Knights looking for second NAIA championship on Friday
Southsider Voice correspondent
Marian University’s football team goes for its second NAIA national championship Friday afternoon with the help of eight impact players from the Southside.
The Knights, ranked No. 7 nationally, meet No. 8 Southern Oregon at 3 p.m. (ESPNU and 107.5-FM The Fan) at the Daytona Beach (Fla.) Municipal Stadium for the 59th title game.
Marian (11-2) is riding a nine-game winning streak that includes playoff wins over Georgetown (Ky.) 34-3, Grand View, 34-6, and Morningside (Iowa) 41-21. However, the opposing Raiders have defeated three top nine teams in the playoffs, including No. 3 Carroll College (Mont.) 45-42 and No. 3 St. Xavier (Ill.) 62-37 in a semifinal matchup.
Mark Henninger took on the difficult task of succeeding a coach who had guided Marian to a national championship. Henninger’s first season was a dubious 6-5 but then guided the Knights to a big turnaround. After winning two of their first four games this season, they have been unstoppable.
He had interviewed in 2006 for the job as Marian’s first coach but admitted he wasn’t ready.
Henninger goes back to his high school roots at Roncalli as he explains that football at Marian is “family,” with the emphasis upon developing the whole person. He demands that each player must be a positive role model.
After starting a football program at North Carolina Wesleyan College, he said he is glad to be back home with his wife, Jen, and their three young children.
Having played at Roncalli, Henninger fully realizes the potential of recruiting players from the Southside, which features numerous quality coaches.
“This group of players all fit what we want our players at Marian to be,” Henninger said of the Knights from the Southside. “They all work very hard in the classroom and take their responsibilities as members of our team very seriously. All are great men that come from strong Southside families.”
Because of his Roncalli connection, Henninger reminisced about Knights senior center Luke Scifres, son of Roncalli coach Bruce Scifres.
“I remember when he was born I was playing for coach Scifres,” Henninger recalled, “It has been special to coach him, and he has done a great job on short snaps this season.”
Scifres has steadily improved this season on the field. He also is a biology (secondary education) major. At Roncalli, he was the school’s male all-sports Mental Attitude Award recipient.
He is one of eight Southsiders who have impacted this year’s team.
The Knights’ varsity and reserve rosters include 18 players from the Southside, including Roncalli, Perry Meridian, Southport, Franklin Central and Center Grove.
Southern Oregon is a formidable foe for the Knights. The Raiders upended St. Xavier on Dec. 6; St. Xavier dominated Marian 65-38 in the Knights’ season opener Sept. 6.
The Knights have several leaders from the Southside on defense. Marian leads the NAIA in holding opponents to 66.3 yards on the ground per game. Since losing to St. Xavier, the Knights have allowed no more than 21 points in a game.
The offense is led by senior running back Tevin Lake, who the Crossroad League’s Player of the Year. Lake, who graduated from South Bend Adams, has scored 60 touchdowns and rushed for more than 5,000 yards during his football career.
The Knights trailed Morningside 21-7 in the semifinals but scored 34 unanswered points to earn the university’s second trip to the championship game.
The Westside campus is abuzz. Students took part in a huge sendoff Monday morning as the Knights departed for sunny Florida.
Students and fans not going to the game are urged to wear blue and gold and attend viewing parties (must be 21 or older) at Bud’s Tavern, 3015 Lafayette Road; Broad Ripple Tavern, 745 Broad Ripple Avenue; or Gatsby’s Pub & Grill, 6335 Intech Commons Drive.
A press conference and team activities are this morning at Daytona International Speedway. The NAIA banquet of champions and awards dinner is Thursday at 6 p.m.
A postgame banquet will be held in Daytona Beach. The Knights are scheduled to return home Saturday.
Marian's impact players from the Southside
• Luke Burkhart (Roncalli), No. 66, senior, 6-0, 255, defensive tackle – helps back up the defensive line … defensive lineman since 2013 ... Henninger’s hot comment: “Great guy and very well respected by his teammates; defensive line is the heart and soul of our defense.”
• Danny Rojas (Roncalli) No. 8, junior, 6-1, 180, free safety – starts at safety and leads the defensive backfield … Knights’ No. 3 tackler … 43 solo tackles and 42 assists … two interceptions against Grand View in both games this season … five total interceptions … NAIA Defensive Player of the Game against Morningside … coach’s hot comment: “Hard worker and smart defender; plays fast and physical.”
• Jamar Wilhite (Perry Meridian) No. 56, junior, 5-11, 230, defensive tackle – one of four team captains … all-conference …44 tackles … 6.5 tackles and 5.5 assists for yardage loss … returned a fumble recovery 18 yards … Henninger’s hot comment: “While small for a defensive lineman, he is explosive and strong; plays very fast and is often matchup problems for the guys he is playing against.”
• Jimmy Walker Jr. (Southport) No. 9, redshirt sophomore, 6-1, 200, wide receiver – dynamic playmaker … No. 3 receiver, 31 catches, 425 yards, three touchdowns … Henninger’s hot comment: “He presents many challenges (to defenders) as he has great strength and is very athletic; he works hard.”
• Kyle Steinebach (Perry Meridian) No. 20, redshirt sophomore, 5-11, 175, defensive back – vital part of NAIA’s No. 1 run defense … starting nickel back … nine solo tackles and three assists … coach’s hot comment: “Plays a key role in our success in passing situations; he is very athletic and is a physical player.”
• Griffin Elbert (Franklin Central) No. 38, redshirt sophomore, 6-0, 195, safety – starter … No. 6 in tackles with 49 (29 solos, 20 assists) … graduating with a premed degree after three years at Marian … plans to pursue medical and doctorate degrees … Henninger’s hot comment: “He is one of our hardest workers in the weight room and is a very smart player on the field.”
• Max Doughty (Southport) No. 48, redshirt freshman, 6-4, 260, tight end – moved to tight end at preseason … worked into starting lineup against Grand View … coach’s hot comment: “He’s still developing at the position, and we are excited about his development and his future in our program.”