TERRE HAUTE —
It’s a huge jump from the Wabash River Conference, one of the smallest leagues that plays high school football in Indiana, to Division III national powerhouse.
But two Wabash Valley standouts have made that leap and are significant contributors for top-ranked and defending national champion Mount Union (Ohio).
Rockville grad James Kent, a senior, is the starting center for the Purple Raiders and anchors a strong offensive line. Lane Clark of North Vermillion, a sophomore, is the second-string tight end who has caught two touchdown passes this season.
Mount Union coach Vince Kehres has found some great players from small schools over the years, and feels sometimes they have a better approach toward attending his small college.
“Sometimes the guys from small schools are a little more impressed with Mount Union than kids that went to big high schools in big cities,” he said. “We try not to overlook anyone in recruiting because they are from a small school or remote area. We are definitely looking for the guys that are looking for us. That is a great start in recruiting.”
Kehres mentioned two-time All-American safety Nick Driskill of Southwood High School in Wabash, Ind., and Delta, Ohio, native Nate Kmic, who became the leading rusher in college football history as successful Purple Raiders from smalltown settings.
He admits not remembering how he got in touch with Kent, and that Clark made initial contact with his staff.
“We had a young assistant coach from Indiana who is now the defensive coordinator at Franklin, and he did a good job of finding Indiana kids,” Kehres said. “I got a DVD of Lane’s senior year highlights in the mail and, being very impressed with him after watching it, I immediately called him to try and set up a visit. I guess you could say he found us.”
Kent was a backup defensive tackle for his first two years at Mount Union before making the switch to offense.
“We had a need at center and he had played that position in high school,” Kehres recalled. “He unselfishly made the transition to the offensive side and became a valuable back-up center and guard for us as a junior in 2012.
“He is everything we want in recruiting a young man to Mount Union – great character, excellent student, and passionate about being the best football player he can possibly be.”
Kent has noticed one usual difference between the prep and collegiate levels.
“College players are bigger, faster and stronger, and almost the vast majority was good to better than most players in high school,” he said. “The thought processes that have to happen are also much tougher here. The coaches put a lot on you to make adjustments in-game, and you have to be flexible and adaptable.”
He will graduate in May with a math major and minors in physics and education, and is happy with his decision to attend Mount Union.
“I knew when I was in high school that I wanted to keep winning games,” he said. “I hate losing ... with a passion. I wanted to go and win somewhere, and I also wanted to go to the best school with the best athletes around, that way I would be pushed and could push others. I wouldn’t go back and change it.”
Kehres considers Clark as one of his top recruits for the 2012 class, and expects his production to increase throughout the remainder of his college career.
“He made an immediate impact and secured a spot on the 2 deep as a back-up TE,” Kehres said. “When our starter injured his knee in our first playoff game, Lane made a significant contribution in the remaining playoff games and helped our team to a national championship as a freshman. Lane is a regular for us at TE in 2013 and having a productive season. We are excited about his continual development.”
Clark also noticed a big difference in the talent level as he moved up to the collegiate game.
“Not only in the games, but also in practice,” he said. “Everybody at Mount Union was the best at their high school. The competition for that starting spot is wildly tough. Coming from a small school, it took a while to get adjusted to the speed of things. The level of competition in the games at the collegiate level can't be matched with that of a high school game.”
Clark feels fortunate to have joined in the Mount Union tradition last year, as the Purple Raiders won their 11th national championship in the last 19 years.
“My career here at Mount Union has been a good one,” he said. “I was fortunate enough to make the travel roster for the regular season and the playoff roster for the Stagg Bowl my freshman year.
“It was a great experience being a part of that roster and being there to win our 11th National Championship.”
The Purple Raiders will look to close out an undefeated regular season on Saturday by hosting John Carroll, and then embark on the path toward their 12th national title — led in a big way by former WRC standouts.
Joey Bennett is a former Tribune-Star sports reporter and copy editor who now teaches at Northview High School in Brazil. He can be reached at email@example.com.