The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com
Tuesday, December 9, 2014 -- 7
Ann Arbor' sother'football program
By LEV FACHER Detroit Police Academy before
Daily Sports Editor pursuing a career with the Drug
Enforcement Administration or
Ann Arbor is known for college the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco,
football, but not this kind. Firearms and Explosives.
The brand of pigskin they But the routine is normal
play at Michigan is one of full for Hinojosa, whose career at
scholarships and bowl games, of Concordia ended Nov. 15 with a
109,000-seat stadiums and their 17-6loss to Robert Morris College.
$226-million renovations. Hinojosa was credited with three
Ann Arbor's hidden college tackles in the game, one solo and
football program - the one that two assisted, plus 1.5 sacks for a
calls Concordia University home total loss of eight yards.
- is an infant, in relative terms. Now Hinojosa's attention has
The school just completed its shifted from life as a football
fourth year of varsity football player to life as a non-athlete. of
competition, and the campus it course, he needed surgery on his
belongs to boasts a very different torn anterior cruciate ligament
vibe. first, and it came just in time.
Perched on the western After playing on the torn ACL for
shore of the Huron River, a full season, the meniscus in the
Concordia students are treated same knee was wearing thin.
to sweeping views of a slow- Hinojosa sustained the injury
moving waterway, Midwestern during a pickup basketball game
foliage and no hint of urbanism in the spring, an incident that
whatsoever every time they walk didn't do much in the way of
to class. The football field sits pleasinghis coaches.
on a former patch of farmland "Oh, they were pretty ticked,"
across the street - games are Hinojosa said. "I was supposed to
played in the shadows of a red- get surgery, but my surgeon said,
and-white barn and a pair of 'You know what? You can play if
accompanying grain silos. you really want to."'
The students haven't, however, The postseason surgery was
been treated to success on the successful, but the healing
football field. The Cardinals went process is far from over. It'll
0-1 in their inaugural season, Q-9 be at least eight months before
the year after, 1-9 in 2013 and 3-8 Hinojosa is back at full health.
in 2014. And before jumpstarting his
Unlike Michigan, football career outside of football, he'll
players here might work have the pleasure of taking 21
overnight shifts selling croissants credits in his final semester. For
and coffee in Ypsilanti to pay the Hinojosa, sleep is apparently
bills. They might find themselves overrated; pain thresholds are
caring for Alzheimer's patients in overemphasized.
the last stages of life in the middle Football, though, is what
of the night, just hours before makes it all worth it.
they have class and practice and "Football is the only time I
film. - actually feel
This is Concordia, and things awake," Hinojosa
are different in the National said of his
Association of Intercollegiate nonexistent sleep
Athletics, an athletic association cycle.
of 255 member schools precluded And the leg?
from NCAA competition by "I suck itup."
enrollment, budget or simple lack'
of it t a**
The Concordiafootball team has won just four games in as many years, but the program is special in the way its athletes become members of the community.
Johnson led the entire NAIA
in total tackles, sacks and tackles
for loss. His efforts didn't go
unnoticed - the Mid-States
Football Association named him
its Defensive Player of the Year
followingthe regular season.
Johnson was also named NAIA
All-American First Team and
is a finalist for the Cliff Harris
Award, given to the nation's best
small-college defensive player.
The Lansing native hopes
that his standout status as an
upperclassman means his football
playing days aren't over..
He has at least one more game
year and didn't use up any of his
Things quickly took a turn for
"I came here for a visit, and I
loved it," Johnson said. "Now I'm
a Concordia Cardinal."
For four years - five, in many
cases - Hinojosa, Johnson and
dozens of teammates, coaches
and trainers didn't sleep. They
began with a program based
on an empty field next to a
barn, sandwiched between two
Division I programs that would
always dominate recruiting,
and more generally, the football
At . Concordia, along
Ann Arbor's eastern edge,
you wouldn't know that a
40,000-student University is
a 10-minute drive away. You
wouldn't even know there's a
highway exit within a mile.
The campus' centerpiece isn't
a plaza or a football stadium,
or even an academic building.
It's a chapel of soaring angled
ceilings extending from an ornate
band of stained glass, blues and
reds fading into a distractingly
beautiful backdrop for worship,
a choir performance or a nativity
scene reenactment at Christmas
The school's tiny size changes
things, too. Football players are
interwoven into every aspect of
campus life. Some coaches teach
classes. Head coach Lonnie Pries
moonlights as the University's
director of athletics.
