One of a kind
By Paul LaTour For The Sun November 4, 2010 7:48PM
North Central College at Wheaton College
When: 1 p.m. Saturday
Where: McCully Stadium, Wheaton
Rankings: NCC (8-0, 5-0 CCIW) — No. 5 D3football.com, No. 6 AFCA; WC (8-0, 5-0) — No. 15 D3football.com; No. 12 AFCA
Cardinals leaders: Rushing — Jordan Tassio 109-611 8 TDs; Nick Kukuc 81-390 6 TDs. Passing — Brad Crackel 71-129-4 1,168 13 TDs. Receiving — Steve Hlavac 29-463 2 TDs; Joe Antonacci 20-346 4 TDs; Defense — Matt Wenger 71 tackles, 6½ TFL; Valente Garza 9½ sacks; Josh McLeod 4 INTs.
The skinny: The CCIW crown and automatic bid for the D3 playoffs is on the line in this meeting of long-time rivals. The Thunder will have to protect former Aurora Christian quarterback Jordan Roberts (107-162-5 1,235 12 TDs) against a Cardinals defense ranked ninth in the nation and second in sacks (4.3 average). The Thunder has shown resilience, winning two games in which it trailed at halftime (24-14 to Elmhurst, 24-7 to Carthage), and once trailing after three quarters (14-9 to Augustana). NCC has trailed only twice this season, and never by more than four points.
Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
As John Thorne nears a record that will pad his legacy as the North Central College football coach, surely the Cardinals must be abuzz in anticipation.
Thorne brings a 74-21 record into Saturday’s rivalry game at Wheaton College. One more victory will move him into first place as NCC’s all-time winningest coach.
The record must be all the players are talking about this week, right?
“I actually didn’t know that,” said right guard Kyle Antos, a senior from Wheaton Warrenville South. “Coach doesn’t really talk too much about himself.”
That’s understandable. Thorne wants players focusing on the Thunder and the battle for the Little Brass Bell. This year’s winner will all but clinch the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin crown and the automatic NCAA Division III playoff bid that comes with it.
So the coaches, they must be the ones preparing extra hard to help Thorne reach win No. 75. Right?
“Put it this way, we as coaches spend an unbelievable amount of hours together and I had no clue about it,” said Brad Spencer, a former player under Thorne and now an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator. “This was the first I’d heard of it.”
OK, OK. But certainly the man who is about to pass Gordon Fisher in victories is on edge awaiting the moment. So just what does the record mean to Thorne?
“Not much,” he said. “It’s supposed to be about the players and we make sure we keep it that way. Each year, it’s really the seniors’ team. We hope they can do some really great things, and if any sort of records happen to fall, that’s just extra.”
Thorne brought that humility with him from Wheaton Warrenville South where he won four state championships and went 181-64 in 22 years. But he also brought a couple other things along: a winning culture and a coaching philosophy that is the backbone of the program.
The philosophy statement includes a list of 18 words such as confidence, respect, class, family and sportsmanship, followed by a short explanation. At the top of the list is faith. Next comes academics. Winning football games is nowhere to be found.
To strengthen the unity of the offensive players, coaches began holding meetings last year focusing on a motivational word of the day relating to the philosophy. The coaches would talk about the word, and then the players would discuss what it means to them.
It went over so well, the entire team participates this year. They meet twice a week and football is never mentioned. Neither is winning.
“The funny thing is, if you’re doing things like this to bring your team together it’s really hard to lose,” Thorne said. “You win a lot of games because you’ve got people who want to do well for their teammates and for the entire program.”
Thorne’s arrival in 2002 signaled an end to the Cardinals’ losing ways. He went 6-4 in his first season, the Cardinals’ first winning season in five years and only fourth since 1987. Since then the Cardinals have won or shared four consecutive CCIW titles and reached the NCAA Division III playoffs four times.
“It wasn’t easy,” said Jeff Thorne, John’s son and the Cardinals offensive coordinator. “The players who were here really didn’t know what it took to win. It took a complete overhaul of the culture. It was a challenge.”
Now the challenge comes in maintaining that success and attaining Thorne’s ultimate goal — a national championship. If that day arrives, surely somebody will know that Thorne is the winningest coach in school history.