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Thursday, July 18, 2019

Highlands Grad Fulfills Role at Wittenberg

Kendall Hopes to Make Bigger Impact at Wide Receiver as Senior

PHOTO: Nick Falzerano, Wittenberg University. Wittenberg University running back Nick Kendall (5) makes a move in a game against Hiram College last fall. Kendall, a 2016 Highlands graduate, has 2,405 all-purpose yards for the Tigers entering his senior year.
The stats may not look as impressive as other running backs in college football.

But 2016 Highlands graduate Nick Kendall has done his part to help maintain the winning tradition for the NCAA Division III Wittenberg University Tigers of the North Coast Athletic Conference located just in Springfield (Ohio) just north of Dayton. Kendall has 2,405 all-purpose yards including 1,320 yards rushing on 252 carries for an average of just more than 5.2 per touch in Wittenberg's Spread offense.

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"We have been running back by committee here for quite some time," said Joe Fincham, Wittenberg Head Coach. "Nick's versatility really showed pretty quick when he first got here. He catches the ball well. He's very good with the ball in his hands in space. Early on, he became our 3rd-and-long back. He's built his repertoire from there. He's a guy who can play every down now. He's at his best catching the ball out of the backfield in space for sure."

As a freshman, Kendall had career-highs of 498 yards rushing and 539 yards in kick-off returns. But last season, Kendall recorded a career-high 20 catches for 143 yards. For his career, Kendall has 13 touchdowns including nine rushing and one punt return for a score. Kendall also owns one successful two-point conversion.

Wittenberg has had a football team since 1892. The Tigers have an overall record of 727-353-32 good for the second-most in NCAA Division III history. Since 1955, Wittenberg only has one losing record. The Tigers have five national championships and 16 NCAC titles.

Wittenberg finished 9-1 last year including 8-1 in NCAC play good for a three-way tie for the title. But the Tigers did not earn the automatic bid for the playoffs out of the NCAC nor did they earn one of the five at-large selections.

However, Wittenberg did make the playoffs during Kendall's freshman and sophomore years. The Tigers finished 10-1 in 2017 going unbeaten in the regular season before losing 35-7 to Frostburg State (Maryland) in the first round of the playoffs. In 2016 as a freshman, Wittenberg went 10-2 beating host Thomas More (Kentucky), 33-30 in four overtimes in the first round of the playoffs before losing 37-9 at Wisconsin-Whitewater.

During his four years at Highlands, the Bluebirds won two state championships, finished runner-up and won four region and district championships. Kendall helped the Bluebirds back to the state semifinals in Class 5A as a senior in 2015.

Kendall was the third-leading rusher on the 2014 Class 4A state championship team. That marked the last of 23 state championships for the Bluebirds.

"It's awesome coming from Highlands with all that history," Kendall said. "Going on one of my recruiting visits up there, I realized how deep (Wittenberg's) history was. It is as deep as Highlands. That's what made me so pumped to go there."

The Bluebirds played an up-tempo game. That helped Kendall adjust to the college game quickly.

"They run the same kind of offense as we did (at Highlands). You just have to know the names of everything," Kendall said. "The upperclassmen helped me make the smooth transition."

Kendall had to carry the lead offensively for the Bluebirds early in the 2015 season. But he's not had to do that at Wittenberg. Kendall said he played some at wide receiver as a sophomore, but injuries to the running backs limited that last year.

"I've been working on my speed in open space," Kendall said. "We have four running backs coming back and all four of us can play (well). (The coaches) do a really good job with playing time for all of us. I am looking forward to playing more at receiver than before. Everybody on the team can make plays. They're there for a reason."

Academically, Kendall is double-majoring in Accounting and Business Management. After last semester, Kendall said his grade-point average is a 3.5 on a four-point scale. He just finished summer classes and hope to bump it up more.

"It's a lot like being back at Highlands. It's small classes and the teachers care for you a lot," Kendall said. "With freshmen starting out, everyone has to go through study tables. They were an hour and half twice a week. You know you need to focus on school and it's usually right after practice. I try to get my homework and projects done as early as possible. That leaves more time as the season gets deeper to focus on football when it really matters."

Kendall said the Tigers have some question marks entering the season. They graduated a number of players on offense and defense leaving not as much experience as previous years. That's where the upperclassmen have encouraged everyone to pick up their games.

Kendall played with 2013 Highlands graduate Scott Turner his first two years there. Fincham has been impressed with the Highlands program. Recent graduate Nick Bowman will enter his freshman year there this fall.

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