The Wheaton College football team is in a familiar position, but it is hoping to change the ending.
Just as it was last year, the Thunder is ranked in the top 15 nationally with two of its toughest games to come. However, the team hopes to force its way into the playoffs and avoid being left on the outside looking in like it was last year.
Undefeated on the year and dominating its opponents, coach Mike Swider said much of the success is due to senior leadership. This year's team has 29 seniors, the most Swider has ever had on one team. Seniors Brett Anderson and Jordan Higgins lead the team in tackles on a defense that hasn't allowed more than 27 points on the year. The Thunder also has a senior under center with Jordan Roberts, who also leads the team in rushing and has the team averaging nearly 40 points a game.
"Anytime you have that many seniors you've got to be a good football team," Swider said. "Freshmen won't value the program the way a senior will. You don't let go of a goal or a dream very easily as a senior. They are a great conduit of a coach's message on the field."
Going forward Swider and the Thunder will need that senior leadership to continue at this same pace. Of their final four games, three of them are on the road, including this week's matchup against undefeated conference rival Illinois Wesleyan.
Swider said his team is only taking the season one game at a time and tries to keep his team from worrying about things they can't control. One of those things is the selection committee that left them out of the playoffs last year despite winning a share of the conference title along with eventual playoff teams Elmhurst and North Central.
The most important thing is getting the win, Swider said, and he doesn't want his team looking to win the elusive style points that they missed on last year.
"It's a tough pill to swallow. We were a good football team and beat some good teams," Swider said of last year's team. "You are the 16 or 17 ranked team in the country and you don't make the tournament. You don't play for last year you play for what you have ahead of you this year. Our kids love the program and love each other. Revenge isn't a good motivator, we want to play well because we are a good football team and we are playing for each other."
College of DuPage:
Wednesday the Chaparral men's soccer team will find out who will be its first-round playoff matchup in their conference tournament. After finishing the season with the No. 2 seed in the Region IV Division I conference, College of DuPage will play the winner of the South Suburban vs. Carl Sandburg game.
The Chaparrals finished the year with 13 points, only behind Waubonsee Community College, which went undefeated on the year. College of DuPage will host its game on Saturday for the right to advance. Because of their regular-season finish the Chaparrals are guaranteed a home first-round playoff game next year.