The Hillsdale College Chargers will kick off their 127th season of football on Saturday at 1 p.m. when they host the Michigan Tech University Huskies. Entering their third season in the Great Midwest Athletic Conference, the Chargers are defending champions after going 8 – 0 against conference opponents in 2018.
The Huskies were one of three non-conference teams to defeat Hillsdale last year, however, when they squeaked out a double-overtime, 31 – 30 win in week two of the 2018 season. That game was played in the Upper Peninsula at Michigan Tech, however. This year, the matchup occurs at Frank “Muddy” Waters Stadium in Hillsdale, where the Chargers went 5 – 0 last season.
Although the No. 19 Chargers are favored to repeat in 2019 as G-MAC champions according to a preseason coaches poll, Team 127 will feature a new look in what was a conference-best passing attack a year ago.
Redshirt freshman Luke Keller won the starting quarterback position in training camp, and his top target in the passing game will be junior wide receiver K.J. Maloney, who was second on the team in 2018 in receptions and receiving yards to Trey Brock, who shattered every program receiving record in his final year at Hillsdale.
Keller replaces Chance Stewart at quarterback, who holds program records for passing yards and touchdowns after a brilliant four-year career. Despite not taking a single snap in his true freshman season, Keller is confident that when his college football career begins on Saturday, he’ll be ready to go. Head coach Keith Otterbein, who, along with his coaching staff, settled on Keller to lead the offense, agrees.
“I was really pleased with the level that the guys competed at,” Otterbein said. “At some point, you just pick a guy. It was simply level of play [Keller] was performing at.”
Last season, the Huskies allowed the second-most passing yards per game in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, so the matchup may be favorable to Keller in getting off to a good start. Michigan Tech also allowed nearly 200 yards on the ground per game in 2018, which plays into the hands of senior running back David Graham.
After rushing for more than 1,000 yards in his sophomore season, Graham just missed the century mark again in 2018, when he rushed for 939 yards and 16 touchdowns. Graham enters 2019 just 10 yards shy of 2,000 for his collegiate career, and is ninth all-time in program history in total rushing yards. His 35 career rushing touchdowns are tied for eighth-most in program history.
“I do have those personal goals. I’d like to reach top five, top three,” Graham said. “But I can’t let that get in the way of our team goals. I’m just focused on winning games. Personal goals are second.”
Conference play begins in week three this year for Hillsdale, but two non-conference games to begin the season are critical for the Chargers’ regional ranking. Hillsdale plays on the road against the University of Indianapolis next week, a team that also beat the Chargers last year.
“It all just happens as it unfolds, and I think that’s one thing our kids have been very good at [in the past], and I would not anticipate anything different from this group,” Otterbein said. “Staying in the moment — playing in the moment, not becoming flustered or distracted — is a key to success this year.”