Wheaton Thunder ready to take division by storm again
Wheaton College isn't the University of Illinois or Northwestern University.
But the Division III school might just boast the state's best college football team.
The Thunder are ranked eighth in the Sporting News' college football preseason poll and reached the quarterfinals of the NCAA playoffs last year, yet head coach Mike Swider told the Dupage Policy Journal that he doesn’t get caught up in preseason rankings.
“Preseason rankings are based on how good you were last year and how many players you have returning,” Swider said. “It doesn’t mean anything ultimately, and you still have to line up and play. Being ranked doesn’t spot you seven points. You’ve got to go out there and beat somebody every week.”
Swider said the Thunder have 19 of last year's 22 starters returning, which should be a big plus.
“You deserve nothing and earn everything, so I'm not one for making predictions or saying, 'This is what we’re going to do,'” Swider said. “But this team should be highly competitive. We are returning a lot of players who have only lost one regular season game in three years.”
Swider said he is excited with the many returning players believes having a team full of juniors and seniors will give the Thunder a big boost.
“We have 33 returning seniors, and that’s the largest senior class I've ever had here in my 33 years at Wheaton,” he said. “I always say you win with juniors and senior, and we have 70 upperclassmen on this roster. “
Wheaton finished last season with an 11-2 record and advanced to the quarterfinals of the Division III playoffs before falling to the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, who would go on to win the championship.
Swider said he expects several returning players to build off of last season’s success.
Tyler Sigler, a junior cornerback who finished last season with 46 tackles and two interceptions, is one such player, as are running back Sola Olataju and All-American tight end Zach Lindquist.
The season will get underway on Sept. 2, when the Thunder travel to Lisle, Illinois, to take on Benedictine University. The team's first home game will be on Sept. 16, when the Thunder host Carthage College.
Swider pointed to Oct. 14 as an important game date, when Wheaton hosts in-state rival North Central College.
“It’s our most fierce rivalry, and it’s a very healthy rivalry,” he said. “We have a great deal of mutual respect for each other. We play for a trophy that has been passed around for over 50 years, and there’s some great history to this rivalry.”
Swider said he is ready for the season believes that as long as the team works hard in practice and stays motivated, good things will follow.
“I think the biggest thing to focus on is having the guys remain humble and hungry,” Swider said. “You can’t forget what got you where you are. Just because you were good last year doesn’t mean you’ll be good again. You’ve got to have that hunger to work and practice and be good.”