As a college freshman, Greg Whalen was certain of his football path.
“Coming into North Central (College), I was going to play defensive end,” he said.
Two weeks into practices, the NCAA Division III school’s coaches had a different idea.
“They told me they could see me playing right tackle,” said Whalen, a Marian Central graduate. “I was a 215-pound right tackle. I was a skinny dude. I was a really good weight for a defensive end.”
Fifty pounds and four years later, Whalen’s coaches were right on the money.
On Saturday, Whalen will make his 21st consecutive start on the offensive line for the Cardinals, who are ranked No. 4 nationally by the American Football Coaches Association and D3Football.com, against Elmhurst College.
North Central’s offense ranks seventh nationally at 554.3 yards a game and prefers to pound the ball on the ground.
“As an offense, we try to be a 60-40 run team,” said Whalen, a team captain. “But then again, we can also scratch where it itches.”
In last weekend’s 27-7 win against Wisconsin-Stevens Point, the top-ranked rushing defense in D-III, North Central passed for 364 yards.
“We’re lucky enough to have some of the best receivers in Division III and one of the best quarterbacks in Division III right now,” Whalen said. “As an offense, we just want to win. Nobody cares who gets the credit.”
Quarterback Spencer Stanek threw one of his four touchdown passes last weekend to Richmond-Burton grad Chad O’Kane, a senior who ranks second on the team with 16 catches for 204 yards.
Whalen and O’Kane are among five local athletes who started for the Cardinals (3-0) against Stevens Point.
The North Central defense has produced a turnover margin of plus-3, which leads the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin.
Senior defensive tackle Josh Fick (Crystal Lake Central), a first-team All-CCIW player last season, and sophomore defensive end Josh Beveridge (Crystal Lake South) each have collected 1.5 tackles for loss this season. Fellow defensive starter Adam Szudarski, a senior linebacker from Marian Central, has 12 tackles for the Cardinals.
The defense has limited opponents to 10 first-half points this season.
Along with winning a share of their eighth consecutive CCIW title, the Cardinals’ goals are lofty after last season’s second-round playoff exit.
“If we’re lucky enough to be ranked No. 4 in the country, I feel like we should be in the final four teams at the end of the year,” Whalen said. “We have pretty high national goals.”
Ohio Valley ace: Abbey Heredia, a senior volleyball setter at D-I Jacksonville (Ala.) State was named the Ohio Valley Conference co-Setter of the Week on Monday.
Heredia, a Cary-Grove grad, had 42 assists and 13 digs in a win against Austin Peay and 46 assists, 12 digs and seven kills in a victory over Murray State last week for the Gamecocks (10-8).
Heredia is averaging 6.4 assists a set this season for JSU, which improved to 3-0 in OVC play Tuesday with a victory against Tennessee Tech. Heredia had 23 assists and 10 digs in the win.
Viterbo standout: McHenry West grad Molly Machometa, a sophomore women’s soccer forward at NAIA Viterbo University, was named the Midwest Collegiate Conference Offensive Player of the Week on Monday.
Machometa led the LaCrosse, Wis., school to a 2-0 record last week with a hat trick against Waldorf in a 7-1 victory and two goals against AIB College of Business in a 4-1 triumph. For the season, Machometa ranks second for the V-Hawks (8-2) with nine goals and five assists. The team has won six consecutive matches after a 2-2 start.
Carthage forward honored: Johnsburg grad Michael Dombrowski was chosen Tuesday as the College Conference of Wisconsin’s Offensive Player of the Week in men’s soccer.
A junior forward at Carthage College, Dombrowski scored the only goal in his team’s 1-0 win against 20th-ranked UW-Whitewater. He also had a goal and an assist in an 8-0 win against Robert Morris. For the season, Dombrowski has a team-best eight goals for Carthage (8-4).
Siemon shines: Wisconsin-Whitewater freshman women’s tennis player Rachel Siemon (Crystal Lake South) and teammate Brooke Hendricks were named the school’s Doubles Players of the Week on Tuesday. Siemon and Hendricks won twice last week at No. 3 doubles for the Warhawks. The duo is 3-1 this season.
• Barry Bottino writes a weekly column and a blog about local college athletes for the Northwest Herald. Write to him at BarryOnCampus@hotmail.com, check out his On Campus blog at McHenryCountySports.com and follow him on Twitter @BarryOnCampus.