Alex Peete is running less this fall as the lead tailback at Wisconsin-Whitewater. Karl Rude is running more as the starting left guard at Saint John’s University.
The situations may be different from past seasons, but both former McHenry County high school players are grateful to still be playing in the NCAA Division III playoffs.
Peete, a first-team All-West Region running back from Johnsburg, and Rude, a two-year starter on one of the nation’s most prolific offenses from Marian Central, face off at 2 p.m. Saturday in Whitewater in a national semifinal. The winner will advance to the championship game – the Stagg Bowl – scheduled for Friday in Shenandoah, Texas.
A second-team All-American last season, Peete has piled up 946 yards and 13 touchdowns on 196 carries, which is 56 fewer carries than a season ago. The No. 7-ranked Warhawks (12-1) are relying heavily on a running back rotation that includes senior Jarrod Ware (131 carries, 703 yards, six TDs) and senior Ronny Ponick (78 carries, 352 yards, four TDs).
“It keeps us all fresh,” said Peete, a junior. “That was part of the plan. We knew it was going to be a rotation, whether it was splitting drives or every other drive or whatever. It brings us all closer. Whenever one of us scores or hits a big run, we’re all celebrating.”
Over 13 games, only Peete (twice) and Ware (once) has reached 20 or more carries in a game.
The rotation, Whitewater coach Kevin Bullis said, has allowed the Warhawks to keep Peete fresh and show defenses various looks.
“Our goal was to keep Alex healthy, No. 1,” Bullis said. “Alex is one of the smartest running backs I’ve coached. He has great vision. Ronny is the hammer. Then you have the jitterbug [Ward].”
Rude started his career at D-II St. Cloud (Minnesota) State, where he started two years at center, tipping the scales at 300 pounds.
When he decided to transfer
12 miles west to Saint John’s, Rude changed his eating habits, focused on more training and got down to 265 pounds.
“I don’t have to eat as much food anymore,” Rude joked. “My joints don’t hurt when I wake up anymore.”
Rude is part of a talented offense in which the guard position pulls regularly for the eighth-ranked Johnnies (12-1), who rank fifth nationally in total offense (524.7 yards a game) and 15th in scoring offense (42.3 points).
“We pull the guard a decent amount on the outside zone plays, and we’ll go after people,” Rude said. “[Our coaches] allow us to get out and get to the skinny kids [on the opposing defense].”
All-America quarterback Jackson Erdmann, who won the Gagliardi Trophy as D-III’s top player last season, is a finalist again this season for Saint John’s.
Rude and his linemates who protect Erdmann have drawn the attention of Whitewater.
“The athleticism of their O-line is impressive,” Bullis said. “We’re going to have to find a way to match that.”
A victory would put Saint John’s into the Stagg Bowl for the first time since its 2003 national title.
“What makes me confident is that our whole team has bought in,” Rude said. “Mentally, we’re the most prepared we’ve been all year.”
Whitewater is aiming for its first Stagg Bowl appearance since winning it all in 2014, which ended a run of nine Stagg Bowl appearances – and six titles – in 10 years.
“We’re hitting our top performances at the right time,” Peete said. “You couldn’t ask for anything better.”
The winner in Whitewater will face the winner between No. 5 North Central College (12-1) and No. 4 Muhlenberg (13-0) in a game that will be streamed at noon Saturday on ESPN3. North Central’s defense boasts two local starters on its defensive line in sophomore end Dan Gilroy (Cary-Grove) and sophomore tackle Isiah Ziegler (Dundee-Crown).
Whalen, Marian U. to play for title: NAIA Marian University (12-0) of Indianapolis will play for the national title in football Dec. 21 in Ruston, Louisiana.
The Knights, ranked No. 2 nationally, have Marian Central grad Greg Whalen on staff as their first-year offensive line coach. Marian boasts a powerful ground attack that piles up 229.2 yards and 35.9 points a game, totals that both lead the Mid-State Football Association’s Mideast League.
Marian will face off against top-ranked Morningside College from Iowa.
Michalski a beast at Benedictine: Junior forward Allison Michalski (Dundee-Crown) is the leading scorer and second-leading rebounder this season for D-III Benedictine University’s women’s basketball team.
A two-time player of the week in the Northern Athletics Collegiate Conference this season, Michalski is averaging 20.8 points and
6.8 rebounds for the Eagles (5-1), who are off to a 3-0 start in the NACC.
Michalski had a season-best
31 points in a Nov. 20 game against Illinois Tech.
Huntley grad Alberts recognized: Huntley graduate Jon Alberts, the most accurate placekicker in the history of Central (Iowa) College, was named a first-team D-III All-American this month by the American Football Coaches Association.
Alberts, who made 86.8% of his career field goals in four years, ranks third all time at Central in total field goals (33) and extra points (143). He ranks second in school history in extra-point accuracy (96.6%) and sixth in scoring (242).
• Barry Bottino writes a weekly column about local college athletes for the Northwest Herald. Write to him at email@example.com, and follow @BarryOnCampus on Twitter.