The Kenyon Lords football season gets underway this Saturday at Sewanee as the Lords vie for the North Coast Athletic Conference (NCAC) crown.
Last year, the Lords finished 3-7 under Head Coach Chris Monfiletto, equaling their win total from 2015 and 2014 combined. This year, the Lords look to break even by cracking the .500 mark, which the team has not achieved since 2012, when they tied for third place in the NCAC.
Led by a dynamic quarterback and running back combo of Thomas Merkle ’20 and Nat Henry ’20, the Lords’ offense looks poised to improve their average of 20.2 points per game from last season.
Merkle is a player to watch, as he looks to improve upon his most recent season, when he completed 59.48 percent of his passes for 2928 yards and threw 15 touchdowns to only 12 interceptions, earning himself the “NCAC Newcomer of the Year” award. Despite Merkle’s individual success, he is still focused on the team’s collective improvement. “First of all,” he said, “we want to be better in the conference as a team this year.”
This year, the team will go on without one of Merkle’s main targets, Brian Hunca ’17. Merkle will have to rely more on secondary targets to help replace the all-NCAC wideout. He expressed excitement for his new receiving core. “Ian Robertson ’18 and Ian Bell ’19 really stepped up … they came back really well prepared,” he said. While further noting cornerback-turned-wide receiver Brandon Byrd ’18 and the upcoming first-year class of receivers, Merkle said he thinks the team has “arguably the best receiving corps in the conference … and I think we have a better corps of receivers than we did last year.”
Strong safety and captain Curt Williams ’18 will anchor the defense and attempt to improve a defensive unit that struggled over the 2016 season, giving up an average of 30 points per game. Starting free safety Andris Balodis ’20 has confidence in Williams’ play and leadership. “He’s a great player, he’s gonna be all-NCAC,” Balodis said. “He leads the defense by example and he’s the captain for a reason. The defense starts with him.”
This year the Lords have a grueling schedule. They’ll start with a three-game road stint against Sewanee: the University of the South, Oberlin College and Wabash College. Wabash in particular represents an early challenge, as they finished 27th in the 2016 National Division II coaches poll. The homecoming game will be against Wittenberg University on Sept. 23 at McBride Field. It may be the Lords’ toughest game of the season, as they look to avenge a 64-17 loss from last season.
The Lords will then play two more home games against Ohio Wesleyan University and Hiram College, before traveling for one weekend to Pennsylvania to take on Allegheny College, one of the few teams they beat with ease last season (31-7). The season then wraps up with two more home games against College of Wooster and DePauw University, before the team heads to Granville for their final match against Denison University.
The team is optimistic for the coming season. Starting linebacker Sam Dickey ’20 has set a goal to achieve 100 tackles, trying to become the first Lord since 2012 to complete the feat. “Last year Saxon [Justice ’17] had 98 tackles and he told me I had to beat him, so that’s what I’m trying to do.”
Dickey also has set goals for the team, adding, “I think we have the potential to go over .500, if we all play together well as a team. Last year we had a couple games that we should’ve won, and I really think we can be at least a 6-4 team.”