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Head Football Coach Keith Otterbein led the Chargers in their 100th victory. Ryan Goff | Col­legian

On Sat­urday, Sept. 15, Keith Otterbein stood on the sideline for the 179th time as the head football coach of the Hillsdale College Chargers. The stakes were high; the Chargers were on the road, under the lights, facing the No. 12 team in the country. One thing was on Otterbein’s mind: beating the Ohio Dominican Uni­versity Pan­thers.

The Chargers got the job done and beat the Pan­thers, 34 – 18. With the victory, Otterbein became just the third coach in 126 years of Hillsdale football to win 100 games.

Now in his 17th season as head coach, Otterbein’s focus has always been the same. The most important game is the one at hand. After Hillsdale’s victory on Sat­urday, as always, Otterbein’s “24-hour rule” went into effect. No matter the result, win or loss, the team had 24 hours to either cel­e­brate a victory or regret a defeat. Then it’s on to the next one.

Saturday’s win was critical because it came against a nationally-ranked opponent on the road, at a place where that opponent hadn’t lost since 2016. Ohio Dominican won the G-MAC last season and is favored to finish first in the con­ference this year. But for Otterbein, the game meant even more.

“That’s a lot of players and coaches. So appre­ciative of the efforts of so many people for what is given to me as a mile­stone, when in reality, all those guys were a part of that thing,” Otterbein said. “It’s a tra­dition of 125-plus years. That’s all part of the bigger picture. Pretty cool for me obvi­ously.”

Otterbein’s 100 wins rank only behind Frank “Muddy” Waters and Dick Lowry in the Hillsdale coaching record books. Waters, after whom the Chargers’ stadium is named, won 138 games as head coach from 1954 – 1973. Lowry won 134 games from 1980 – 1996.

Otterbein is quick to credit the coaches and players he’s worked with during his time at Hillsdale. He’s coached 12 players who went ahead to be either drafted or signed by NFL teams, including current Denver Broncos left tackle Jared Veldheer and Buffalo Bills wide receiver Andre Holmes. He’s coached three GLIAC Players of the Year and one GLIAC Freshman of the Year.

He’s led the Chargers to three GLIAC division cham­pi­onships, two con­ference cham­pi­onships, and two NCAA Division II playoff appear­ances. He won the GLIAC Coach of the Year award in 2009 and 2011. But he doesn’t spend much time dwelling on his accom­plish­ments. It’s always the next oppor­tunity that propels him forward.

“I guess 100 means I’m getting pretty old and have been around a while. But to have been there that long — 17 years — seems like a blink of an eye to me,” Otterbein said. “Proud that it’s here at my alma mater; that sort of thing is cool, but it’s like every other win you’ve ever had where it feels good, but now you start thinking about the next one.”

Otterbein played line­backer for the Chargers from 1975 – 1978 when he was a student at Hillsdale. His college coaching career began as an assistant for Hillsdale in 1979. He went on to coach at Central Michigan Uni­versity, Ferris State Uni­versity, and Ball State Uni­versity before returning to Hillsdale in 2002.

“I’m going to keep coaching as long as I love what I’m doing. I’ve been doing this for 39 years, and I’ve never gone to work,” Otterbein said. “I don’t feel like it’s a job. It’s fun and it’s chal­lenging, and it’s invig­o­rating, and that’s what drives me to come in every day.”

Winning 100 games was never a benchmark goal Otterbein was working toward for sat­is­faction or a sense of accom­plishment. It’s just the tip of the iceberg, a reflection on his unwa­vering ded­i­cation to “the process.”

Otterbein appeals to the word “arete”, Greek for excel­lence. Excel­lence is at the core of Hillsdale football’s mission. You can find “arete” posted around the the football facil­ities at the Roche Sports Complex and “Muddy” Waters Stadium. To Otterbein, “arete” means to make the most of your oppor­tu­nities and always do your best without reser­vation.

“You’ve got one chance. Prepare your best, do your best, and you can live with the results,” Otterbein said. “You want to stay focused and you want to con­cen­trate so the results allow you to have not any regrets, not to say ‘I wish I would have, I think I could have.’”

Excel­lence in life is some­thing Otterbein is familiar with. He sat as a student in Hillsdale’s class­rooms. He’s raised a family of Hillsdale grad­uates. All three of his children went to Hillsdale after he took the head coaching job. His sons, Steve and Brad, both played football at Hillsdale and are now assistant coaches on their dad’s staff.

“We weren’t made to do sports, but we all drifted towards sports, so we’ve got a very sports-ori­ented family,” Keith Otterbein said. “Doesn’t matter if it’s golf or euchre, we’re going to compete. Our little Hillsdale story is a magnet of all of that family love and ded­i­cation and passion.”

Otterbein’s players rec­ognize that passion and credit his lead­ership and char­acter for their success and growth, both on and off the field.

“He’s a great coach and an even better teacher of life lessons,” senior defensive back Wyatt Bat­dorff said. “That’s what makes him so great; he realizes it’s more than just the game. He’s trying to make better men. I really respect him and I’m really happy for him.”

Senior quar­terback Chance Stewart said Otterbein has impacted him by believing in him. Stewart trans­ferred to Hillsdale from Western Michigan Uni­versity in 2015 and earned the starting job halfway through the season. He’s been the Chargers’ starting quar­terback ever since.

“When I trans­ferred here, he gave me a oppor­tunity to play quar­terback when a lot of coaches didn’t,” Stewart said. “He’s always meant a ton to me because he gave me an oppor­tunity to prove that I could play this position. I’m forever grateful for that oppor­tunity.”

Earlier this season, Stewart moved into second place all time in Chargers history for passing yards, and now trails only Troy Weath­erhead, who played quar­terback under Otterbein from 2007 – 2010. Stewart takes pride in being “Otter’s quar­terback.”

“To be his quar­terback and help him get his 100th win, it’s pretty cool,” Stewart said. “Really happy for Coach Otter, and happy I was able to be a part of it.”

Other players say Otterbein knows how to reach them where they’re at, to get into their mind and treat them right. Junior running back David Graham calls Otterbein “the best coach I’ve ever had.”

To win 100 games as a coach for a school you used to play for and attend is rewarding enough. To coach two sons and then coach alongside them is what Otterbein calls “icing on the cake.” But ulti­mately, what makes an already suc­cessful career so worth­while is that it’s been done the right way.

“Life is very short. I must be the corniest guy in the world, but to live life to its fullest and to engage with our guys, to handle myself in the right manner, be a good example to them, teach them life lessons, it’s all rolled into one,” Otterbein said.

Otterbein already has more career coaching wins than any coach in the G-MAC. He’ll now try to lead Hillsdale to its first G-MAC cham­pi­onship just a year after the school joined the con­ference. Saturday’s win against the defending cham­pions was the first step. Now it’s on to the next one.

  • Alexan­derYp­si­lantis

    Well done Coach Otterbein, 100 wins is pretty dif­ficult to achieve at this level.