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Looking to get back on top: St. Norbert College football preview

By Rich Palzewic
Sports editor

DE PERE – Anything less than a Midwest Conference (MWC) championship will be considered a disappointment for the St. Norbert College (SNC) football team.

Coming off a 7-3 season where they lost a 9-6 overtime game to Monmouth in the MWC championship game, the Green Knights will be looking to get back on top this year.

St. Norbert will get its 85th season of intercollegiate football underway when it hosts Aurora University at 1:00 on Saturday, Sept. 1, in a non-conference game at Schneider Stadium.

“It’s always our expectation every year that we need to win a conference championship – that’s the No. 1 goal,” said fourth-year head coach Dan McCarty, who is 24-7 in his three seasons with the team. “Last year we had a tremendous team. It was tough to say goodbye to that senior class – we were very close to them. We don’t forget, but we don’t dwell on it – it’s a new season. We are motivated to get better every day out, but we can’t look too far ahead.”

SNC returns 17 starters (eight offense, seven defense, two specialists) and was picked to win the North Division in the MWC’s preseason poll.

Similar to last year, St. Norbert’s running back situation will likely be by committee. Locally, Bay Port grad Ben Styczynski and University of Washington transfer Nate Ihlenfeldt (Green Bay Notre Dame) will be in the mix to get some carries.

The team’s leading returning rusher will be junior running back Jadon Sackman, who gained 447 yards on 90 carries with three touchdowns last season.

“We were kind of forced to do a running back by committee last season due to some injuries to our top back,” McCarty said in reference to Elijah Fort, who led the Green Knights with 631 yards rushing. “It’s unfortunate, but if Elijah was healthy last year, he would have been the main guy. He’s one of the best to ever play here and will be tough to replace. This year, we have a lot of guys that are looking good and getting reps. Ihlenfeldt has really impressed in camp and will be in a variety of roles.”

Quarterback Jack Becker has also graduated, so Drew Rhodes will be under center this year. Becker threw for 1,683 yards and 24 touchdowns in 2017.

“Right now we have a good group, but Drew Rhodes will be our No. 1 quarterback,” said McCarty. “We have three other guys competing for that backup role – we will see how that all shakes out.”

Rhodes will have the team’s top receiver back from last year in junior Samuel Staehling, who caught 41 passes for 916 yards, which comes out to 22 yards a catch. He also had 16 touchdown catches, which was a St. Norbert record for TD receptions in a season.

“Staehling is a stud,” noted McCarty. “He’s also the first academic All-American we’ve had as a sophomore – he’s a 4.0 student and going to be a doctor one day. He’s having a good camp.”

McCarty also noted that receiver Drew Chavarria is having a great camp and should have a productive year.

Defensively, St. Norbert gave up about 12 points per game last season and will take the same philosophy they always have – fly to the ball and be aggressive.

“It’s going to be what it always has been,” added McCarty. “You’re going to see a ton of takeaways – we practice it daily. Our offense gets ticked off with the defensive guys punching at the ball. We will have a fast defense and be extremely physical. We have a lot of depth and talent.”

McCarty also added that the University of Chicago and Macalester College from the North Division will be tough and that Monmouth (South Division) has developed a great rivalry with the Green Knights. The two teams have met in the MWC championship game the last three seasons.

Editor’s note: The meeting between SNC and Aurora will be the first-ever for the two teams in football. 

2018 St. Norbert College football (all games Saturday)

Sept. 1 Aurora University 1 p.m.
Sept. 8 at UW-Eau Claire 6 p.m.
Sept. 22 Grinnell College (SNC Day) 1 p.m.
Sept. 29 at Knox College Noon
Oct. 6 Ripon College * 1 p.m.
Oct. 13 at University of Chicago * 1 p.m.
Oct. 20 at Lawrence University * 6 p.m.
Oct. 27 Macalester College * (Homecoming) 1 p.m.
Nov. 3 at Beloit College * 1 p.m.
Nov. 10 MWC Championship TBA
* MWC game
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