Take the 1999 Mount Union and Hiram football

By Allen Moff Record-Courier staff writer Published:

Take the 1999 Mount Union and Hiram football teams, for example.

The three-time defending NCAA Division III national champion Purple Raiders were declared an overwhelming favorite to claim the '99 Ohio Athletic Conference crown by both the coaches and media, whose respective polls were tabulated during OAC Media Day festivities Tuesday at the Cleveland South Hilton.

But coach Larry Kehres doesn't expect the poll results to cause much of a stir in Mount Union's camp.

"Most of our players don't even read that part of the sports page," said Kehres, whose Purple Raiders have won or shared seven OAC titles in a row. "They won't even know about it unless I tell them."

On the other hand coach Bob Thomas knows his Terriers will be anxious to learn their predicted fate, which just so happens to be dead last.

"I'll be honest with you. We're tired of it," said Thomas. "I don't think it's just, but we'll have to see what happens."

Hiram has had a rough time competing in the rugged OAC over the last nine years, finishing no higher than sixth. And they have only this season to improve on that mark before joining the North Coast Athletic Conference next year.

"We've worked hard to become competitive in this conference, and this is our last chance to show how far we've come," said Thomas. "We want to make a statement. We want to show everyone that we do have a good program."

With 22 starters returning _ including local high school products Paul Milcetich (senior linebacker, Kent Roosevelt), Jason Timmons (junior linebacker, Windham), Jeff Smith (senior offensive lineman, Kent Roosevelt) and Kris Giebel (junior running back, Streetsboro) _ and a talented group of newcomers headed by former Aurora star Nick Courtad, Thomas believes his Terriers have the tools to gain a measure of respect in 1999.

"This team has weapons on both sides of the ball, not just on defense like we did (in '94 and '95)," said Thomas. "Overall, offensively and defensively, I believe this is the best Hiram team I've had in my eight years."

While Thomas and the Terriers are hell-bent on proving prognosticators wrong, Kehres doesn't seem too concerned at all about proving 'em right.

"We're hoping to have another great season," said the Diamond native. "But we know we can't take anything for granted. The margin for error is extremely thin in the OAC."

Not that his squad has made many of late.

The Purple Raiders have won 42 games in a row dating back to a playoff loss to Wisconsin LaCrosse on December 2, 1995. They need just six more victories to break the NCAA record for consecutive wins of 47 set by Oklahoma from 1953-57.

Mount Union hasn't lost a regular season contest since October 15, 1994, against Baldwin-Wallace, some 44 games ago. And it's going to take a major upset to end that streak in '99.

Kehres has seven starters returning from an offense that produced 37 points per tilt in 1998, including junior quarterback Gary Smeck and former local high school stars Chuck Moore (junior running back, Mogadore) and Adam Marino (junior wide receiver, Cuyahoga Falls).

"Offensively, we have a strong nucleus back," said Kehres. "Defensively, we were hit a little harder by graduation. We have three linemen returning, but we need to fill some holes at linebacker and in the secondary. That's the key for this season."

Ohio Northern, John Carroll and Baldwin-Wallace will have the best chance to deny the Purple Raiders their ninth conference title of the '90s.

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