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Small colleges: University of Chicago, Wilkerson off to solid start

Updated: October 20, 2013 7:44AM

When Dick Maloney retired in June after 19 years as football coach at the University of Chicago, the Maroons had to come up with a replacement fast. They turned to Chris Wilkerson, a veteran assistant at Dartmouth, San Jose State and Eastern Illinois.

The early returns: The Maroons are off to a 2-0 start, including a 23-13 victory Saturday at Concordia, a team that had beaten Chicago the last two years. Next up is their first home game, a visit by Elmhurst (1-1), which dropped out of the rankings with a 16-7 loss to Trine in Angola, Ind.

“For us, the timing of this whole change with coach Maloney retiring and me coming on board has been pretty unique,” Wilkerson said. “But the kids have been really resilient and adjusted very well in the short period of time that we’ve had to spend together.”

Wilkerson said the Maroons will play a little old-school football, trying to establish the run on offense while stopping the run on defense and creating chances to get after the passer.

Leading the way are tailback Zak Ross-Nash and defensive lineman Brandon Bolock. Ross-Nash is tied for 15th in NCAA Division III with 284 yards rushing, including 180 on a career-high 41 carries against Concordia. Bolok has three sacks and seven tackles for loss.

“Zak Ross-Nash has gotten off to a really good start,” Wilkerson said. “He’s kind of our workhorse on offense. On defense, Brandon Bolock has been extremely active for us. He’s our leading sacks guy, our leading tackles-for-loss player. Those two kids have been extremely active early on for setting the tempo for what we’re trying to do.”

It’s the first head coaching job for Wilkerson, who played at EIU under Bob Spoo and later served on his staff. He’d been on Dartmouth’s staff since 2005, where he was named associate head coach in 2007.

Asked why he moved to Chicago, Wilkerson listed the school’s academic standing — No. 5 in the nation on the U.S. News list of best universities — the storied football tradition from its Big Ten days with coach Amos Alonzo Stagg and the first Heisman Trophy winner in Jay Berwanger, and its recent football tradition with four University Athletic Associations championships under Maloney.

“Having been around the different models, I like the academics-first approach in the Ivy, the University of Chicago, the NESCAC [New England Small College Athletic Conference] and some of the more academic-driven schools in Division III,” he said. “That model, I felt, best fit my philosophies.”

In the rankings

North Central, No. 6 in Division III after a 41-24 victory at Wisconsin-LaCrosse, plays host to Wisconsin-Stout on Saturday, while No. 14 Wheaton, 2-0 after a 66-0 rout of Albion, is at home against Luther.

In NAIA, No. 5 St. Xavier (1-1) takes on visiting No. 22 Robert Morris, while No. 17 St. Francis (2-0) travels to Trinity International (2-0) in Deerfield.

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