By Hillsdale Daily News Correspondent James Gensterblum
Former Hillsdale quarterback Mark Nicolet has plenty of experience with pressure, but Saturday morning presented a different challenge than what he had faced throughout his illustrious career: flags.
Nicolet led the yellow team in Hillsdale College’s first alumni football game, and put on a good show, throwing for two touchdowns and running back an interception on defense, but his team fell short of the win, 27-21.
The alumni football game, which featured over thirty alumni whose playing days ranged from the early seventies to last season, turned out to be a huge success. Fans were treated to a surprisingly high quality flag football contest, while former players got a chance to reconnect with old teammates on and off the field.
The game was the brainchild of former lineman Tom Kanka, who graduated in 1984. Kanka said that he hadn’t seen some of his fellow teammates since they graduated, and thought that there should be a yearly event that could bring them together.
Enter the Alumni Association’s Football Homecoming Weekend, a golf outing, dinner, bonfire, and football game designed to bring back Charger players of yesteryear to Hillsdale.
“The weekend we’ve put together serves a lot of purposes,” Kanka said. “On the one hand, we’re bringing together a lot of teammates who’ve been separated by time and distance. Also, we’re getting a group of guys together who share a common bond but might not have known each other before. Tom (Korte) and Mark (Nicolet) played for the Chargers like those of us in the eighties did, but they weren’t familiar with us before this weekend and vice versa. Hopefully, we can build a really strong community of former Charger players out of this weekend.”
Former player Mike Harding agrees. A former player who graduated in 1970, and the eldest of the alumni in the game, Harding thinks that a yearly reunion can strengthen the bonds between current and former players at Hillsdale.
“By building a tradition like this, you show to the current players that their experiences with Hillsdale College don’t have to end when they graduate,” Harding said. “They can still be part of the program and be playing a role in its success even when their playing days are done.”
Among the stars of the game was former quarterback Kyle Keefer, who graduated in 2000 and was playing for the red team. Keefer renewed his connection with Hillsdale three sports star Tim Mustapha, throwing two of his three touchdown passes to the star wideout.
“It was a lot of fun and getting to play on this field again brought back a lot of memories,” Keefer said. “Some events of the weekend were more successful than others because of the weather, but overall a lot of guys came back and it worked out very well. It’s amazing to see how much this campus has changed in ten years, how much they’ve done to turn it into a top notch university.”
Tom Korte, who graduated last season and spent six weeks on the roster of the Pittsburgh Steelers this summer, participated in the game as well.
“It was awesome to see five decades of Charger players all in the same place at once,” Korte said. “It reminds you that you’re a part of something larger than yourself, and of all those lessons you learned as a player and as a man when you were here. It’s been a blast and I hope this happens every year.