2016 for passing with 99 yards and a touchdown last year. Neither Beamer nor Peterson have to taken the field for the Thunder.

In regards to the other side of the ball, Swider stated, “We have a wealth of talent on the defensive line.” Defensive players to watch include Dallas McRae, a transfer from Southern Utah, seniors Chase Greenlee, Noah Spielman, Tyler Sigler and Kyle Fox, junior Eric Stevenson and sophomore Patrick O’Connell. The Thunder defense had more sacks than any other Division III team.

Greenlee lead the defense in sacks with 14 for the 2016 season. He also contributed 61 total tackles. Spielman was equally devastating on defense for the Thunder, getting 41 total tackles while battling injuries throughout the season. In his freshman season, O’Connell came out swinging on the defensive line, recording 36 total tackles and 12 sacks. His efforts gained him recognition on the Second Team All-CCIW.

Southern Utah transfer Dallas McRae will be joining the Thunder defensive line this year. McRae has already proven to Wheaton’s coaches during practices that he can really play based upon what they’ve seen.

Behind the defensive line, the Thunder secondary also has considerable talent. Last season, Sigler transitioned from safety to cornerback — a move that seems to have brought nothing but good things. Swider remarked that “he is arguably one of the best cornerbacks in the country.”

Fox is returning to start at safety after having 44 tackles last year. Alongside him will be fellow senior Nick Blazek, who had 38 tackles and an interception. Safety Corey Kennedy will be one of the new faces on the team, transferring from Northern Illinois.

Swider showed that the Thunder will take no time to celebrate the accomplishments of yesteryear, remarking, “What [we] did last year is great, but this year has yet to be played.”

The Thunder open their season Sept. 2 at Benedictine University, and come back to play their first home game Sept. 16 against Carthage College.

Senior on the sidelines

“Personal glory is a bad motivator. Revenge is a bad motivator. But playing for a cause is the greatest motivator in the world.” — Coach Swider

My four years playing football at Wheaton have been filled with joy and pain, but through the Christ-centered focus of the program and the men in the program I am able to see the constant blessing it has been to me. With only one catch for nine yards my sophomore year as the peak of my career statistically speaking, my time at Wheaton hasn’t been what I had initially envisioned.

 

Before coming to Wheaton, I anticipated being a starting kicker/punter for the Thunder. But after  greater focus was placed on my role as receiver during my first years at Wheaton, I started to transition from punting/kicking into the role of being a receiver. I took on this task and began to enjoy the position. The reason I say I enjoyed it traced back to high school, when we had a predominately run-style offense which meant we rarely threw the ball. As the years went on, I continued to work on this position. Fast-forward to this past year. I felt like I had played well during spring ball which set me up for the opportunity to compete for playing time in the fall. Coming back for summer camp, I was in the best shape of my life. And after what I thought to have been a decent camp, I hoped that all the time, energy and effort invested into this program would finally pay off with the ability to get on the field on Saturdays as a senior. But as it turned out, it wasn’t. I wasn’t as good as the other guys competing for my position. I’m not going to lie, it stung. Had I wasted four years’ worth of lonely hours in summer lifting weights in the gym, all the sprints run under the sun on abandoned fields? All the Saturday mornings at the end of winter running routes? Did it now all amount to nothing?

 

Through my years as a part of this program, I have learned the importance of not finding my identity in anything other than Christ. When I initially was looking at Wheaton for college, the aspect that stood out to me was how Coach Swider spoke of how the program cared more about the spiritual formation of the players than winning, even though they cared a great deal about winning.

 

Now having completed four years in this program, I can undoubtedly affirm the truth in that statement. Wearing the Wheaton football jersey is something I am honored to do, but it doesn’t define me. At my core, I am defined as a child of God, worthy to call the creator of the universe my Father. Don’t misunderstand me, I am far from being finished and continue to struggle daily finding my identity in Christ, but the encouragement and challenges from the people who surround me here on this team and school have been profound in developing  my faith — and for this I am grateful.

 

Despite not getting playing time on the field, Wheaton football gave me so much more. The stats will fade away, but I know the relationships with my teammates will remain. I saw these relationships grow in a  variety of ways. They grew  in weekly small group meetings throughout the year during which we discussed what is happening in our lives. They happened during weekly chapels throughout the season where we worshipped with each other and listened to experiences of seniors in the program instead of practicing for a game the following day. They grew during spring break mission trips  when we labored together and encouraged past football alumni from around the world. These and many other experiences have been where I draw some of my fondest memories of being on this team.

 

A familiar adage says “show me your friends and I’ll show you your future.” Because of the friendships I’ve made through football, my future is bright. This is not because I won’t have to deal with adversity or hardship, but because I know that I will have the support and encouragement from these friends whenever I am struggling in the years to come.

