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Robert Morris football thriving in third season

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Updated: October 23, 2013 10:01PM

When Jared Williamson was hired to be Robert Morris Chicago’s first football coach in June 2010, the program was just an idea.

‘‘I was hired with literally a set of keys, some business cards and an empty office,’’ Williamson said. ‘‘From that, we’ve been able to build into a competitive program. We’re not where we want to be yet, but we feel like the university gives us in multiple facets an opportunity to recruit the top student-athletes — not only in the area but around the country — because Chicago is such an appealing place to attend school.’’

The Eagles (5-3, 1-2) have had to grow up fast in their first season in the Mid-States Football Association Mideast League, one of the top NAIA conferences in the country. They hit a milestone Saturday by beating Taylor 42-37 for their first conference victory. Next up is a trip to No. 4 St. Francis of Indiana.

‘‘At the NAIA level, it’s the best conference in the country,’’ Williamson said of a league that also includes No. 24 St. Francis of Joliet in the Mideast and No. 3 Grand View, No. 8 St. Ambrose and No. 14 St. Xavier in the Midwest. ‘‘It’s the SEC of the NAIA. We knew that no matter what the ranking of the opponent, week in and week out, [if] you face a Mid-States team, it’s going to be a tough challenge.’’

There’s no shying away from challenges at Robert Morris. After taking one year to organize and recruit, Williamson fielded his first team in 2011. The Eagles went 4-4, then followed with an 8-3 mark in 2012 before joining the MSFA this season. Players attend classes at the school’s State Street campus, then commute to athletic facilities in Arlington Heights for practice and play.

Members of the first recruiting class are juniors now, and Williamson pointed to quarterback Matt Westerkamp and center Mac Robinson as players he looks to for leadership on offense. Defensive leaders include linebacker Tom Hughes and defensive end Jason Olson.

Another junior, receiver Deshawn Weaver, was named MSFA Mideast offensive player of the week after catching 11 passes for 176 yards against Taylor. And one more in the class, running back Lamont Wims, is among the national leaders with 997 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns, including 212 yards and three scores against Taylor.

‘‘We’ll have 25 or 30 seniors next year, and those guys have gotten a lot of playing experience,’’ Williamson said. ‘‘They’ve really bonded. Those are the guys who came here when there was no facility, no turf field, no football team, no highlight video, no top-25 ranking, no anything. They bought into what could be.’’

Crain, Cardinals cruising

John Crain was named the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin runner of the week for the third time this season after leading the North Central cross-country team to a first-place finish Saturday in the Wisconsin-Oshkosh Brooks Invitational.

Crain ran a personal-best 24 minutes, 20.74 seconds on the 8,000-meter course to win the individual championship. The Cardinals, ranked No. 1 in NCAA Division III, had a winning total of 33 points in the 37-team meet.

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