DII Notebook: Lindenwood's Connor Harris best tackler in NCAA history
Back in 2011, Lindenwood football coach Patrick Ross watched Connor Harris play in the Missouri Class 6 state championship game and knew Harris would do great things at the college level.
“There were a couple of plays I saw that I knew he was our guy,” Ross said. “He was playing offense. You could see the strength. It was cold outside. He had no sleeves, no gloves. He was out there playing. He came around the corner, and you could see the muscles in his legs popping out of his football pants. I knew he was a star.
“The big reason we were able to get him was some people were having trouble projecting him where he was going to play because he played quarterback and safety in high school. We knew he could be a killer inside linebacker.”
Harris was Missouri Class 6 defensive player of the year. He has been even more impressive on defense in college.
When it comes to tackling opponents, Harris is the best in NCAA history.
Harris, a 6-foot, 243-pound senior inside linebacker, is capping his senior season in record-breaking form at Lindenwood. On Saturday, he recorded 16 tackles and zoomed by the NCAA all-division career tackles mark of 550 held by Boomer Grigsby of Illinois State. Harris now has 565 tackles.
The NCAA officially started collecting defensive statistics in 2000.
These records are coming fast for Harris. He is too focused on the season to put these marks in perspective. In the second week of the season, Harris became the all-time leader in tackles in Division II.
“It was a huge honor,” Harris said about the Division II record. “It hasn’t hit me yet. I don’t think it will hit me until I am done playing whether that is this year or I get a chance at the next level. There are so many great players who have played Division II football and are still playing Division II football. To be up there with those guys means a lot.
“At the end of the day, it isn’t about me and it never has been. I am here to contribute to the team to help win football games. I have had so many great teammates and coaches these past five years that have pushed me to be the best I can be and put me in position to have success.”
Harris’ prolific tackling is garnering attention from NFL scouts and a few NFL general managers.
“It has been crazy around here with scouts,” Ross said. “Most are coming multiple times. We have had general managers come watch us play. He has had a ton of exposure. He will get into a camp. I wouldn’t be shocked if he is picked in the mid rounds. Once he gets into camp, he will make a team. It is just a matter of getting an opportunity.”
Harris has also excelled in the classroom, making the MIAA academic honor roll each year. He has a plan for his future whether it includes time in the NFL or not.
“Academics are very important,” Harris said. “That is the reason to go to college. No matter if you do get a shot at the next level, the average career in the NFL is around three years so you are going to be using your degree. I studied criminal justice. I took it very seriously. It is something I want to do after football is done. I want to go into law enforcement, start off as a police officer and work my way up.”
Wingate volleyball team starts season 17-1
A loss in the first round of the NCAA Division II playoffs always motivates the returning players because they have experienced a successful run to reach the postseason. But then it all comes to an abrupt end.
Wingate senior middle blocker Abby Saehler knows this feeling, and yes, she said last year’s ending was a motivating factor for the Bulldogs strong start to the season.
“Absolutely,” Saehler said. “We fell short of a couple of goals last season. You can see the passion on the court. We don’t want it to happen again.”
Wingate won its first 14 matches and that put the Bulldogs in the AVCA top 25 for the first time this season at No. 25.
The ranking brings a target.
“Teams are always looking to knock off a ranked team,” Saehler said.
Wingate has handled it well, winning three straight South Atlantic Conference matches before falling to No. 5 Wheeling Jesuit, the defending national champions, 3-1 on Saturday in a nonconference match. Wingate is 9-0 and is first place in conference.
Wingate coach Shelton Collier likes the makeup of his team. Mixed in with experienced players like Saehler are three freshmen who are starting.
“The freshmen were forced into the lineup and they have responded well to the challenge,” Collier said. “It is a credit to the older players and the freshmen for our start.”
Collier believes in success on the court helps the players have success away from volleyball. Winning brings happiness.
Saehler, who is majoring in human services and wants to be an elementary school teacher and coach one day, has experienced plenty of success on the court and has enjoyed her time at Wingate as a student-athlete.
In 2014, she earned third team All-American honors from AVCA, becoming the first sophomore in Wingate history to be named to an All-American team. Last season, she was first team All-SAC and All-Region.
“Coach does a very good job of allowing us to balance the social aspect of college and volleyball,” Saehler said.
Barry men’s soccer team starts season 6-1
After a nine-loss season in 2014, Barry men’s soccer coach Steve McCrath knew he needed to make some tough decisions to turn around the culture in his program.
The changes resulted in an 8-4-3 season last year. The returning players wanted to top that mark for 2016. But all players talk about getting better. The thing that makes McCrath proud of the Buccaneers’ 6-1 start to the season is the players did more than just talk about improving.
“Their mindset has been really sharp the entire season,” McCrath said.
It actually started last summer, said senior forward Thomas Coombes, who is in his fifth year in the program and has experienced the ups and downs. He currently leads the team with eight goals and 19 points.
“I know the boys got together before preseason to put in the extra work over the summer so the transition into a new season would be smoother,” Coombes said.
The success by Barry goes beyond just getting in shape during the summer for the start of the season. McCrath calls it surrendering.
“A lot of people look at the term surrender as a deficiency,” McCrath said. “If you surrender to leadership in a healthy way, it really should look like you have people who trust the leader. You will do anything for that guy and that coach because they have the knowledge.
“The good thing about the seniors is they have chosen to surrender and because of it, the juniors, sophomores and freshmen, really have a sense of trusting us.”
Coombes is somebody the younger players look to for leadership.
“Personally, I made a lot of sacrifices to be here. Hopefully, I have led by example for others to do similar things,” Coombes said. “This is the one year I can honestly say everybody gets along. I can hang out with anybody on the team at any given time. There is no animosity, no clicks. It is just a very positive environment to be around.
“This season feels so different. There is a positive vibe. The joy is coming out in games. Obviously, the games are different. It gets a bit more intense, the competitive nature, but you remember the joy of scoring goals. I have been fortunate enough to score quite a few goals so far this season. My teammates are the first to congratulate me. They are all around me. It is very much a team thing.”
Football upset of the week: Tiffin beats No. 5 Ashland 35-32
With 1:01 left in the game, senior Antonio Pipkin scored on a 7-yard touchdown run that increased Tiffin’s lead to 10 points, giving the home crowd a chance to start celebrating a monumental upset.
Tiffin is calling its 35-32 victory over highly ranked Ashland the biggest upset in school history. Tiffin, which improved to 3-2, never trailed in handing Ashland its first loss of the season.
Junior wide receiver Charles Holland was nearly impossible to cover. He hauled in 11 passes for 262 yards and two touchdowns. His 262 yards was second highest single game total in school history.