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The Echo
Taylor University, Upland, IN
Tuesday, April 16, 2024
The Echo
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TU Total Access: Inside Coach Mingo’s Taylor tenure

Trojans' coaches give insight on program

At the end of the 2021 season, the Taylor University football team sought a new direction after not retaining longtime head coach Ron Korfmacher who was on staff for 36 years, 13 of which he filled the role of head coach. 

This would allow Dordt University offensive coordinator Aaron Mingo to be hired as the new head coach of the Trojans. Mingo came in as an exciting hire due to his largely successful tenure at Dordt.

In five seasons with the Dordt Defenders, the high-powered offense scored almost 38 points per game. In Mingo’s last season, they accumulated 43 points and 532 yards per game. Having a balanced attack, 320 of those yards were on the ground. 

Athletic director Kyle Gould hired Mingo as a first-time head coach. 

"After an extensive search process, I am thrilled to welcome Mingo as our next head football coach," Gould said. "His discipleship-infused coaching philosophy, recruiting acumen and success at every stop distinguished him among a talented pool of candidates.” 

Mingo’s days as an offensive lineman formed his strong, hard-nosed, run-first offensive philosophy. 

Mingo’s coaching career had three pit stops before moving to Upland. 

He began in Illinois at his alma mater, Greenville University, as the offensive line coach. After four years, Bluefield University in Virginia hired Mingo to be their offensive coordinator, but after a two-year run with the Rams, Mingo moved to Sioux Center, Iowa to be the offensive coordinator for Dordt. 

“All three coaching stops prior to Taylor were at faith-based institutions and in programs that philosophically aligned with what we are aiming to do at Taylor,” Mingo said. “Each stop provided opportunities to grow in the ability to recruit, develop players and provide players with an outstanding experience.” 

One of Mingo’s core values is being a man of high faith and character which has formed his mission of transforming Taylor football.

Mingo brought longtime friend and offensive coordinator Josh Flannery with him to Taylor. The two had studied and played football at Greenville University, with Flannery later taking on the offensive coordinator role before arriving at Taylor. 

“When we came to Taylor in 2021, we brought our offensive schemes and playbook with us so that was a complete change from the past,” Flannery said. “Over our three years together at Taylor, we start with the triple option and expand from there. We have added things that we believe fit our personnel and will help us be competitive in this league, and we have also taken some things out.” 

Coach Flannery is grateful that he gets to work with a friend that is like-minded. 

“The biggest advantage is knowing I get to work for and with a brother who is seeking to glorify the Lord in everything he does,” Flannery said. “I want to surround myself with great men who love Jesus and desire to pursue excellence in all the Lord has called them into. I get that working with coach Mingo.” 

Defensive coordinator Jared Boddie was an alumnus of Taylor and with the arrival of Flannery and Mingo, he became part of leading a new era. 

“The biggest advantage is having someone (Mingo) with a different perspective on all aspects of a football program,” Boddie said. “He didn’t have a great understanding of some of the ‘traditions’ at Taylor, and I think that is an advantage because there were some things that needed to be changed for the program to continue to move forward.” 

For the first time since 2015, when the Trojans went 7-3, there was a sense of excitement around the football program with an expectation of a high-powered offense. The absence of optimism in the program had come due to the Trojans finishing well below the .500 mark from 2016-2020. 

Mingo’s first season started off with a bang collecting his first career head-coaching win against Judson in the season opener, 42-26 by way of a spectacular performance From running back Brendan Lamb, who racked up 109 yards on a hefty 34 carries with three touchdowns. Quarterback Levi Frazier (‘22) also added three touchdowns through the air.

Unfortunately, the Trojans were unable to find their footing and dropped their next five games, including matchups with Division I opponent Butler and tough in-conference foes like No. 7 Marian and No. 5 Concordia (MI).

A potential turning point in the season was a 63-point shutout on the road against Madonna. This marked Taylor’s biggest margin of victory since 1963. Coach Mingo’s run-first offense shone through as eight different players ran the ball 56 times for  318 yards and eight touchdowns. 

