By David Hughes
TERRE HAUTE — Believe it or not, turning around a college football program in Terre Haute is not impossible.
No, it hasn’t happened at Indiana State yet. But I’m confident it will, eventually, under the leadership of coach Trent Miles.
Over at Rose-Hulman, an engineering institute better known for its brains than brawn, Terre Haute’s Steve Englehart has assembled a group of dedicated assistant coaches and players that never quits trying to improve.
The roots of their turnaround can be traced to 2004 when Englehart served as an assistant to Ted Karras Jr. That year, the Engineers finished a modest 4-6 (still better than many of their previous seasons).
From there, they’ve boosted their records to 5-5 in 2005, 6-4 in 2006 (Englehart’s first season as head coach) and 7-3 in 2007.
In 2008, even after last Saturday’s disappointing 42-7 loss at nationally ranked Franklin, they’re still 7-2 heading into their season finale against Anderson this Saturday at Cook Stadium.
A win would put them at 8-2. The last time a Rose-Hulman football squad ended up 8-2 was 1988 when Scott Duncan guided the Engineers to that mark.
The only other seasons that Rose posted at least eight victories were 1987 (9-1), 1986 (8-2) and 1958 (8-0). Also worth noting is that the 1941 Engineers played only seven games and won them all.
Back to 2008, a Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference championship and an automatic NCAA Division III playoff berth remain possible for Rose-Hulman. For that to happen, Rose must win today and Franklin must lose its final two games to Manchester and Hanover, which Englehart admits isn’t likely.
As for the Division III playoffs, 32 teams will receive bids later this month. In 2007, two HCAC teams got in — champion Franklin (automatic) and runner-up Mount St. Joseph (at-large). But Englehart pointed out that Mount St. Joseph lost only one regular-season game last year — to Franklin — while Rose-Hulman has lost to Franklin and non-conference foe Greenville (25-15 on Sept. 20) this year.
“I think the Greenville game hurts us,” Englehart acknowledged.
So the Engineers aren’t likely to receive an at-large Division III bid either.
Still, the possibility of finishing 8-2 provides more than enough motivation for the Rose seniors to try to go out in a blaze of glory Saturday.
“One of our goals now is to be 8-2,” wide receiver Nate Richter of Zionsville said before practice Thursday. “That’s only been done four other times in school history. I know my senior class is just looking to leave our legacy behind. We’ve improved from 5-5 our freshman year to 6-4 and 7-3 and now we’re hoping to get 8-2.”
“We still hold on to the fact that there still is a chance to win the conference,” linebacker Bryan Wong of Warsaw admitted. “It’s a longshot, but we can’t focus on the past, on that [Franklin] game, because we can’t change it. We want to win [Saturday], like Nate said, and be 8-2 and kind of leave our legacy — all eight of us [seniors]. That’s a big thing, improving our record every season we’ve been here — that’s huge — and being only the fifth team in the history of Rose-Hulman to have at least eight wins in a season.”
“Our goal for this Saturday is to improve,” offensive lineman Nick Zee-Cheng of Fort Wayne added. “We’re still hoping for a conference championship, and even if we don’t get it this year, we’ve taken it one step closer every year. This year, we were contending for one and that’s one step closer than in the past. If we keep improving the program, that’s all we can try and do.”
Englehart mentioned that last year’s senior class improved one win per season and this year’s seniors want to do the same. (At this rate, look for the Engineers to go 10-0 in 2010.)
“To have a chance to go 8-2, I think, is a great accomplishment for this team and for these seniors,” Englehart said. “It means a lot to these seniors.
“I think these kids are very passionate about Rose-Hulman and very passionate about our football program. They want to do whatever they can to leave behind a legacy that people 10, 15 years from now can look back on and really feel good about what they did during their time here.”
David Hughes can be reached by phone at 1-800-783-8742, Option 4, or at (812) 231-4224; by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org; or by fax at (812) 231-4321.