Among the 32 teams that fill the field for the NCAA Division III football tournament, Johns Hopkins (10-0) might be poised to make a long run in the postseason. But before the team can entertain visions of a national championship, the No. 8 Blue Jays know they have to get past No. 14 Wesley (8-2) in Saturday’s first-round game at Homewood Field in Baltimore.
"Obviously, it’s in the back of your head, but we have to focus on the task at hand," senior running back J.D. Abbott said Wednesday morning. "Wesley is a very talented team, and they will certainly be a huge challenge. They’ve got athletes on both sides of the ball. So, it's really all-in on this one game because if you don’t win, you’re going home."
Added sophomore running back Brandon Cherry, a Parkville native and Boys' Latin graduate: “Right now, all we’re thinking about is winning the first round and then the second round and then the third until we can get to the national championship. But we can’t get there until we beat Wesley this week.”
Cherry said the players’ mindset has been shaped by their daily interactions with the coaching staff. For example, head coach Jim Margraff chortled when asked if Johns Hopkins can consider a NCAA title.
“No, we’re thinking about Wesley,” he said. “We’ve gotten this way by being very business-like and focusing on how the next game is the most important game. That’s all we’re focused on right now. The reward to a good season is certainly a championship and a chance to keep playing, and I think our guys want to take adavantage of that. They want to keep playing.”
The Blue Jays must win four games to advance to the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl in Salem, Va., on Dec. 20, but they would likely have to upset Mount Union (10-0), which has captured 11 national championships including last year's crown. But that possibility seems distant right now, Abbott pointed out.
“We still have to get there,” he said. “It would be great to be thinking about that, but we’re not in that position yet. It’s all about Wesley.”