A hard-fought matchup with Saint Francis saw the Trojans hold a 24-14 lead midway through the third quarter but four unanswered touchdowns from the Cougars sealed the game as Taylor fell 42-31. Running back Stephen Ellis continued his stellar play with 34 carries, 155 yards and two touchdowns. 

In the final two matchups of the season, the Trojans won by forfeit to Indiana Wesleyan and lost on the road to Siena Heights.

Turnovers were a detriment as the team was one of the nation’s leaders in giveaways.

Year one ended with a 3-7 record under Mingo. 

Year two was full of critical improvements, an increase in wins and excitement. Senior quarterback Elijah McCloskey (‘23) was now the full-time starter with a strong recruiting class of three young, dual threats behind him. 

The preseason polls picked Taylor to finish seventh in the conference. 

Game one against Lawrence Tech in Detroit was a night that the Trojans fired on all cylinders. Taylor was able to establish a run and gained 264 yards, controlling the whole game en route to a 27-12 victory. 

The next weekend, Judson came to Upland hoping to put up a better effort after their 2021 defeat, but they were incapable as the Trojans dominated in a lopsided game 52-6. The defense held strong all game and quickly became the team’s anchor. 

“The mindset of having guys that know what the call/adjustment is to a formation and getting it communicated across to other teammates before the ball is snapped has shown to be very effective for us,” Boddie said.

On September 10, Taylor traveled down to Butler University for a dogfight. Taylor came out and scored on the first drive via a 10-yard rushing touchdown from Lamb, but after this drive the offense went dry and couldn’t muster anything up which opened the door for Butler to put up 420 yards on offense. The final score was 45-10.

Trojans returned to perform at Turner Stadium against Trinity International, winning 41-19. 

Olivet Nazarene came to Upland next and won in a one-sided contest, 49-14. 

On October 1, Taylor made the drive down I-69 again to square off with the undefeated No. 5 Marian Knights. Marian put on a showcase of why they are consistently at the top of the NAIA, winning 67-7. 

A matchup with Concordia University was a hallmark win for Mingo as his Trojans won in close fashion, 24-21. This game is shared by coach Flannery and coach Boddie as one of their favorite memories on the Taylor sidelines. 

“Defensively, we held them scoreless in the red zone, and offensively, we finished the game by running out the final six and a half minutes of the game clock,” Boddie said. “While it wasn’t a perfect game, all three phases of the game played an important role in our ability to win that game.” 

“They are an incredible football program and have had a ton of success over the last 10 years, so to come out on top in a highly competitive game was a lot of fun,” Flannery said. 

After a promising 5-3 start to the season, the winning couldn’t continue as TU dropped to 5-6 to finish the season. The main caveat, once again, was the turnover plague that came back to haunt Taylor. 

In their final three games, Taylor turned the ball over three times against No. 5 Indiana Wesleyan, four times against Siena Heights and five times in a 44-6 loss to Saint Francis. In the last three games alone, the ball was given away 12 times. 

“We turned the ball over way too much in our first two seasons here,” Flannery said. “We spent a lot of time working on protecting the football, especially in the passing game, and it showed this season. We still have to make huge strides in protecting the football, but there is progress.” 

After the 2022 season, lots of integral information was revealed that injected more hype around the program. This included a new fieldhouse, locker room, jerseys and logo. The much-needed facelift to the team was used to generate excitement and became a powerful recruiting tool. 

Coming into 2023, Taylor worked hard to recruit a large class of 33 new Trojans, six of which were offensive linemen.

Unfortunately for the Trojans, season three did not go according to plan. Regression paired with a rigorous schedule made for a 2-9 season. Sophomore quarterback Damon Hockett was named starter and split reps with Isaiah Grybauskus. 

Flannery praised Hockett’s body of work and production. 

“Hockett took a huge step forward in his development, particularly in his ability to read and run triple option,” Flannery said. “We spent a lot of individual time in the spring, summer and training camp to work on this specific skill, and it proved hugely beneficial for us this season. Over the course of the season, Damon also grew as a passer which will be a continued focus for us this off-season.” 

