After last Saturday’s 20-17 victory against Saint Ambrose University, the Olivet Nazarene University Tiger football team finished the 2017 season with a 6-5 record, their best record since 2005 when they went 5-5.
The Tigers opened their season strong by winning three straight games, including a 31-24 victory against then, No. 20, Kansas Wesleyan University. However, their streak ended after they lost their next two games to Concordia University and then to No. 9 Marian University by scores of 38-16 and 40-21, respectively. To close out the month of September, the Tigers won against Trinity International University with a score of 44-41. The next two games were less favorable toward the Tigers, as they lost to Robert Morris University 21-14 and to rival, University of Saint Francis (IL), 43-31. The Tigers saw improvement in their final games of the season when they defeated Trinity Bible College 49-6 during homecoming week and Saint Ambrose University 20-17 on senior day.
“Having our first winning season is a big step in the right direction,” junior linebacker Caleb Coe said. “We are super excited about reaching that goal, but still not satisfied. We have a lot more we are capable of achieving. We felt like we could have won more games than we did. A lot of games we lost were lost on some small margins that can be easily fixed.”
This is the first winning record that the Tigers have had in at least 11 seasons. And it is the second season for head coach, Eric Hehman, who came on staff last season and led the team to a 4-7 record. Since Coach Hehman took over, Olivet has made improvements on both the defensive and offensive side of the ball. This season, the Tigers scored 314 points and the defense allowed 285—both improvements from the 2015 season. Before Hehman took over, the team put up 229 points and allowed 375.
“From a schematics perspective, you have to do what you know,” Hehman said. “On our staff, we have a pretty good knowledge of different schemes. The coaches just met and developed an offense out of the principals of those schemes that are the best. I heard this a long time ago: it’s all about players, then formations, then plays. We are what we’re good at. We are what our players are good at.”
With the end of the season comes the loss of seniors who bring their leadership and experience to the team. This year’s graduating list includes names such as Erik Anderson, Zane Burton, Seth Cunningham, and Sebastian Swift.
“We had higher expectations,” Anderson said. “I don’t think we achieved those expectations. I think if we played to our potential, it would’ve been maybe an 8-3 or 9-2 season. Some highlights were definitely playing hard against the best teams in the country, playing top-ranked teams and challenging them. In some cases, we should have beaten them. That’s a total swing from where I came in my freshman year. If you look at the past four years, it’s always been an upswing from a record perspective.”
Despite having the best record in ten years and improving each year, the team is not settling.
“We’re 6-5,” Hehman said. “That’s the reality of our record. We were 2-3 in our conference. But we won six games… so for us to not be 6-5 next year, every player on this team has to get better.
So is this season a step in the right direction? According to Hehman, “You want to have joy in the journey. You want to be in a spot where you don’t despise small beginnings. It’s small victories out of big victories. I think that’s what we focus on as a team.”