Wittenberg has fielded a football team for 123 seasons. The four-overtime playoff thriller at Thomas More last season was the program’s 754th victory. Only Mount Union, the perennial national powerhouse, has more.
Close to 90 freshmen football players showed up on Wittenberg’s campus Tuesday. An army of 160 Tigers will hold their first practice of the 2017 season Wednesday. They reported to campus Tuesday and sang the fight song together.
Thousands of players have worn the red and white over the years, shouting “Tiger up” at Edwards-Maurer Field decade after decade. Picking the top seven players in Wittenberg history is no small task. There’s no perfect way to go about it.
NATIONAL POLL: Wittenberg in preseason top 25
This will be the 17th season I have covered the Tigers. I have written about Wittenberg football so long, the story I wrote about head coach Joe Fincham’s first child, Mack, being born is 14 years old — so is that kid, by the way. I guess that makes me as good a choice as any to pick the seven greatest Tigers.
I did reach out to those who know the program much better than I ever will: Fincham, for one, who did me the favor of talking to former sports information director Don Perkins. Another former SID Ryan Maurer gave his thoughts. Marty Bannister, the former radio voice of the Tigers, helped out as well, as did numerous former players and coaches, like Rob Linkhart, Matt Gallatin and Andy Waddle.
In the end, though, the choices were mine — for better or worse. My goal was to make sure each era of Wittenberg football was represented and for it to be balanced between offense and defense. I also wanted the 2009 team, the best team I’ve seen in my years on the beat, to have a player in the top seven.
On numbers alone, a number of recent players should be in the top seven. It’s hard to compare stats across eras — the game has changed so much — so I didn’t depend on numbers alone.
LOOKING BACK: Witt beats Wabash in 2016
Tristan Murray might have broke Donaldson’s rushing record if he had played four years for the Tigers. Reed Florence is responsible for more touchdowns (99) than anyone in Wittenberg history. Josh McKee owns most of the receiving records. Linebacker Brad McKinley was as fun to watch as any player I’ve seen and played with an unmatched ferocity. Those players were as good as any in Wittenberg history, even if they’re not on this list.
COACHING NEWS: Florence is new offensive coordinator
Some of the guys on this list, including the one at the top, got extra credit for what they did after their Wittenberg careers. Most were obvious choices. However, there are some big names not in the top seven.
My job would have been much easier if I ranked the top 700 Tigers. Having said that, here’s the top seven, along with honorable mentions.
1. Ron Lancaster, quarterback (letterwinner 1957-59): Many Wittenberg quarterbacks put up better numbers than Lancaster in their careers. No Wittenberg player, at any position, had a better career at the pro level. No one had a better nickname either. “The Little General” will be long remembered.
RELATED: Gingery a first-team All-American
When Lancaster died at 69 in 2008, Wittenberg coaching legend Dave Maurer said, “He was a great competitor. He was a great leader. He was just an outstanding quarterback in every way.”
At the same time, CFL Commissioner Mark Cohon said in a statement, "Our league has lost its 'Little General,’ and our country has lost a giant of a man.”
Lancaster was 25-8-1 as a three-year starter at Wittenberg. The Tigers won the Ohio Athletic Conference championship in 1958, his junior year. He was the captain and team MVP as a senior.
Lancaster ranks sixth in Canadian Football League history in passing yards (50,535). He played 19 seasons: three in Ottawa, winning a Grey Cup as a rookie; and then 16 in Saskatchewan, leading it to the Grey Cup championship in 1966. Lancaster also won two Grey Cups as a head coach.
2. Casey Donaldson, running back (1997-2000): The Southeastern High School graduate played for some of the greatest teams in Wittenberg history, and he was a big reason why they were so great. The Tigers were 30-0 in the regular season in his final three seasons.
Donaldson remains Wittenberg’s all-time leading rusher and ranks 22nd in NCAA Division III history (5,112 yards). He’s also Wittenberg’s career leader in touchdowns (68).
“Casey was a guy who basically could take the game over by himself,” Fincham said. “His freshman year, he split time with another freshman in his class. We had a very explosive offense that ended up losing late in the season and didn’t get in the playoffs. Then we lost our quarterback and our best receiver and we had a very hard offseason, at least offensively. Casey came back for that 1998 year with a quarterback who had never really played and a bunch of young receivers. We just put the whole offense on his back. We played really good defense, don’t get me wrong, and we had a very good kicking game. But Casey was the guy. He went into the ballgame knowing everyone and their brother was standing on the line of scrimmage trying to stop him.