Game one was a nighttime thriller where Taylor collected win no. 300 by defeating St. Ambrose, 37-34 during Taylor’s welcome weekend. After trading touchdowns in the fourth, Hockett scrambled and ran for a 24-yard touchdown. St. Ambrose had a chance to tie the game with a last-second field goal, but the kick fell short. 

The next three weekends would be on the road, two of which included Division I opponents 

The road trip began in Ann Arbor against Concordia University. The game was never in the Trojan’s cards. A false start on the first play would set the tone. The Cardinals amassed 430 yards for a 54-14 victory while the Trojans finished with three turnovers and 216 total yards. 

Next was a tough loss to Butler University, 41-13. The Trojans hung around in the first half, keeping the game in reach only down 17-7 at the end of the first half. 

The last leg of the three-game road trip was against the Dayton Flyers. A 74-yard touchdown pass from Hockett to wide receiver Dakohta Sonnichsen was one of three end-zone trips for the Trojans, but the Flyers pulled away with no counter handing Taylor their third 52-20.

The value of playing Division I opponents as an NAIA school allows young players to acclimate to a college football gameday environment.

Coming back to Upland looked like a chance for a nice restart, but No. 14 Saint Francis (IL) had other ideas. A quiet first half with just 34 yards of total offense cost the Trojans the afternoon, 24-7. A 41-17 loss to Indiana Wesleyan would follow the next weekend. 

On October 14, the Trojans lost to Siena Heights in the final seconds getting walked off via a field goal. Although Taylor gave the ball away three times, they dominated time of possession and ran for 300 yards. 

“We continue to come back to purpose and process,” Mingo said. “Our focus will always be on the ways we can improve. The number of wins in a season doesn’t change that. Our coaches and team believe that we are really close towards accomplishing more wins on the field and are committed to giving it our best shot.” 

The Trojans picked up win number two (54-14) against Madonna at Homecoming. A smashmouth showcase was on display as Taylor put up 520 total yards. Freshman running back Kyle Turanchick had a career day rushing for 102 yards and two touchdowns on just three attempts.

The offensive scheme focuses on a tactic known as the triple option, which requires focus and coordination from the entire team to pull off properly.

“The triple option was a huge strength for us this season and probably the best thing we did schematically this year,” Flannery said. “It has been a focus of holistic growth from how we block up front, to the QB’s reads, to the perimeter blocking.”

The Trojans put together a fourth  quarter rally in an effort against Marian, but the Knights collected the win 34-20 Isaiah Grybauskas was responsible for the three touchdowns, throwing for two and receiving another.

In their next game against Lawrence Tech, Taylor put up 25 second-quarter points to go into halftime with a 31-24 lead, but the Blue Devils came back in the second half and beat the Trojans 41-37. 

“Our passing game seemed to get better each week, which will continue to be a point of emphasis for us,” Flannery said. “We want to be an offense that can attack defenses on the ground and in the air.”

In the last game of the season, the Trojans put up another stout effort but fell short to Saint Francis (IN) 44-31. 

When a season does not go as planned, the coaches strive to remind players what their goal is. 

“We need to continue to stay true to our purpose of being a program that seeks God’s glory over our own, develops players holistically, competes with excellence and focuses on impacting God’s kingdom,” Mingo said. “We also need to continue to recruit high-caliber athletes that are looking for the Taylor experience, develop our players extremely well and find the edges that are available in competition and culture.” 

Through the trials and tribulations, hard work is still to come.

“I believe in this school and our team. I believe in our purpose. I believe we will accomplish our vision,” Mingo said. “There is no place I’d rather be than at Taylor University, and there is no team that I would rather coach.” 

Coach Mingo’s top priority going into the spring and 2024 season is taking advantage of what’s in front of the program. 

“We have to maximize (the) development of our current roster with our strength and speed program, increase the connection inside of our program with our team and finalize another highly talented recruiting class,” Mingo said. 

The Trojans are 10-22 under Mingo’s direction. The Mingo era is still young and so there is no reason for taking out any stock now.