Coming off a semifinal appearance in 2013 the Cardinals are back to the gridiron as the favorite to win their ninth straight College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin Championship. The reigning champ’s perfect season came to an end after a 1 point loss to Mount Union by a score of 41-40. However, the bittersweet defeat may fuel the Cardinals to another CCIW title and a visit to Salem, Virginia for the Stagg Bowl.
Sophomore quarterback Dylan Warden is one of many returners who have been unable to shake the loss. “Every day at practice coach (John Thorne) actually puts up on the scoreboard 41-40 which was the final score of that game,” says Warden. “We strive every day to be sure that we can get those 2-points needed at the end of this season.”
Last season the Cardinal’s roster was made up of 24 seniors but the return of key contributors has wide receiver Peter Sorenson at ease.
“We’ve got a lot of veteran guys; Ryan Kent, Peter Mann, Brian Wilson, Eric Knaperek, Jordan Dean, and Trey Hartema who have been doing a great job serving as leaders,” says Sorenson.
Even though he’s only a sophomore Warden understands the importance of this season for that particular group. “This is their season. Every year the underclassmen should look up to the group of seniors,” says Warden. “I want to give them the ninth straight conference title and I want to be able to take them wherever they want to because it’s their last season here.”
Sorenson serves as a captain and embraces the opportunity to leave North Central with four straight CCIW championships. “It’s important, we’ve got a lot still to do to get to that goal, coach Thorne has built a great program and I’m fortunate and blessed to be a part of it.”
The numbers don’t lie for Thorne who enters his 13th year with North Central entering this season with a record of 110-28. Spending hours in the film room, practicing, dedication and a tremendous coaching staff are surely all components to the success Thorne has encountered over the years but the character created within players due to the Cardinal manual does the trick.
“I think the whole secret to our winning is in our Cardinal manual. Football is great practice for how you live your life,” says Thorne.
“This year we are emphasizing to ‘do more.’ Let’s do more in the areas of blocking, tackling and such and to also stand tall for your faith, stand tall for your family and stand tall for your academics because it will pay off in the end.”
There is an endless list of factors that make Throne valuable not only for his ability to dial it up with “X’s” and “O’s” but his ability to relate with his players. “He’s one of the smartest coaches I’ve ever talked to in my life,” says Warden. He’s hard on me, pushes me, and I know I’m going to thank him at the end of my senior year.
A coach with a proven style makes the dominance the Cardinals portrayed last season and years past easier to comprehend having a ninth straight title within grasps. “The guys are really developing into a great team that really does care about each other and is willing to fight for the guy to their left and their right,” says Thorne.
Warden is a perfect example of someone who’s been able to join alliances with his teammates. The signal caller fills the void left by last year’s CCIW offensive player of the year, Spencer Stanek, and also happens to be one of the youngest players on the team. “I try to be a leader, I don’t want to be seen as a 19 year old, I want to be a guy that guys can look up to as a leader,” says Warden. “The senior offensive linemen, especially John Hosey, keep telling me to avoid looking at it as being a sophomore rather than looking at it as our quarterback.”
With Warden under center for the Cardinals Thorne doesn’t intend to lower any expectations from last season. “Our philosophy is to strive for 40 points per game as an offense”, says Thorne. “We also think there is a chance that our defense over time will be able to play very similar to last year and maybe even play better.”
If Thorne’s expectations this fall are met the Cardinals will be hoisting their ninth straight CCIW trophy and the senior class will have completed another clean sweep of titles. “We just have to stick to what we’ve been doing in the past,” says Sorenson. “We’ve had success in the past so with the right preparation there is no need to reinvent the wheel.”