3. Charlie Green, quarterback (1962-64): Green was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2002, following in the footsteps of three other Wittenberg greats, all of whom made it to the hall of fame as coaches: Ernie Godfrey, Bill Edwards and Maurer.
"To be rubbing shoulders with the likes of Steve Young and John Elways of the world is just beyond comprehension very frankly," Green said before his induction. "Believe it or not, when I was 17 years old, I was a skinny, scrawny, spindly-leg, 150-pound, 5-foot-11 quarterback, so obviously there weren't many Notre Dames and Ohio States of the world knocking on my door."
The Milton-Union High School graduate started for three straight OAC champions and was 25-0-1 as a starter. He ranks fifth in school history with 5,075 passing yards. His 188.9 pass-efficiency rating in 1963 remains the school record.
After college, Green played professionally with the Boston Patriots and Oakland Raiders.
4. Ron Duncan, tight end (1963-64): In two years as a starter, Duncan caught 64 passes for 1,146 yards and nine touchdowns. Green was his quarterback.
A native of Glen Rock, N.J., Duncan played for the 1963 and 1964 college division national championships. Those teams finished 16-0-1.
Talking to the News-Sun about the 1964 team in 1993, Duncan said, “The thing I think about is, it’s amazing the conglomeration of human beings put together from such diverse backgrounds, yet with a single-minded purpose. The feeling, and I know it’s trite, was one of family, even though a lot of us weren’t together that much off the field. We all knew the other would be there to do his job.”
Duncan started the Ron Duncan Scholar-Athlete Program in 1988 and awarded more than $300,000 to Clark County seniors over 21 years.
5. Ken Pope, safety (1995-98): Pope remains Wittenberg’s all-time leader in career interceptions (22). He shares the school record for interceptions in a season (8 in 1995). He ranks second in school history in pass break-ups (28). He was a first-team All-American in 1998.
Fincham recruited Pope out of Cincinnati Purcell Marian as an assistant coach and then became the head coach when Pope was a sophomore.
“He was recruited as a tailback,” Fincham said. “We were a little light on DBs coming into camp. I remember Doug Neibuhr, the head coach at that time, asked me to talk to him about playing DB. As soon as he was handed his camp itinerary, I said, ‘Hey, we’d like for you to change positions even before you go to a meeting.’ The guy played the ball in the air as well as anybody we have ever had. His freshman year, he was ranked in the country in interceptions. It may have had something to do with the fact that he weighed 135 pounds and everybody tried to pick on him, but when the ball was in the air, it was just as much his ball as anybody else’s. He’s the best cover corner I’ve seen in my time here.”
6. Steve Drongowski, offensive tackle (1971-73): Drongowski was a tri-captain in 1973 when the Tigers won the national championship. He was named to the Associated Press Little All-America first team as a senior. The Tigers have had 10 players named to that first team over the years. He remains the last Wittenberg offensive lineman to make the first team.
Drongowski is a graduate of Roosevelt High School in Kent and now lives in Dublin. At a 2008 ceremony, Drongowski credited his former coach for his success. Maurer coached from 1969-83.
“Like all of you I know what Dave has given to our school,” Drongowski said, “and like all of you, I know the debt our school owes to Dave. I think we owe him that for elevating us individually and collectively to be something that we never would have been otherwise.”
7. Eddie Vallery, defensive end (2007-10): The Madison Plains graduate Vallery led the nation with 16½ sacks as a junior in 2009. D3Football.com named him the national player of the year.
Vallery was named an All-American by the American Football Coaches Association in 2009 and 2010. Offensive lineman Eric Horstman (1987-88) is the only other Tiger to make that team two years in a row.
Vallery ranks sixth in Wittenberg history with 24½ sacks. That 2009 team finished 12-1 and led all divisions of college football in total defense (189.9 yards per game) and scoring defense (8.85 points per game).
“He was crazy dominant,” Fincham said. “In terms of pressuring a quarterback, we’ve never had a defensive end — and we’ve had some good ones here — like Eddie who could go out and just manufacture pass rush on his own. There’s a lot of things that make you a good defense, but if you can pressure the quarterback without having to blitz and take chances, that makes the game a lot easier. Eddie certainly could do those things."
1900s: Nathan Harter, QB.
1920s: Carl “Ducky” Schroeder; William “Dutch” Trautwein; Perry VanHyning; Gerald Armstrong; John Brickels; Earl Burgner; Wilbur Etter; William Farmer.
