INDIANAPOLIS – It’s hard to escape the recent past with a glance towards the north side of St. Vincent Health Field.
On a fence behind one of the endzone is a traditional banner commemorating Marian University’s first NAIA National Championship season. Across the street just outside the stadium, there sits another banner paying tribute to the title.
If the Knights’ drive to that goal line during the 2013 season, they’ll be starting right at them. That was the scenario on Saturday night Marian held a scrimmage to wrap up their summer training camp at the stadium. Fifteen yards behind them was a man who may look at those banners just a little bit differently that the others.
“My goal is to continue the success,” said Knights head coach Mark Henninger-because he wasn’t here to start it off in 2012 or even before that.
Henninger-an Indianapolis native-takes over in 2013 for Ted Karras Jr, who started the Marian program in 2007 and led it to it’s first NAIA championship before leaving for Division II Walsh University. He comes over from North Carolina Wesleyan where he was the head coach for five seasons and enters a program that is ranked second despite losing 19 seniors from a season ago.
“Earn our guys trust and make sure our guys understand that we’re in this thing to be competitive and our goal is to be hard to beat,” said Henninger-though he faces a task that will be difficult to top from a season ago.
Marian’s 2012 championship run featured just one loss and the last two playoff victories coming on last-second field goals. When Mike Josifovski’s 26-yard kick passed through the uprights with no time remaining in the championship game against Morningside (Iowa) in Rome, Georgia, the Knights completed a title run that would resonate from December till their opening practice this August.
“When we’re just wearing Marian gear throughout the city, everyone would say ‘We heard you had a great season, you guys are great,'” said senior running back Clifford Brown of the attention the program got.
Yet that passes into memory for the players returning to try to defend a championship for the first time in the program’s short history. In just the seventh season for Marian football, the tradition of the football program is still very much growing, so the work to be done is still plenty even if the players are just months removed from a crowning achievement.
“Our goals are still the same,” said senior linebacker Robert Palmer of the Knights, which include winning a conference championship and making the playoffs. “The new goal this year is defending the title and sometimes that’s the hardest thing to do.”
Whether someone has been along for the ride the whole time or arriving to keep the good times going.