By Tim Glon
ADA — The Ohio Northern football team posted an upper division finish in the Ohio Athletic Conference for an impressive 22nd time in the past 24 seasons in 2018 under 15th-year head coach Dean Paul.
The Polar Bears were 5-5 overall and finishing tied for fifth in the 10-team OAC with a 4-5 league record.
"After each season, we evaluate ourselves on multiple fronts," Paul said. "We have certain team goals, with regards to OAC finish, national rankings and the postseason. The gap between where we finished and what our goals are was not that large, which is encouraging.
"We need to develop our overall depth and do a better job of closing out close games, but we feel positive about the number of players who gained valuable experience last year and the overall culture of our program."
Northern suffered through myriad of injuries during the season, especially on defense, where seven freshmen were in the starting lineup at the end of the season.
Senior offensive tackle Sam Shook (New Philadelphia) shook off injuries his sophomore and junior seasons to be named First Team All-America and First Team All-Great Lakes Region by D3football.com and Second Team All-America by the Associated Press.
Shook was also named Honorable Mention Mayo Clinic CoSIDA Comeback Player of the Year after his amazing 2018 campaign.
He was also named the OAC Offensive Lineman of the Year and First Team All-OAC.
Senior receiver Chad Rex (Bradenton, Fla./Lakewood Ranch) joined Shook as an All-Region honoree, earning Third Team accolades by D3football.com.
A total of 10 Polar Bears were named All-Conference.
Senior offensive guard Kyle Gonterman (Wapakoneta), junior linebacker David Haseleu (Pittsburgh, Pa./Montour), junior quarterback Anthony McFadden (Chillicothe/Paint Valley) and freshman Brock Martin (Attica/Seneca East) were Second Team All-Conference selections.
Ten Ohio Northern football players were named Academic All-Ohio Athletic Conference in 2018.
Seniors Sean Devany (Cuyahoga Falls/S. Vincent-St. Mary), Ethan Edwards (Urbana), Austin Jensen (Mason) and Sam Shook (New Philadelphia), juniors Ethan Hale (Galena/Big Walnut), Anthony McFadden (Chilicothe/Paint Valley) and Grant Nieszala (Lambertville, Mich./Bedford) and sophomores Jack Lehr (York, Pa./Dallastown), Zak Smith (Minneola, Fla./Lake Minneola) and Kyle Yoho (Heath) all earned the honor.
Northern started strong in 2018, winning its first four games while holding all four opponents to 17 points or less.
ONU opened with home victories over Adrian (34-17), Muskingum (42-14) and Wilmington (49-16) and a 13-7 win at Otterbein.
But the injuries began to pile up, especially on defense, and began to take its toll in a 43-42 loss at Marietta, in which the Pioneers got a touchdown and 2-point conversion with 22 seconds left to post the win.
A 49-46 victory at Capital was sandwiched around losses to No. 10-ranked John Carroll and top-ranked Mount Union to leave ONU 5-3 heading into November.
Northern rallied from a 41-10 deficit before falling 48-41 at No. 24-ranked Baldwin Wallace and ended the season with a 49-17 loss at Heidelberg.
"We are excited about the progress we are making in practice this spring," ONU head coach Dean Paul said. "We are going to do a better job of developing our depth and get our second and third string guys more ready to play. We are excited about our talent level and watching our young players develop.
"Defensively, we have 17 different guys on our roster that have started games and we hope that experience benefits us this year. Offensively, we need to replace a couple of linemen and receivers, but we have guys emerging at both positions. We could be very good at running back."
That depth at running back includes junior All-American Christiaan Williams (Sidney/Anna), who missed the entire 2018 season due to injury after being named Second Team Little All-America by the Associated Press and by the American Football Coaches Association in 2017.
In his two seasons at Ohio Northern, Williams ranks seventh all-time in school history with 2,831 rushing yards. He is also 10th with 462 rushing attempts, is third with an average of 6.13 yards per rush and is seventh with 3,567 all-purpose yards.
Martin (765 yards, 13 TDs) returns at running back after earning Second Team All-OAC honors as a freshman and is joined by junior A.J. Marks (631 yards, 6 TDs) and McFadden (390 yards rushing, 2218 passing yards, 20 passing TDs) in the offensive backfield.
In all, the ONU roster features 27 players that have started at least one game in their careers.
Ohio Northern began its spring practice on March 18 and will conclude with a 7-on-7 scrimmage and Lineman Challenge on April 13.