|Mount Union Running Back Nate Kmic|
One of the great things about this time of year for the true college football fan is the increase in exposure for teams that play outside of the usual confines of our network lineups. Sure, Florida's ascension to the BCS title game is great and all, but give me a bleacher capacity crowd overlooking a wind-swept field under a darkened afternoon any day and the true football fan in me will be right at home. And while it's true that not many people are ditching conference championship games or bowl season extravaganzas for the snowy gridiron of places like Alliance, Ohio or Maryville, Missouri; the few tidbits of the lower division games we do catch on our lazy Saturday afternoon channel-flipping odysseys are more than enough to alert us to life outside of the FBS. Case in point, the continuing dominance of the Mount Union Purple Raiders in the Division III Playoffs. Mount Union is one of those teams that even casual fans inevitably hear something about each year, although most would be hard pressed to find the tiny Ohio school on the map. Yet despite its small size Mount Union has become a dominant fixture in the small school college football landscape, reaching the national semifinal game in the Division III playoffs for a mind-boggling 14 consecutive years.
With nine national championships in the span of fifteen seasons (including titles in 2005 and 2006) the Purple Raiders have reached a level of prefecture that is virtually unmatched in all of sport, while finding themselves in perfect position to continue their legacy after a 41-14 victory of Cortland State in the quarterfinals last weekend. Instrumental to the success of the Purple Raiders both this year and during their most recent title runs (including last year’s Championship finals loss at the hands of Wisconsin-Whitewater) has been the play of senior tailback Nate Kmic. At 5’9, 196 pounds he may not “look” like a record setting tailback when in his two point stance in the Purple Raider backfield, but once the pads get to popping this guy is nothing short of the best running back in Division III history.
An explosive back with a great first step and very good speed, it is Kmic’s blend of balance, strength, and quick feet which make him so effective as a rusher and have vaulted him to the top of the NCAA record books. Last month Kmic broke RJ Bowers’ all-time Division III record of 7,353 yards, and with his most recent performance against Cortland State (227 yards and four touchdowns) he remains just 287 yards shy of Danny Woodhead’s all-time NCAA rushing record. With at least one more game to go and seven career 200+ yard rushing games in the playoffs, Kmic has an excellent opportunity over the next two weeks to break and perhaps surpass Woodhead’s one-year old mark. To put Kmic’s production in perspective, consider that the senior running back from Delta, Ohio has 3,488 rushing yards and 46 touchdowns in his playoff career alone. That’s a mind-boggling average of 193.7 yards and two and a half touchdowns per contest against the best competition from around the country at the Division III level!
No wonder the Purple Raiders have been so dominant in recent years, with the team losing only twice in Kmic’s four seasons in Alliance. As for Kmic’s NFL chances, I will say that from everything I’ve seen this young man deserves a shot. You can’t argue with his production, and when you watch the young man on film you can’t help but be impressed with his ability. This isn’t just a kid who is the product of great blocking or awesome coaching (although that does figure into play) but a unique athlete with a tremendous combination of power and speed despite his 5’9 frame. I like his first step and acceleration into the hole, while his toughness and tackle-breaking ability rivals that of much bigger backs. While some may scoff at comparisons to NFL players like Maurice-Jones Drew, Kmic’s style of running and his stature more than support even the rough analogy. Making it to the next level won’t be easy though. NFLDraftScout.com – a leading source for information of small school prospects – currently ranks Kmic 59th out of 169 senior running backs from across college football. Justin Beaver, who graduated from Division III Wisconsin-Whitewater last season and was granted a tryout by the Green Bay Packers, was ranked 49th out of 181 running backs by the same source in last year’s class.
Both backs display similar size and speed, while Beaver was considered the best back in Division III last year – a distinction many have given to Kmic this year. For Kmic to make it where Beaver did not the Delta product will need to dismiss the usual scouting stereotypes of size, competition level, and even race to get his shot at an NFL preseason camp. Fortunately another recent Mount Union product may have paved the way for him. Last year the Colts selected former Mount Union wide receiver Pierre Garcon with the 206th draft pick, two months after the 6’0 wideout participated in the NFL combine in Indianapolis. That Garcon could use production alone to garner an invite to the combine gives Kmic hope for a similar invitation this year, while the Colts’ drafting of Garcon based on good but not great combine numbers shows some NFL front offices may finally “get it” when it comes to small school players. NFL future or not, Kmic and his growing legend will live on for at least another week, as the Purple Raiders continue their march towards yet another Stagg Bowl and Division III title.
Mount Union will be back on their home field this Saturday to take on Wheaton (Ill) in the National semifinal game. The Purple Raiders are 5-0 all-time against the Thunder, including a 35-3 victory over Wheaton in the playoffs two seasons ago. Should the Purple Raiders advance, they will play in the Stagg Bowl for the Division III National Championship on Saturday, December 20th in a game to be televised nationally on ESPN 2.