By J. Pruitt / Daily News Editor
If you want a reason for the success of the Hillsdale College football team this year then look no further than to two juniors who are making their mark this year.
Quarterback Troy Weatherhead and wide receiver Andre Holmes have come into their own this year and are a big reason the Chargers are knocking on the door of a spot in the national playoffs. The pair have hooked up for six scoring passes, including a 68-yard catch-and-run by Holmes two weeks ago against Wayne State.
The two are also best friends.
Weatherhead hails from Comstock Park, outside of Grand Rapids, while Holmes is from the Chicago suburb of Schaumburg.
Weatherhead said all the offensive starters are best friends and members of the same fraternity. Such a bond translates into a cohesiveness that stretches beyond the football field.
“We can call each other out, hold each other accountable,” he said.
With Weatherhead at the helm, Hillsdale has gone 15-6 and is currently ranked 20th in the D2football.com poll and more importantly, is in the top six of the Midwestern Region. That means a win Saturday could put the team in the D-2 playoffs for the first time.
To get there, they must beat Tiffin, who comes in at 0-10.
Weatherhead is not fooled. Last year in the season finale, Hillsdale pulled out a dramatic 37-36 win on the road after blowing a 30-7 lead.
“We thought it was going to be a walk through,” Weatherhead said. “We put it on cruise control.”
This year, Weatherhead knows what has to be done.
“We have to bury them early and keep the pedal down,” he said.
To do that the Chargers will have to duplicate their performance from last week when they annilhated Ferris State 59-14.
One of the keys will be using Holmes. At 6-foot-5 and 195 pounds, the junior presents an easy target for Weatherhead. He leads the team in receiving yards with 864 and is second with 61 receptions.
He credits his maturation to his increased playing time.
“Being on the field more has given me a lot more exposure,” he said. “That goes for everyone.
“The games we lost last year by single digits, we now are winning.”
Both players credit their relationship with offensive coordinator Barry Fagan for their growth.
Holmes said the players are friends with Fagan.
“We are not afraid to joke around,” he said. “Everyone just bonded. It comes with winning.”
Weatherhead said he has a good relationship with him.
“We meet before practice and and we have developed our relationship so we can talk,” he said.
Fagan has good things to say about his quarterback as well.
“Troy has a great attitude,” the coach said. “He manages the football team on the field.”
Fagan said Weatherhead is a good, accurate passer.
“He will not air it out, but he will hit the right people,” he said.
Holmes has also bonded with the community. He spent the summer in town working at the school. During that time he met and made friends with other people from Hillsdale and Jonesville.
The team’s success has permeated campus and the community. Holmes said even though students may not come out to every game, they know “what we’re doing.”
“That’s a lot better than it has been the last few years,” he said. “They are excited every game.”
Weatherhead said it’s fun to go to the store or gas station and be recognized.
The fame has reached beyond the area. Holmes said he had to go home to attend a funeral and on the train trip back to Jackson, another passenger noticed his shirt and asked which sport he played. When Holmes said football the man lit up and talked about the Grand Valley game.
“He recognized my number and when we got to the station, his friend recognized me,” he said. “We are branching out of town.”
The win over Grand Valley validated the season and the program for the two players.
“It’s the difference between 8-3 and 9-2, but (beating) Grand Valley made everyone believe we’re the real deal,” Weatherhead said. “We’ve been on a roll in all phases of the game.”
As good as beating the No. 1 team in the nation was, both players know their season isn’t over. They have one more game and they know they can’t stop and look back.
“There’s not a lot words to say,” Weatherhead said. “If Saturday is one day we don’t come to play, all that we’ve worked for will be gone in a blink of they eye.”