Before the beginning of each season, every college football coach sits down in their office, grabs a pen, and looks at their upcoming schedule. As they peruse down the calendar, they draw circles around the games they feel they should win, their “circle-wins."
In the town of Alliance, Ohio, the NCAA Division III football powerhouse Mount Union Purple Raiders, commonly referred to as "Mount," circle their entire schedule all the way out into the margins.
Since 1990, Mount Union has compiled a 389-19-1 record, claimed the Ohio Athletic Conference Championship 27 times, traveled to the Stagg Bowl (their division's national championship game) 21 times, and hoisted the championship trophy 13 times. The Purple Raiders have had this success under coaches Larry Kehres, a member of the College Football Hall of Fame, from 1986-2012 and his son Vince Kehres since 2013.
It does not take long to search "Mount Union football" and read a dozen of feel-good stories about this storied team and bask in their glory. What about the teams that have to line up against them for the ten regular-season games? Otterbein football coach Tim Doup had to be feeling good when he had roughly 140 players on his roster at the start of camp. Mount had 200 players on the roster, including 73 freshmen.
The Mount Union recruiting tactic is simple: recruit every person to ever put on a helmet in high school, bring them to campus, flash their championship rings in the recruits' faces, and make the recruits feel like they are the next big thing. They then bring in roughly 100 players a year, including those who could not make it in Division I, to build their roster.
So how do you prepare for a game that you know in your heart you will lose, and not just by a little? You know that your best player may only be a backup on the Purple Raiders. You know that this is just a quick cup of coffee for them until they get to the postseason, when they actually have to start putting effort into games. How do you prepare for that?
The simple answer is, frankly, you do not. It is a fool’s errand to go into the week thinking you can beat Mount Union. The last Ohio Athletic Conference (OAC) team to beat Mount was John Carroll in 2016, whose head coach, Tom Arth, now coaches at Division-I Akron. Sure, you watch their film, you watch their schemes, you check out some of their personnel packages and can easily say, “my grandma could coach this team.” At the end of the day, the Purple Raiders simply have better players. As a coach, you know that they could hand you their playbook, which isn’t much, and you still would not be able to stop them.
So what is success, then, for an OAC team facing Mount? Coaches have two goals going into the week: giving maximum effort on every single play, no matter the score, and coming out of the game fully healthy and ready to go for next week.
It is not fair to any opponent that Mount Union is a Division III football school, and everybody knows it, but what can you do about it? It takes a lot of guts and courage when you match up against the Purple Raiders, but not because they are good or because they will beat you. It really takes guts and courage to swallow your pride and give the best possible effort on the field and move on to the next week. So, if you asked me for my advice on how to be successful versus Mount Union, I'd tell you to put your head down, fight on, and understand that you will be better on the other side because of it.