There's something warm and fuzzy about Division III. The toughest stadium to win in on the road is named Welcome, and the toughest coach to play against is named Manlove. Coaches in the division say their players suit up simply "because they love the game." That must be true. Says Augustana cornerback Mike Hesler, "We read about how the big schools fly out to a game on Thursday. This year, we'll have an eight-hour bus ride to the University of Minnesota at Morris."
Traveling by air is not something Augustana's opponents do very often, either. Hesler spearheads a defense for the Rock Island, Ill., school that rang up four shutouts last season—more than the Vikings' baseball team. On offense, Bob Reade, the winningest active collegiate coach at any level (.883), is concerned about his line; gone are four starters from a unit that was responsible for 276.2 rushing yards per game in 1990. But James Fambro, the leading rusher, is back from an 8-2 team that lost in the playoff's first round at Dayton's Welcome Stadium.
Dayton, with 51 Division III wins in 53 home games over the past seven years, loves to entertain guests on the artificial turf of its cheerfully named field. With Augustana, the Flyers are the cofavorites to win the division title this fall. The major reasons are tailback William Peterson, kicker John Bianchi (16 of 19 field goal attempts and 48 of 49 PATs), and cornerback Dan Rosenbaum, whose GPA (3.95) rivals his 40-yard-dash time (4.53).
Until they won the division crown last season, the Allegheny Gators of Meadville, Pa., were best known for their somewhat illogical nickname. Under rookie coach Ken O'Keefe, Allegheny defeated cross-state foe Lycoming in the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl, after achieving a regular-season record of 9-0-1. The Gators have a gaggle of seniors returning, including flanker Julio Lacayo and linebacker Darren Hadlock. At Lycoming, 210 miles east of Meadville, quarterback Ed Dougherty will be starting for the fourth straight year, and the defense is led by linebacker Bill Small and sophomore end Joe Emrick, who surprised everyone with 17 sacks in '90.
The biggest little game in the nation could turn out to be Ithaca versus SUNY Cortland, by the shores of New York's Cayuga Lake on Nov. 9. Ten thousand fans are expected to watch these two Finger Lakes neighbors resume their 50-year rivalry. Ithaca fullback Jeff Wittman gained 134.3 yards per game last season, and Cortland quarterback Dick Puccio completed 61.1% of his passes. Ferrum (Latin for "iron") is fortified for another run at the title, which, from the wishbone, is what the Panthers do best. Fullback Kirt Studevant averaged 8.2 yards per carry last season for a unit that, for the second straight year, led the division in scoring. The Panthers' only regular-season road loss occurred you-know-where, but this fall Ferrum greets Dayton at home in Ferrum, Va., on natural turf. "We get a lot of rain around here in autumn," says publicist Tom Rickard. "Things could get messy, the way we like it."
Defense wins games for Washington & Jefferson of Washington, Pa. Last season the Presidents held opponents scoreless for 15 consecutive quarters. Cornerback Gilbert Floyd, an NFL-caliber player, had 61 tackles and six interceptions in '90. After last season, Union of Schenectady, N.Y., may be tempted to secede. Finishing 13-1 and runner-up in the Stagg Bowl in '89, the Dutchmen returned with an 8-1 season in '90. The selection committee did not, however, feel that Union belonged in the 16-team playoff field. Quarterback Brett Russ will be in charge of exacting revenge for that slight this fall.
Ask almost any coach in the division which of his colleagues is the most respected, and chances are the answer will be Bill Manlove of Widener. During home games, Manlove runs the Chester, Pa., team from a perch in the press box 80 feet above the field. This season he will be focusing a good deal of his attention on receiver Josh Phelan. Finally, there is Williams. The Ephs have won 21 straight games, though final exams at the academically demanding school preclude any postseason plans.