One of the first stories I wrote in this space almost five years ago was a story about the heart of college athletics and amazingly it still holds true today so I thought I would update this piece.
In today’s world people seem jaded about college athletics. This probably comes with good reason given the scandals that have recently dominated the headlines and probably the realization of many people that college athletics and higher education in general is a business, an industry that takes on qualities like many in the nation given the money that is involved.
But for just a moment think of the 450 institutions that make up the largest of the NCAA’s three divisions, Division III. These institutions do not give athletic grant-in-aids or scholarships and in fact go out of their way to make sure you know their participants as student-athletes.
You get a passing glance at some of these programs on television maybe more so locally on a regional cable channel, but none of them are getting a big check for their exposure… in fact many of the schools either buy or market the time themselves.
There is one thing that is at all these places just like the “big” schools: the drive and desire of coaches to develop and discover the true potential of their student-athletes to compete at a high level and achieve success both on and off the field or court.
One place that has done achieved at a high level on and off the field for a long time is the University of Mount Union in Alliance, Ohio.
Alliance is in Northeast Ohio about an hour south of Cleveland and Mount Union reflects the industrial base that the region was built on with a grit, determination and attention to detail that is headlined by its football program and its director of athletics.
The Purple Raiders have won 12 national championships and played in the national championship game 19 times since 1993. They have lost just two regular season games since 1995 and over that same span they have 24 Ohio Athletic Conference titles.
Players have changed, the game has changed but one thing that has not changed at Mount Union is — Larry Kehres.
In January, the National Football Foundation announced its class for the 2017 College Hall of Fame and while I am sure have heard names like Manning and Spurier headlining the class there was also another name on that list — Larry Kehres.
Kehres has been on the Mount Union campus as a student, coach or administrator for 47 of the past 50 years. In his 27 seasons as head coach at his alma mater he amassed an incredible record of 332 wins 24 losses and three ties and was the coach for 11 of the school’s 12 national titles.
You read it right — 24 losses in 27 years. His 332 wins make him one of only 10 football coaches in the history of college football with over 300 wins. His .929 winning percentage is tops among all college football coaches placing him ahead of such names as Rockne, Stagg, Pop Warner, etc.
His teams have worked with such clockwork precision over the years that local fans hang a sign in the stadium that says “Welcome to the Machine.”
He played four years at quarterback at Mount Union before graduating in 1971 but his connection is deeper than that as he grew up just 15 miles north of campus in the small town of Diamond, Ohio.
His roster routinely hovered around or above 200 players and as proud as he is of his team’s on the field accomplishments, he is equally if not more proud of how his program has helped get young men through the college and become productive members of society.
Some former players you may know like NFL wide receivers Pierre Garcon and Cecil Shorts III or Iowa State head football coach Matt Campbell, but if you would ever hear Kehres speak; he would also tell you about the guy that is a local teacher, or another that works in an office or another that is a good husband and father.
He has seen football as not just a game but as tool that has helped build a school and a way to teach young men how to be better people and move to a better station in life.
Even with all the bad stories and crazy money it is places like Mount Union and people like Larry Kehres that is still what many in the NCAA’s largest division — Division III — think about college athletics.
In full disclosure, I have been fortunate to call Mount Union my home for nine years and seen first-hand the impact this program, its coaches and student-athletes have had on not only a college campus but a community as a whole.