To some the wagon wheel symbolizes the Wild West and the battles that ensued in American folklore, but for the Anderson University Ravens football team it indicates the beginning of the battles on the football field.
Thursday marks the beginning of the season for the Ravens and the Wagon Wheel game against the Taylor University Trojans kicks it off as they travel north to Upland. [Photo on left: AU head football coach Jeff Judge gives instructions during practice Monday.]
Anderson University is coming off a 3-7 season, but optimism abounds as the team heads into the season opener.
“I think that the way that we played in the last game of the year against Manchester gave our kids a lot of understanding that they could do some things that probably most people thought they couldn’t do,” said Ravens head coach Jeff Judge. “I think that helped them with their confidence in the off season, and then the off season kind of built into this season. That win was a big win for our football program.”
In the season finale last year, the two teams were playing for the Bronze Ball and the outcome was nothing short of miraculous.
Manchester held a 28-3 advantage at the half and was cruising to victory before a second-half stunner saw the Ravens outscore their arch rival 34-6 and walk away with the Bronze Ball trophy and thrilling 37-34 victory.
“Pretty optimistic,” said Judge of the 2011 season. “Pretty optimistic group of kids, and I think they understand if they do things right they can be a very good football team and we can compete. I believe that and I believe we can compete and I believe we can compete for a conference title, but we have to go out there on Thursday night and then the rest of them on Saturdays and figure that out.”
Judge is going to rely on his seniors to help carry his team through the season. Offensively he points out that receivers Joe Davidson and Shane Peacock along with quarterback Nick Sharp and lineman Adam Rue have asserted themselves and their leadership throughout the summer camp.
From a defensive standpoint, they are being led by Little All-American and All-Conference standout Jared Millikan, who led the nation in interceptions with 11 and interception returns for touchdowns with three.
He also had 10 pass breakups and 34 tackles at his cornerback position.
Judge also credits the defensive play of Kaleb Donahue at safety and fellow senior Todd Taylor at the linebacker position for guiding his defense. He named junior Jeremy Martin as the other leader from his defensive end position.
Running back Marcus Spann led the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference by more than 300-yards, before going down with an injury in the sixth game of the season. Torrance McCollum stepped in and did an admirable job by going for 159-yards on 20 carries in the Bronze Ball game.
McCollum said that he and Spann have been labeled Thunder (McCollum) and Lightning (Spann), and they proved that as they combined to rush for 887 yards and six touchdowns on the season. [Photo on right: Offensive players going through drills during AU football practice Monday.]
McCollum said that he is “shooting for the stars” in regards to his individual goals. He said he would like to win the rushing title and break a couple school records, but more than anything he is optimistic that his team will be much improved.
“I’m very optimistic about it this year,” said McCollum. “I really believe that we’re going to do a lot better than last year just based off of a lot more togetherness than last year. There’s a lot more people who actually stayed and didn’t transfer to another school.
“As far as being able to communicate on the field and be connecting with all cylinders, I think we’ll do all right,” he said.
—Travis Whitton is a reporter for The Herald Bulletin. Photo credit: John P. Cleary. Story republished with permission.
Anderson University is a private Christian university of 2,600 undergraduate and graduate students in central Indiana. Anderson continues to be recognized as a top Christian college: in 2010, U.S. News and World Report ranked Anderson University among the best colleges and universities in the Midwest for the seventh consecutive year. Established in 1917 by the Church of God, Anderson University offers more than 65 undergraduate majors and graduate programs in business, education, music, nursing and theology.