DES MOINES —
For Alabama football fans, it was all fun in the sun this past week as the Crimson Tide rolled to another national title in Miami, Florida.
For Iowa Western football fans, the environment wasn’t nearly as tropical. All the same, the celebration was just as big.
The Reivers capped their own championship season this past November, winning the program’s first ever NJCAA National championship in their own home state. Iowa Western clobbered Kansas school Butler, 27-7, at the Graphic Edge Bowl in Cedar Falls.
The win gave three former local athletes a chance to do something they’d been hoping to accomplish since their days at Fairfield: Celebrate a title inside the UNI-Dome.
Smithburg headed to Kansas as NJCAA All-American
If anybody has a reason to believe in playoff beards, it’s Mike Smithburg.
Smithburg spent most of 2012 ignoring a razor and refusing to shave. Both on and off the football field, things went pretty well for the former Fairfield all-stater.
On the field, Smithburg started on an offensive line that led the way to an undefeated national championship season at Iowa Western. The protection of the 6-3, 300-pound sophomore helped keep Reivers’ quarterback Jake Waters upright, allowing the former Council Bluffs St. Albert signal-caller to set a new NJCAA single-season record for completion percentage (73.3 percent) by connecting on 244 of 333 pass attempts while leading the nation with 39 touchdown passes and 3,501 passing yards.
For that, Smithburg was one of two Iowa Western offensive linemen to be named to the NJCAA All-American team. Joined by first-team selection Dallas Hinkhouse, Smithburg earned an honorable mention all-American honor for his play this season.
Smithburg’s play on the field has also earned him an opportunity to play in one of the toughest leagues in major college football next year. The former Trojan and Reiver is about to become a Jayhawk, as Smithburg signed his letter of intent to play football next year at the University of Kansas.
“The people were the biggest difference for me in why I chose Kansas,” Smithburg said. “I think (Head) Coach (Charlie) Weis is absolutely awesome, all the offensive line coaches are awesome. It’s going to be a different level, but being around position coaches on the junior college level is going to prepare me for the coaching I’m going to get at Kansas.”
Being part of a national championship team is sweet enough, but for Smithburg the added joy came with being part of a team that included a pair of high school teammates. Two fellow Fairfield Trojans also contributed for the Reivers this season.
Sophomore Jake Dunbar was Iowa Western’s only punter this season, averaging 37 yards a kick including a long punt of 80 yards with 15 boots downed inside the 20. Sophomore defensive tackle Courtland Thomas, another Fairfield native, played in 10 games for the Reivers and was a part of 35 tackles, including 10 solo tackles, with a sack and half and eight tackles for loss.
All three former Trojans were on the field helping No. 1 Iowa Western take down No. 2 Butler in the Graphic Edge Bowl, which served as the NJCAA national title game. Thomas was in on five tackles, one solo, as the Reivers’ defense came up with five sacks and forced four turnovers in the win.
Dunbar, meanwhile, had six punts for a 40.2-yard average in the title game, including two downed inside the 20. Smithburg stood strong from his outside guard position to help the Reivers gain over 400 yards of offense in the 20-point victory.
Smithburg is the fourth offensive lineman of the Kansas recruiting class and is planning to report to the Lawrence campus this month. The early arrival at Kansas will give the former Trojan a chance to participate in spring football.
“My plan has always been to get an offer in time to be able to commit and be at that school by this time,” said Smithburg, who graduated in December from Iowa Western. “I know what the benefits are to graduating early. I think getting to Kansas right now is going to help me a lot in preparing for the next level.”
Smithburg also plans on having a much different look even before he suits up in a Kansas uniform. As he told the Lawrence Journal-World, Smithburg plans on getting reacquainted with his razor.
“I think I’m going to get rid (of the beard),” Smithburg joked. “I’ve got a girlfriend that I plan on keeping around for a while and my mom hates it. If I were smart, I’d probably get rid of it.”
Wellington among the latest dual-sport stars at UNI
It’s been a good year for former Fairfield athletes to showcase their skills at UNI. In fact, one former Trojan is joining a growing list of Panther athletes who are successfully taking on the challenges of being a dual-sport athlete.
Former Fairfield standout Wilmot Wellington became the third star of Mark Farley’s UNI football team to cross over to the track last year. Wellington joined star running back Carlos Anderson and wide receiver Jarred Herring as teammates on both the Panthers football and track and field squads.
The busy schedule didn’t slow down Wellington. On the track, Wellington scored in the sprints indoors and outdoors, became a two-time conference champion on a 4x100 meter relay team that, along with Anderson and Herring, made it all the way to the NCAA Championships last spring.
On the gridiron, Wellington was just as successful. The redshirt senior defensive back joined Jake Farley in leading the Panther defense with 85 tackles, including a team-best 56 solo tackles.
Wellington’s had plenty of success of the years in both of these sports. During his prep career at Fairfield, Wellington won the Class 3A 100 meter dash state title and earned First-team All-State Elite player honors on the gridiron.
Wellington also earned All-American honors in both track and football during his two years at Iowa Central. And before he played a down of football at UNI, Wellington qualified for his first NCAA Championships at UNI in track and field in 2010.
“Athletes like Wilmot are amazing student-athletes, but I don’t think they are uncommon,” Northern Iowa head track and field coach Dan Steele said. “All over America, kids like them are excelling in track and football at the high school level. Then they go to college and most have to choose.
“I’m very fortunate to have a coach like Farley leading UNI football. He understands the value of two-sport athletes for football and really for the entire athletic department.”
Former high school stars earn letters
Two area football players were rewarded for their contributions to the Coe College Football team’s tremendous fall season.
Blake Miller, a 2010 graduate of Ottumwa High School, and Alex Christenson, a 2011 graduate of Oskaloosa, both earned athletic letters, which symbolized the roles they played in the Kohawks 10-0 season. It was the fourth ten-win season in the program’s history.
Miller, a junior, is a two-year letter winner while Christenson, a sophomore, is a first-year letter winner. Miller is the son of Daniel and Brenda Miller and Christenson is the son of Jon Christenson and Carolyn and Kevin Pederson.
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