By Clay Sidenbender | Echo
Ten miles. That is all that stands between the fresh look Wildcats of Indiana Wesleyan University (IWU) in Marion, Indiana, and their seasoned neighbor, the Trojans of Taylor University. The two institutions have collided on multiple occasions in almost every sport and have cultivated a rivalry that has spanned decades. One of the only sports that has not dealt with this competitive, territorial civil war? Football.
That is, until now.
On Sept. 1, the Taylor Trojans will take on the IWU Wildcats for the first time inside Wildcat Stadium at 4 p.m.
The road to the envisioned rivalry started when IWU announced it was adding football to its men's athletics in 2016. Soon after, a head coach was hired from Wheaton College to lead the program. After hiring the remaining staff, putting together a 100-man team and a year of preparation, IWU announced its schedule, with Taylor as the home opener.
"The opportunity to extend this historic rivalry onto the football field is something that we are very excited for," Indiana Wesleyan Head Coach Jordan Langs said in a press release.
Langs said the opportunity is something their program takes very seriously.
Going into his 11th season with the team, Taylor head coach, Ron Korfmacher, is looking at the whole picture.
"What's important to us is that this is our opener," Korfmacher said. "These guys have been working a long off-season. It's the longest off-season in all of sports…We're going to go on the road opening night against a new team. It'll turn into a rivalry someday, but our guys excel this team."
The Taylor football team has faced situations in the past where the background information about their opponents is scarce.
In fact, Korfmacher mentioned a few different times where Taylor football has played an unknown team.
"Over the years, we've played Anderson when they've changed coaches three times," Korfmacher said. "Southern Illinois, that's a Division I team, so that template's entirely different."
Korfmacher even recalls a time when the Trojans went up against Davenport University, a start-up football program at the time. They had no film of the team, no roster and there was not a lot of noise about the team in general.
In other ways, this will not be just be another game. Taylor has not notched a road win since edging out Lindenwood-Belleville 48-45 on Nov. 5, 2016.
However, Korfmacher is certain his Trojans will achieve their assignments on offense and defense since they have a lot of key talent returning from last season.
"We have a lot of returning guys," Korfmacher said. "We're deeper than we have been. We've been getting more competition at our positions…We've got a lot of competition in the secondary. It seems like we've really got a lot of competition at every layer of the defense and on offense, the running backs, the wide outs. Quarterbacks are pretty settled."
One of those key returning players is fifth-year senior wide receiver, Grant Hohlbein, who led the Trojans in receiving yards (650) and touchdowns (5) during the 2017 campaign.
Holbein stated that while he has a lot of respect for IWU, he believes Taylor will be able to swing the game with more experience and better execution.
Regarding the hype surrounding the IWU football program, Hohlbein acknowledges it, but will not give into the intimidation factor.
"They're going to have a lot of energy coming into the game for sure," Hohlbein said. "First game of their program and we've already heard it's sold out. We've heard all sorts of things. It's going to be loud, hectic, hostile, so that's one thing they have going for them for sure, but we plan on keeping our heads and keep doing what we have to do."
Korfmacher showed no signs of concern either.
He reiterated the team's main focus of coming out on top in the opening game.
"Even if it was somebody we faced in a final game, they're a new team, new template, new stuff," Korfmacher said.
On and off the field, Korfmacher does everything he can to instill a winning mindset into each of his players and everyone else's heads and not focus so much on the loud noise coming from inside Wildcat Stadium. Some of the distractions include the hashtags, #climb and #strikethepick, that flood twitter feeds and the non-stop local media coverage.
No matter what anyone thinks, Langs is asking for a fight.
"We have a lot of respect for their coaching staff, program, and players," said Langs in the press release. "But make no mistake, our goal is, and always will be, to be the best college football team in Grant County. That will be a big challenge and it will not be easy but we are committed to achieving that by being the best we can be both on and off the field."