1930s: Bill Edwards; Thomas Rankin; Ike Trubey; Willis Baughman.
1940s: John Kostyo, HB; Peter Lizza; Norman Lymangrover, FB/LB; Roger Rossi, C/LB; Jim Walsh, P; George Winkhouse; Richard Caton; John Johnson, OL/DL.
1950s: Don Henderson, RB; Gene Urbanski, HB; Don Wood, DB; Harry Yingst, T; Rob Rosencrans, QB; Earl Frey, C; Ron Murphy, RB; Bill Varble, HB; Loyal Bishop, LB; Earl Frey, LB; Jim Ingledue.
1960s: Gary Tranquil, QB; Don Hunt, DL; Bob Cherry, DE; Tim Hunter, DL; Tom Young, OL; Jim Feltz, DL; Bob Harvey; Larry Stockert; Tim Rummins; Fred Musone; Rod Miller, WR; Howard Rennecker; Fred Mitchell, K; Bruce Borland, LB; Bob Wagner, OL; Rocky Alt, QB; Larry Peacock, LB; Ray Ward, OL; Jack Macken, DB; Bill Carpenter, DE; Jack Mackan, DB; Jim Worden, DE; Roy Allen.
1970s: Art Thomas, LB; Bill Bibbee, DT; Rocky Alt, QB; Denny Yontz, DE; Whitey Baun, LB; Dean Caven, DL; Dave Merritt, RB; Joe Govern, DL; Ron Klawitter, LB; Doug Peck, DB; Bob Foster, LB; John Saxton, DB; Joe Paoloni, OL; Tim Crowe, DL; John Beckett, OL; Darryl Herring, DB; Scott McDowell, DB; Terry McNutt, OL; Gary Sherman, RB; Dale Pittenberg, DL; Randy DeMont, DB; Glenn Hendrix, RB; Bill Reid, RB; Lloyd Ball, QB; Antone Strothers, DL; Mark LaForce, OL; Doug Peck, DL; Gary Sitler, P; Jim Wymer, DB; Rick Dill, OL; George Keen, DB; Mike Drenan, DT; Keith Moone, TE; Jim Phillips, OT; George Keen, DB.
1980s: Mike Dowds, DL; Bill Beach, DB; Bryant Lemon, DL; Eric Horstman, OL; Scott Watters, LB; Ken Bonner, OL; Roger Culbertson, DB; Jeff Mullen, DB; Tim Janasek, DB;
1990s: Jon Warga, RB; Taver Johnson, LB; Xan Smith, OL; Doug Cochran, OL; Mark Chubb, OL; Jimmy Watts, K; Ron Cunningham, OL; Marcus Booker, RB; Mark Chubb, OL; Bryan Magoteaux, DB; Kent Rafey, LB; Mike Sanders, DL; Greg Brame, K/P; Scott Collins, DB; Jonathan Farley, C; Russ Fedyk, WR; Aaron Shaffer, OL; Anthony Crane, QB; T.J. Weibel, LB; Mark Sunderman, OL; Tim Altman, DL; Marlon Perryman, RB; Aaron Powers, RB; David Smith, DL.
2000s: Ryan Walker, K; Matt Gallatin, P; Jay Jackson, DB; Matt Leisure, OL; Michael Aljancic, WR; Skip Ivery, WR; Jered Glover, WR; Daniel Grove, RB; Greg Cornett, QB; Dustin Goldsbury, LB; John Hauser, DB; Juan Howard, DT; Andy Pope, DB; Chad Thompson, OL; Tristan Murray, RB; Jacob Thomas, P; Tim Funke, C; Brad Kassner, OL: Aaron Coeling, OL; Dillon Hollin, C; Patrick Williams, WR; Ryan Holmes, QB; Andy Vanover, FB; Ted Londot, OL; Aaron Huffman, QB; Ben Zoeller, QB; Corey Weber, RB; Michael Cooper, WR; Adam Kattoua, DL; Evan Killilea, LB; Brad McKinley, LB; Zach Hurtt, LB; Sean Williams, K; Seth Parker, DB; Matt Widemon, OL; Reed Florence, QB; Brendon Cunningham, WR; Alec Nutting, OL; Will Gingery, K/P; Josh Bannick, DL; Dustin Holmes, LB; Luke Landis, WR; Corey Stump, WR; Zack Jenkins, QB.