Chandler Ferko knows all about the great defensive linemen in Wittenberg Tigers history. The coaches stamp the name of past players in the minds of the current ones.
In that way, All-American defensive lineman Eddie Vallery remains a big part of the program seven years after his last game.
“We hear about him all the time,” said Ferko, a senior captain for the Tigers from Jonathan Alder High School. “That’s who we’re striving to be. He did all the little things right. He’s kind of an icon of the D-line. We’re striving to be like him at the end of the day.”
TOP SEVEN: Vallery among Wittenberg’s best
Lance Phillips, who like Vallery was a key member of the great 2009 defense, is another defensive line alum Ferko knows all about. Phillips has built a successful Mixed Martial Arts career since the end of his football career. He ranks second among Ohio amateur men’s light heavyweight fighters. Ferko has seen him fight twice.
More recent graduates of the program, Josh Bannick and William Norelia, also influenced Ferko when he arrived on campus.
“I’ve never seen people really work like that,” Ferko said. “They were getting after it every day. I wasn’t expecting that at all. It was way different from what I saw in high school.”
Ferko is living up to those great names of the past this season, not to mention the name of his grandfather Rod Cropper, an all-conference linebacker at Ashland University in the 1960s. Ferko leads the Tigers with three sacks in three games. He had one of his best games Saturday in a 48-11 victory at Kenyon. He had two sacks, a fumble recovery and a quarterback hurry.
Ferko also recorded his first career interception in the first quarter, setting up Wittenberg’s first touchdown. It wasn’t an average pick. He stuck his right hand in the air to knock down the pass at the line of scrimmage. The ball hit him in the helmet, and then he grabbed it with both hands. He might have scored if the quarterback hadn’t been right in front of him.
“It was one of those plays that just happened,” Ferko said. “I was in the right spot at the right time.”
The No. 15 Tigers will need plays like that Saturday. Wittenberg (3-0, 2-0) plays Denison (3-0, 2-0) at 7 p.m. at Edwards-Maurer Field in one of the most important North Coast Athletic Conference games of the season. Denison beat the Tigers 24-21 last season in Granville and tied for second with DePauw and Wabash, one game back of Wittenberg.
Ferko ranked sixth on the team last season with 57 tackles and led the team with 14 tackles for a loss. He earned All-NCAC second-team honors, but said he didn’t play as well as he hoped.
“I didn’t have the best year,” he said. “I felt like I didn’t perform like I should. I’m just trying to right the wrong. I feel like I know what I have in my tank. I know what people expect out of me. I didn’t reach that potential. I don’t want to walk out of Wittenberg saying I left something out there. If that was my last season, I would have that empty feeling in my gut. I’ve got to keep improving.”