Genoa native Blair Skilliter didn’t go to Mount Union College just to get an education and play a little football. He had his eyes on a bigger prize.
“I went to Mount Union with hopes of becoming a national champion,” Skilliter said.
He got his wish on Dec. 14, when the Purple Raiders defeated St. Thomas of Minnesota, 28-10, in the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl in Salem, Va. It was the program’s 11th Division III national title in the last 20 years under coach Larry Kehres.
Mount Union, a school of about 2,300 students located in Alliance, Ohio, and Wisconsin-Whitewater have combined to win every D-III national title since 2005. Whitewater beat the Purple Raiders in the three previous championship games, including 13-10 last season.
Skilliter, a 5-foot-8, 180-pound senior running back/cornerback, felt the pain of every one of those losses.
“To be there three times and come up short every time, it left a little part of me…I hadn’t reached my goals yet,” he said. “This was my senior year and I wanted to be a national champion. To reach my goal is really rewarding. I still can’t put into words what it meant after the game. It was surreal that we won the national championship and we are the best team in the nation. I’m still having a hard time putting it into perspective. It doesn’t seem real.”
Skilliter was a major contributor to the Purple Raiders’ championship run.
After rushing for 547 yards and seven touchdowns as a junior, Skilliter was Mount Union’s third-leading rusher this season. He had 107 carries for 642 yards and was second on the team with 13 rushing touchdowns. Had also had eight catches for 107 yards and a TD, returned nine kickoffs for 279 yards (31.0 average) and one score, and returned 13 punts for 109 yards (8.4 average). He was third on the team in scoring, with 90 points.
Skilliter also started in the defensive backfield for the first time since high school. He finished with 17 tackles, seven pass breakups and one interception. The interception came in the Purple Raiders’ 72-14 first-round playoff rout of Christopher Newport, where he also ran for a TD.
“Coach Kehres approached me in the offseason,” Skilliter said. “We lost a couple of senior cornerbacks and he said, ‘The team needs you on defense this year.’ I played defense my senior year in high school, at strong safety and linebacker, but (this) was a weird feeling.
“When coach Kehres asked me, I felt honored that they felt I was a good enough athlete to go play a new position. I thought about it and prayed about it. I knew we had a bigger goal than just individual stats. We wanted to be national champions, and wherever the team needed me, that was fine.”
Skilliter said the seniors got together during Christmas break last year and vowed that they would not be the senior class at Mount Union that graduates without winning a national title.
“Our focus the entire season and offseason was to get back to the national championship game,” said Skilliter, who had two carries for 11 yards against St. Thomas. “Whoever we played that week, that was the game we needed to focus on. We never looked too far ahead. We wanted to do all the things we needed to do and be the best we could be to get back to the national championship game.”
The top-ranked Purple Raiders steamrolled most of their opponents this season. They won the Ohio Athletic Conference title for the 21st straight year and went undefeated in the regular season for the seventh straight year. Mount Union’s offense averaged 52.8 points per game, while the defense had six shutouts and allowed just 8.9 points per game.
Skilliter, who has a 3.2 GPA, is on schedule to graduate with a marketing degree in the spring. He said he couldn’t be happier that he picked Mount Union.
“It’s a great community,” he said. “Coming from high school, at Genoa we had tight-knit community that kind of revolved around Genoa football. I wanted a similar experience to carry over to college. For four years, it’s been nothing short of that. The teachers, the community, the students, they love to be able to call themselves a Mount Union Purple Raider.”
Kehres said he knows he will have a big void to fill next season.
“Blair has been a dedicated and hard working part of the football team and campus as a whole throughout his entire four years,” Kehres said, “This past year we needed help in the secondary and he moved over there, accepted a new role and really helped the team be successful. His energy level and enthusiasm to contribute never wavered. That energy and enthusiasm inspired his teammates to work hard in practice and games to be better at their own positions.”
Skilliter said it still hasn’t sunk in that his football career has come to an end.
“I can’t believe it’s over,” he said. “Everyone tells me, former players I talked to, that it won’t sink in that it’s over until next August. I came to Mount Union with hopes of winning four national championships. Just to win one and call myself a national champion, it’s all worth it.”
Celebrating alongside Skilliter is 6-foot-2, 240 pound sophomore defensive end Corey Jones (Northwood), an exercise science major who was a three-year letterman playing for Coach Ken James.