 

Through Wheaton football, I have learned what it is like to be surrounded by a band of brothers motivated by a cause: a cause bigger than personal glory and larger than any feelings of revenge. A cause that is blind to individual stats and instead cares about what we can do together. A cause that would wake me  up in the middle of summer to complete a workout at the same time as my  teammates across America. A cause that challenges me to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. A cause that demands devotion to Christ.
The cause of Wheaton football does not end for me as I graduate this year. It is a way of life that has been ingrained in me and players who have gone before me through this program. I have seen and will continue to emulate what it is like to strive towards a life of having a cause.

All work and no play?

Collegiate athletics are intense. This is a well-known fact that only intensifies the higher the level of play. As the division increases (from Division III to Division II to Division I), so, too, do the expectations and pressure. As with any field, the higher the stakes, the more people are willing to cut corners. In all honesty, the potential rewards of keeping a roster spot or coaching position are too good not to.

 

In the world of competition, more seems to always be better. One more sprint. One more lift. One more of whatever will get that team or player an advantage over the opponent. But when does this mentality go too far?

 

A little over a week ago, at Oregon University three football players were hospitalized after going through an offseason workout conducted by the team’s strength and conditioning coach. All were suffering similar symptoms and one of the players was officially diagnosed with rhabdomyolysis, a condition in which a person’s muscles break down alarmingly fast. Some of the byproducts of the muscle breakdown include a protein called myoglobin, which is devastating for the body’s kidneys and can lead to kidney failure.

 

According to the Los Angeles Daily News, the players were part of a group instructed to perform “push-ups and up-downs for nearly an hour.” If it seems excessive for a workout seven months away from the official start of college football, that’s because it is. Further validation for this insanity is the fact that a few days later, according to an ESPN report, Oregon suspended their strength and conditioning coach for one month without pay.

 

Oregon certainly did the right thing as the school has now changed its system of reporting going forward to involve the Ducks’ director of performance and sports science. All three players are now listed as “good condition” in the hospital, according to ESPN. But still, this is an issue and a risk to players’ safety and health that should not have occurred in the first place.

 

Overall, this is not to highlight the mistakes of a Division I football program. This is to call attention to the ones who are doing right by the offseason, and using the time for what it’s truly for — time off football. In this instance, the team in the spotlight is Wheaton’s own football team.

 

The Thunder coaching staff understand that their players are student athletes with an emphasis on “student” first. The staff, starting at the top with head coach Mike Swider, desires for Thunder players to use the extra time in the offseason to grow in four areas of their lives: spiritual, physical, relational and academics.

 

For Swider, this growth in the players’ walks with Christ comes before all else. This growth includes 20 football small groups of five to six players within each group. These groups give players a smaller group with which to be transparent with each other and hold each other accountable in a way in which is nearly impossible within the context of the team as a whole. Mission trips and the encouragement to attend a church each Sunday also add to the team’s potential spiritual growth.

 

“The offseason also provides an opportunity for us to increase what we do intentionally to help inspire these kids spiritually,” Swider explained.

 

Of course, the Thunder are also hoping to increase their strength, speed and stamina in the offseason with multiple voluntary workouts per week: four lifting ones and two speed workouts. In a stark contrast from what was witnessed at Oregon, attendance is not taken at these workouts.

 

Relationally, players are expected to spend time not only with their own team, but also with friends outside the team. Upperclassmen also set up different opportunities for team bonding like simply throwing the football around, playing intramural basketball, going dress-up bowling, playing indoor mini golf, three-on-three basketball tournaments and local scavenger hunts.

 

“That’s the first reason they [players] came here,” Swider said, “because they want to immerse themselves into a social community of men that would encourage them to love God.”

 

Many players also study together, and the ones who are doing well help the ones within their same major who are struggling, according to Swider. This teamwork further promotes team bonding.

 

“Our offseason allows them to spend even more social time together,” explained Swider. “It provides our kids an even greater time socially and allows them to do other things, as well as train.”

 

And herein lies what the offseason for college athletics should really be about: “other things.” Of course, it’s important to keep up fitness and strength levels, but the offseason should undoubtedly center around time away from football and the stress — both mentally and physically — that ridiculously difficult offseason workouts can cause. Oregon’s football program is certainly evidence of that.

 

“We’re trying to promote balance and we’re trying to build a culture in which these kids love each other,” said Swider.

 

Hear that? The magical word that should define all offseason sports programs, whether football or otherwise?

 

“Balance.” That is truly the focus of this Thunder football team and something that other programs can learn from as well. By allowing players to step back and enjoy other aspects of campus life, they will undoubtedly come back hungrier than before to compete come spring workouts and the beginning of the season in the fall.

 

“The greatest warriors fight not because they hate what’s in front of them, but because they love what’s behind them,” said Swider.
For the Thunder, much of the team’s success originates in the fact that players’ love for one another is forged in the offseason away from the gridiron. In the fall, Thunder fans are sure to see the fruits of this balance play out in major ways both on and off the field.