Dominating attitude pervades both sides of the line of scrimmage

Joe Mullin ’24 celebrates with the wide receivers against Butler University on September 16, 2023. | Photo by Elijah Greene ’25

Having completed their nonconference slate in a 47-21 loss against Butler University on September 16, Wabash football re- turns home to Crawfordsville after a rocky start to play their Homecoming game against Oberlin on Saturday, September 23.

This rocky start is not uncommon or even unexpected for the Little Giants. Unlike most of the competition in the NCAC, Wabash football has pursued some of the best talent, both regionally and nationally, to compete against in their nonconference schedule during the past few seasons. Reviving both the Gentlemen’s Classic with Hampden-Sydney College and the Iron Key rivalry with Butler, as well as playing the 2022 DIII national champions— North Central University— last season, Wabash has tested its mettle in every way possible before entering conference play.

“We’re battle-tested and hungry,” said senior offensive lineman Mark Caster ’24. “You see a lot of teams begin to fade [mentally] as the season progresses. That isn’t happening [here].”

Along with the hard-fought loss to Butler, Wabash—for the second year in a row—won in a last-second thriller against Hampden-Sydney in the first week of the season. In both games, the Little Giants seemed to struggle to start and maintain momentum on both sides of the ball—especially defensively.

“We have a lot to prove from last year,” said Defensive Coordinator Mike Ridings. “We fell short in a lot of things [on defense]. So, our en- tire thought process is to not worry about who we are playing, but to hold ourselves to a certain standard of defense.”

To emphasize his points and to maintain players’ belief in his system, Ridings comes with receipts to show his players; receipts that show it is possible to translate theory into a dominant defense on Saturdays.

“I keep showing our defense clips of what a dominant defense looks like,” said Ridings. “[The clips include] things like stopping the run, being great in the redzone, being great on third down, and especial- ly being great situationally in the two-minute drill.”

Wabash fans have seen both sides of the late-game situation coin this season already. Positively, against Hampden-Sydney, sophomore defensive back Jake Pasch ’26 caused and recovered a fumble with three minutes to go, giving Wabash the break it needed to seal the victory. Negatively, Butler was able to drive down the field with 11 seconds left in one play at the end of the first half and kick a 48-yard field goal to go up 24-14 as time expired.

“We’re chipping away at [greatness]” said Ridings. “Our guys are getting better every week, and they’re excited to play Oberlin.”

Offensively, the Little Giants have more or less picked up right where they left off. Returning almost every skill position starter and an entire offensive line is certainly a recipe for success.

An underappreciated—but essential— cog in the Wabash offensive machine, the starting offensive line of Joe Mullin ’24, Cameron Ford ’25, Mark Caster ’24, Kanon Kelley ’25 and Quinn Sholar ’26 have been a force to be reckoned with already this season.

“I’ve been coaching college foot- ball for 20 years and this is the first time that I’ve had all five [linemen] starters return,” said Assistant Football Coach Olmy Olmstead ’03. “We’re pretty lucky to have this experienced group return in its entirety.”

The extended experience from the group allows for an almost-inhuman level of focus. With two fifth-year seniors anchoring the interior, the Wabash offensive line knows that success starts and ends with their ability to execute effectively.

“We demand excellence from one another, understanding that any- thing less is failure,” said Caster. “Wabash football is all about lining up across the line of scrimmage from a guy who you know hasn’t been challenged like you have. You kick his ass because he sleeps through the week, doesn’t condition after practice and doesn’t put in extra work. That’s practically second-nature here.”

“Without a good offensive line, the rest of X’s and O’s on offense are for nothing,” said senior quarterback Liam Thompson ’24. “The guys want to block and never ask for any of the credit. We’ve had one of the best offenses in the country recently and that’s on their shoulders, 100%.”

Striving for excellence has already begun to pay dividends this season for the Little Giants. Behind their stellar play at the line of scrimmage, all three major rushers for Wabash averaged above 4.5 yards- per-carry against Hampden-Sydney, a staggering statistic.

While it’s difficult to compare since Butler is a DI university, the Wabash offense struggled to hold off the more talented Butler defense, letting up three sacks and fumbling three times. Despite these setbacks, the Little Giants were able to move the ball reasonably well against the Bulldogs, amassing three passing touchdowns and totaled over 300 yards of offense.

“With this group, I’m in a position where I know what each [line- man] is capable of,” said Olmstead. “They’re constantly working to perfect their craft individually and improve on whatever task I ask them to execute.”

There should be no surprises in Wabash’s first conference slate against Oberlin. Finishing last in the conference in 2022, Oberlin should serve as an excellent warmup and entry to the Little Giants’ long and arduous campaign through October and into November, leading to the 129th iteration of the Monon Bell Classic.