TERRE HAUTE —
Kyle Kovach got off to a great start in Rose-Hulman’s football season opener Saturday night in what turned out to be a heartbreaking 29-28 home loss to Kalamazoo College at Cook Stadium.
The 5-foot-8, 185-pound senior from Munster — who has been named a preseason first-team All-American by USA College Football and a second-team All-American by D3Senior Classic and Beyond College Sports Network — piled up 223 yards and two touchdowns on the ground on 34 carries. His TDs covered 65 and 60 yards. He also caught a team-high six passes for 24 yards.
Barring injuries, Kovach is likely to end up with several school records when the season ends in November.
He’s moved into No. 2 on the Engineers’ all-time list with 3,228 yards, trailing only Eric Hyten (3,315 yards in 1996-99). The former standout he passed Saturday was Kevin Kingery (3,112 yards in 1973-76).
Kovach is third in career rushing touchdowns with 33, trailing only Carl Herakovich (41 in 1955-58) and Charlie Key (38 in 2002-05).
Kovach already set the Rose single-game rushing mark with 246 yards against Anderson on Nov. 5, 2011. His 1,213 rushing yards last season ranks No. 2 on the all-time list behind Rod Schrader’s 1,228 yards in 1983.
In 2011, Kovach set Rose-Hulman’s single-season record for rushing attempts with 298. If he stays healthy, he’s a serious threat to break that this season.
Because of his 1,213 yards rushing, 11 rushing TDs, 46 receptions, 408 receiving yards and four receiving TDs in 2011 — while averaging 20.2 yards per kickoff return — he earned third-team SI.com/Associated Press Little All-American honors.
Oh yeah, Kovach also led NCAA Division III in all-purpose yards last season, averaging 225.1 per game.
Get the point?
For a Division III athlete, he’s pretty good.
“He’s been a very productive back throughout his entire career here, particularly last year when he led the country [Division III] in all-purpose yards,” Rose-Hulman coach Jeff Sokol said of Kovach’s preseason recognition. “It’s all very deserved and expected.”
“I’m honored [by the preseason honors],” Kovach told the Tribune-Star. “I think it’s awesome.
“I’m glad they would pick me and think of me to put me on there. Now’s the hard part. I’ve got to live up to their expectations. I’m working hard, so I think I’ll be OK.”
Kovach entered this season ready to deliver his most powerful punch yet.
“For me personally, just because this is my last year of playing college football, I’m excited for the season,” the two-time Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference rushing champion noted. “As a team, we have a great group of guys here. …
“A lot of the seniors and upperclassmen are stepping up and it should be an exciting year for us.
“I came in [to preseason training camp] the strongest I’ve ever been in my life. A lot of lifting, a lot of running and just doing drills to make myself better. Because this is my last year of playing, I wanted to come in the most prepared that I could.”
Kovach said he can now bench-press 335 pounds, hang-clean 275 pounds and squat 390 pounds, thanks in large part to his rigorous offseason workouts.
All of these numbers sound good to Sokol, as long as the team gets back on the winning track.
“He will be our all-time leading rusher,” Rose’s second-year coach emphasized. “I think he can set the single-season mark. But I don’t think Kyle is concerned much about his individual accolades. That stuff will come with performance, I think.
“For him and the rest of the guys, it’s about our team. Our goal is to win a conference championship, and we’ll be disappointed if we don’t.”
Speaking of the HCAC, Kovach didn’t hesitate when asked about his goals for the season.
“We want to win conference,” he replied. “Me personally, I’m 0-3 against Defiance, so I want to beat them. Franklin [the defending HCAC champion] is always a big game. You always want to beat Franklin. And I think with this group of guys this year, if we keep a good attitude, we can do some pretty good things in the conference.”
Sokol wants to help Kovach accomplish these goals, so he plans to lean heavily on Kovach for all 10 games.
“Hopefully, [Kovach’s increased strength] will help him carry the load of about 40 touches a game,” the Engineers’ coach said. “I’m glad he came in in that kind of shape because he’s going to need to be in that kind of shape.”
The 21-year-old Kovach, a civil-engineering major, doesn’t yet have a job lined up for after graduation. But he knows where he’d like to work.
For the past three summers, he has interned with Walsh Construction in Chicago, so he’s hoping to land permanent employment there in 2013.
Until then, his life will be filled with classwork and football.
“Since I’ve been here, Kyle’s been one of the main leaders on our team,” Sokol said. “He leads in all ways. He’s a vocal leader. He’s a lead-by-example guy. He’s very, very hard-working. And the team responds to him.
“They see that the best player on our team is working hard and pushing himself. He sets that standard for them to live up to, which carries tremendous credibility with it.”