ALLIANCE, Ohio - It's happening again.
Once more, Nate Kmic is running his team to victory.
This time for Kmic, the 5-foot-8, 190-pound pride of Delta, it's for seven-time Division III national champion Mount Union.
Kmic, a freshman running back for the Purple Raiders, has orchestrated one of the most impressive postseason performances in Mount Union's storied history. In four playoff victories, he has rushed for 855 yards and scored 10 touchdowns.
"To be honest, it's not all that surprising," said Mike Vicars, Kmic's coach at Delta. "We knew the quality of athlete and kid he was. It was coming down to when he got his opportunity."
Kmic rushed for 160 yards on a school-record 48 carries and scored both Mount Union touchdowns in the Purple Raiders' 19-7 win over Rowan yesterday. For the eighth time in 10 years, Mount Union will play Saturday for the Division III title in Salem, Va. Its opponent will be Wisconsin-Whitewater.
Rookies at Mount Union typically don't get this chance. But when the Purple Raiders' starting running back, Aaron Robinson, got sick at the beginning of the playoffs, coach Larry Kehres experimented with Kmic, the small freshman known for his stellar field vision.
Kmic made Robinson an afterthought.
"Sometimes, a great player is sitting, waiting for his chance," Kehres said.
Kmic led Delta to Division IV playoff wins his junior and senior seasons, the Panthers advancing to the state semifinals in 2003. He was The Blade's 2004 player of the year after rushing for 1,681 yards and 33 touchdowns, catching six passes for TDs and kicking 53 extra points.
Because of his size and small-school background, those numbers got Kmic no Division I scholarship offers, only a meeting with Bowling Green State University last spring to discuss the possibility of walking on. Kmic came away discouraged, knowing if he went to BGSU he might never play in a game again.
He needed a few weeks to put the disappointment behind him, but then Kmic considered Mount Union. That tough spring is now simply a blip on his radar.
"I'm so glad I came here," Kmic said. "Now that I'm down here I'm really glad things worked out."
In the regular season Kmic split time between the Raiders' varsity and junior varsity, rushing for 179 yards and six touchdowns on varsity.
Less than a month ago, in the Raiders' first-round game against Mount St. Joseph, Robinson's illness forced Kmic into the game on the first drive. Although it was the playoffs, Kmic said he didn't feel pressure.
"I didn't think that anyone was expecting too much, I was just a freshman," Kmic said. "Anything positive that I did was that much better."
Said Vicars: "The first couple of carries, he closed his eyes and ran as hard as he could."
Kmic went for 157 yards and three touchdowns, a Raiders season-best. In the student union afterward, Kmic's parents were approached by Mount Union's president. He had one question: Was your son this good in high school?
Partly because Kmic is a good practice player, Kehres knew that answer early.
"He shared some video tapes with us when he visited, and we saw him play extremely well, we saw him touch the ball a lot," Kehres said. "He's had to carry the load as the running back and he's responded very well."
The 48 carries yesterday wasn't Kmic's first Mount Union record. Two weeks ago against Augustana (Ill.) he set the single-game rushing record with 361 yards while scoring four touchdowns.
"It just baffled me," Kmic said. "I didn't feel like I ran for too many yards."
In that game Kmic became the first true freshman to start for Mount Union in 11 years. Robinson, a junior, was sidelined with a hamstring injury against Augustana and hasn't played since. There are no hard feelings between the two, as Kmic considers Robinson a mentor.
"The atmosphere down here is a big family," Kmic said.
Last week Kmic had a by-then routine 177 yards and a score. Yesterday he reached the end zone twice in the second quarter, the first time breaking a scoreless tie on a 30-yard reception from quarterback Mike Jorris. Kmic set up his second touchdown, a seven-yard run, with a 23-yard dash down the right sideline.
Kmic's postseason parade has the team believing that barring injury, he could spend the next three seasons setting and re-setting school and conference rushing marks. Kmic did not foresee an early success so similar to high school.
"It's hard to predict what's going to happen throughout the season," Kmic said. "It's just unbelievable."
The statistics, perhaps, but not the performances.
Contact Maureen Fulton at: email@example.com or 419-724-6160.
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