Mount Union's Nate Kmic, a Delta High School graduate, faces a teammate during practice this week in Alliance, Ohio.
Tony Dejak / AP Enlarge
ALLIANCE, Ohio - Think of college football dynasties, and a few programs come to mind: Oklahoma, Nebraska, Alabama, Miami, Notre Dame, Mount Union.
Yes, Mount Union, the tiny Division III school in northeastern Ohio. What the Purple Raiders are doing is as impressive as anything the major programs have accomplished. Nine national titles, eight in the last 11 years alone. A 223-10-1 record since 1990 that's the best in all of college football.
They are, no surprise, undefeated again this season. They've posted four shutouts and haven't allowed a touchdown in over a month. They put up 52 points in the season opener against Averett - and that was just in the first quarter.
"Before you get here, you know all about Mount Union's great history, its tradition, the win streaks, all the great accomplishments," said Delta High School alumnus Nate Kmic, a junior who is already Mount Union's career rushing leader. "You're just hoping you can live up to those standards. You're just trying to keep up with that great tradition.
"You don't want to leave Mount Union being the senior class that didn't win the Stagg Bowl," he added, referring to the Division III national championship game. "You don't want to be that class."
When Larry Kehres took over as Mount Union's coach in 1986, he didn't dream of building a dynasty. Kehres had played at Mount Union and served as an assistant coach for 11 years, watching the Purple Raiders grow from an average program in the 1960s and '70s to the Ohio Athletic Conference champions in 1985.
His goal was consistency, to make Mount Union a team that could contend for the OAC title each year.
In 1993, Kehres' eighth season, Mount Union had its first undefeated season and won its first Stagg Bowl.
Since then, Mount Union has made it to the D-III semifinals or better every year but one (they lost in the quarterfinals that "down" year). The Purple Raiders have won three straight national titles twice, from 1996-98 and 2000-02.
The two trophy cases in the lobby of the athletic training facility at Mount Union are so packed, space will have to be cleared if the Purple Raiders bring home another national title. And, yes, all those gleaming trophies, plaques and rings are for football. The exploits from other sports are showcased elsewhere on campus.
"We don't talk about national championships," quarterback Greg Micheli said. "We talk about one game at a time and getting where we need to be. But I know if we fall short, it's going to be a great disappointment."
Especially this year.
The Purple Raiders returned 14 starters from last year's national champion team, including quarterback Micheli; Kmic; Pierre Garcon, a receiver who's drawn the attention of NFL scouts; and safety Matt Kostelnik, a D-III All-American.
The home of this powerhouse is decidedly understated. The 2,200-student private school is 70 miles southeast of Cleveland, a short drive from Canton.
Picturesque buildings dot the green lawns, and a large pond graces the northeast corner.
There is no athletes' dorm and, like all D-III schools, players don't get scholarships.
"We're not trying to make football something that it shouldn't be," Kehres said. "We're trying to be successful, but we want our men to be on target academically. They have to be. There's a social element to their lives that's respected and valued."