INDEPENDENCE - For Independence, the prep football season opener bore little resemblance to its winless 2016 campaign.
Even in defeat, a clear message was sent that there are brighter days ahead for the Mustangs.
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MOUNT VERNON — Mickey Hines and Chris Chapman spent more than a few Saturday afternoons at Ash Park.
Hines recalled standing beyond the end zone, catching extra-point kicks. Chapman said he was about 12 when he started attending Rams home games.
The former Mount Vernon preps are now freshmen for the Rams and are the only hometown players on the roster. They will get their first taste of the fifth-longest football rivalry in NCAA Division III when Cornell hosts Coe Saturday night, beginning at 7 p.m.
Hines, a 5-foot-7 running back and kick returner, rushed for a touchdown and tallied 45 total yards in the Rams’ 51-21 season-opening victory against Iowa Wesleyan. He was a youngster when he’d visit the campus, while his parents worked in the cafeteria.
“I would go up there and hang out with the football players,” Hines said. “Now, I’m on the team. It really hasn’t hit me that I’m playing on Saturdays. That will probably become real quickly.”
Hines elected to stay in town, even though he said the “bubble” around campus allows him to feel removed from his home.
Chapman, however, had a decision to make. The 6-1, 260-pounder narrowed his college choices between the two rivals, who play for the 126th time and the 72nd straight season.
Playing for Cornell coach Vince Brautigam and following the footsteps of the Rams he watched was too much to turn down. He laughed when he mentioned the reaction he would have gotten returning as a Kohawk.
“I think it would have been all right,” Chapman said. “I just think I would have gotten some bad looks from a couple people.”
Both are part of a young Rams squad that will have to rely on underclassmen to step in the lineup. Hines fielded the first kickoff of the year for a short return, while Chapman started at right tackle, helping Cornell amass 271 rushing yards and more than 400 offensive yards total.
“I put in a lot of work during the summer,” said Chapman, one of four first-year starters on the offensive line. “All my teammates have been working really hard.
“We have a pretty good class. ... I think as young guys, hopefully, we should be able to make an impact.”
The Rams are a substantial underdog to Coe, which has won 16 straight games in the series and owns a 70-51-4 edge. The Kohawks beat Cornell, 50-21, in 2014, which was the first night game between the two teams. Coe won last season’s meeting, 50-3, in Cedar Rapids.
“We have to get our young guys ready,” Brautigam said in a weekly release. “Coe is definitely a bigger and more physical football team overall. The speed of the game is going to increase. It will definitely be a challenge. We have to work extremely hard this week in practice and get better than we were last week.”
The Rams are looking for their first home win in this rivalry since 1998. Coe (1-0) defeated Wisconsin-River Falls, 28-0, last week in Tyler Staker’s debut as Kohawk head coach. Trevor Heitland had 215 total yards and four TDs, while Gavin Glenn passed for 308 yards. Coe returned six starters on both sides of the ball from last year.
“I think we can play well,” Hines said about the Rams this season. “We have to play at our best. We can’t have any slip ups.”
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