No football was played by the Mount St. Joseph Lions between November 16, 2019 and early March this year. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, many Division III schools and leagues such as the Heartland College Athletic Conference decided to have a spring football season in late July 2020.
Mount St. Joseph was scheduled to start with Hanover on March 6th but decided to make this a scrimmage-only situation. The first game took place on March 13, a 31:21 loss to Rose-Hulman. Head coach Tyler Hopperton’s team has not lost since then, scoring 56, 41 and 47 points in wins against Franklin, Defiance and Bluffton.
Now with warmer April air, chirping spring birds near the Schueler Field and the regular overflights on the flight path of the Greater Cincinnati / Northern Kentucky airport, the Lions have two games left in their season and a 3-1 record.
The roster is full of athletes who have played high school ball in Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky, as well as a mix of players from the surrounding states. The starting quarterback is Josh Taylor, who joined “The Mount” from Thomas More and Western Brown.
Taylor is successful in the system of offensive coordinator / recruiting coordinator Caleb Corrill. At Western Brown, he ran the Southern Buckeye Conference on the fly and in a hurry in 2018. Now in a familiar offensive, he threw two touchdowns against Franklin and ran 225 yards and five more points. Against Defiance he threw three points and ran 89 yards and last Saturday against Bluffton he accumulated 222 yards and ran 188 yards and five touchdowns.
“Coach does a pretty good job of making it easy for us and putting ourselves in the system,” said Taylor. “We have good people like our offensive line and our receivers do a great job of opening up and blocking the field. When you have such great people and a coaching staff who put together a good game plan it definitely helps.”
Helping Taylor is a receiving corps that came to the west side mainly from the east. Anderson’s Joey Newton is second on the team with 15 catches for 199 yards and two touchdowns. He came from Miami University after missing the game.
“I was in Miami and wasn’t happy there,” Newton said. “I was pretty bored and played flag football. I wanted to play football again and went to places near home. I found a home here.”
New Richmond’s Chandler Kinhalt has eight catches for 95 yards and a score and Milford’s Jake Ayler has seven catches for 156 yards and a touchdown. As a high school graduate, Newton caught 78 balls at Anderson, Ayler 53 at Milford, and Kinhalt 45 at New Richmond.
None of the three reach 6 feet without standing on a phone book.
“The crimes are really related,” Ayler said of his high school program and MSJ’s approach. “It’s really exactly the same. I have the feeling, to be honest, that I’ve been in the system for a long time.”
Also among the locals, Goshen’s Kyle Proffitt is the backup quarterback, Harrison’s Kyle Farfsing is the placekicker, and Milford’s Grace Ertel made an extra college point. Among the offensive linemen is Elder’s Collin Kandra.
If Winton Woods’ top offensive threat, Cornell Beacham, hadn’t been injured, the Lions could average over 50 points per game. Running 648 yards and 53 catches in 2019, Beacham was HCAC Athlete of the Year and an undefeated wrestler at 174 pounds whose shot at an NCAA Division III championship was abandoned by COVID-19 cancellations
More:The University of Cincinnati football coach, Luke Fickell, reloads with a deep squad and high expectations
In defense is linebacker Jonathan Oak from Oak Hills, who had 39 tackles and 1.5 sacks before an injury. West Clermont defender Alex McQueen has eight tackles and two sacks while Wolves’ former teammate Austin Price has 13 tackles to safety. Ex-Moeller Security Noah Able has nine tackles and two tackles for loss.
“We have explosive systems not only on the offensive, but also on the defensive,” said Hopperton. “We got some special teams and defensive touchdowns. Boys want to have fun. We spin and play a lot of people and guys want to be part of that.”
The Lions Defense also includes Evan Schlensker of Badin, Natron Webster of Loveland, Nate Owens of Bethel-Tate, and Brady Buller of Elder. You can also get Avery Harris from Little Miami, receiver Barry Daniels from Sycamore, linebacker Nick Stephenson from Sycamore, receiver Jarod Walpole from Taylor, Nate Webster from Loveland, Colin Colyer from Deer Park, Dakota Blum from Loveland, and Nathan Martz from Batavia Find, Rashun Newbolt from Sycamore, Alex Smith from Little Miami, Sam Martin from McNicholas, Devin Salyers from Lawrenceburg, Andrew Marcum from Talawanda, Alex Byrd from Batavia, Calyn Asher from Dayton (KY), Matthew Briedis II from Indian Hill, Keegan Points of Ryle, Sam Martin of Wyoming, Brandon McGraw of South Dearborn, and Ryan and Patrick Murray of Colerain are listed on the MSJ website.
Hopperton played at Simon Kenton High School and then crossed the river to play linebacker on “The Mount”. He hasn’t been gone since and is in his 13th season of Children of Various Backgrounds. It’s his fourth year as a head coach and his recruiting speech is pretty straightforward.
“Lots of them are local kids, and that’s our brand of Cincinnati-style football,” said Hopperton. “Blue-Collar Hard is what we’ve always said over the years. I think you have to keep up with where you are. There are many good programs around the country, but the best programs include who they are, where they are are and we are blessed that local football is some of the best in the country. “
Mount St. Joseph is on the way for the next two games, starting with the game on Saturday in Indiana against Anderson University and ending on April 17th in Indiana against Manchester.
Should they prevail and Hannover stall in one of the last two games, the Lions could win the HCAC. That they even had a season is an achievement in itself.
“It’s a nice experience,” said quarterback Taylor. “It is definitely one that I will remember forever. It makes this season so much more special because it is so different.”
Ayler added, “I’d rather play games than practice every day and I can’t play. Especially when they give away a conference championship.”
You don’t have to wait long for your next season as everyone’s eligibility under NCAA coronavirus regulations remains the same for the coming fall.