But when it comes to
moonlighting, Pries' second job
doesn't hold a candle to those of
Three times a week, give or
take, Mario Hinojosa works an
overnight shift at Tim Horton's
along Interstate 94 in Ypsilanti,
beginning at 10 p.m. and ending
at 6 a.m.
It isn't the craziest routine in
the world, really. Plenty of people
a week, give or
an overnight shift
at the Brookdale
Place of Ann
Arbor - a live-in
beginning at 10
p.m. and ending
at 6 a.m.
routine, like Instead oa cola
inherently ridiculous. It's just
that most people working with
elderly Alzheimer's patients at 4
a.m. don't have class in five hours,
and they don't plan to attend NFL
Regional Combines in the coming
The juxtaposition between
Johnson's work and play is
striking. Spending so much
time in an environment where
patients' deaths are a matter of
when, not if, can take a toll.
"I have about 15 residents, and
I feel like they're all a part of my
family," Johnson said. "It's hard
to see someone go, especially
when you've been working with
them for such a long time. They
up in time for 2 p.m. rehab
sessions, likely the only thing
stopping Hinojosa from going
for the full 24.
And as if there isn't enough to
distract Hinojosa from the other
.responsibilities of his day-to-day
life, the pain is incredible, and the
concern of further injury is ever-
"Ibuprofengets methrough it,"
Hinojosa said, describing how the
torn ACL stressed the meniscus
and weakened his entire leg. "The
risk for (every other leg injury) is
about 100 percenthigher."
But it was senior year, and he
wasn't missing it
for anything short
a concussion and a
court order to stay
away from the
coaching staff and
times when he'll
be excused from
a team meeting
to get his "couple
hours" of sleep,
and times when
he's allowed to
catch up on film
when it's more
Tim Horton's is
lass chapel. "It's football
said. "If I call work, they know
For Hinojosa, Johnson and
every other Concordia player
balancingthe challenges of work,
school and football, "football
first" is a mantra. Flexibility from
those around them, hard as it may
be on teammates, classmates or
coworkers, is a given.
ssus of a football stadium, Concordia University's centerpiece is its brilliant, stained-gN
work night become part of
shifts. It's just your family."
that most of "I c m One such
them don't death took
ave the nt for a visit, and I place in the
a~m te nxtmiddle of
morning. If loved it." the football
they do, they're season and
probably not hit Johnson
taking 18 particularly
credits of upper-level college hard.
coursework, well over the "I had a lady who passed
recommended 15 or 16. away not too long ago," Johnson
Even - fewer have football said. "She would always give
practice in the afternoon, me relationship advice, football
following class, and they probably advice ... a little lady, too. She
don't have film to watch after passed away recently, and that
practice, either. was probably one of the hardest
Hinojosa also has a student I've had since I've been working
organization to run. A senior there."
criminal justice major, the Emotional or not, Johnson was
linebacker and son of a former forced to turn his attention back
Detroit police officer is the to football within days. He was
president of the University's the star of Concordia's defensive
criminal justice club, which he unit in 2014, and he recorded 10
helped found early this semester. tackles in his final game, a 17-6
He's interested in attending the loss to Robert Morris on Nov. 15.
to play - the NAIA Senior Bowl'in
Myrtle Beach, South Carolina on
Dec. 20, in which the NAIA squad
will face off against the standout
seniors from the NCAA's Division
"They say NFL scouts come,"
Johnson said. "Hopefully, that'll
be agood chance."
Johnson isn't counting out a
career north of the border, either.
"Some (Canadian Football
League) teams, I guess, have been
contacting our coaches," Johnson
said. "So hopefullyI'll try out for a
couple of them."
Of Johnson and Hinojosa's.
original class, the one that will
graduate in 2014 after four or
more years with the programless
than a quarter remains.
Johnson said "eight to 12"
players stuck around from an
initial class of close to 40. Some
weren't content to sit through
years of losing, some weren't
willing to play for ateam without
a home field, and others couldn't
hack it in terms of athletics,
academics or both.
Those who stuck around
helped earn Concordia three
wins in 2014. Those wins aren't
much to brag about, but 2014's
senior class achieved milestones
that are forever theirs. It was the
Cardinals' first multi-win season.
The first road win in program
history came in September..
Johnson nearly wasn't a part of
that class - he began his career
at Saginaw Valley State, but was
cut after spring ball his freshman
landscape in Concordia's
backyard. In the end, they built a
college football program.
Despite everything, Hinojosa
manages to get up in the morning
body to class. But getting up isn't
the same as waking up - waking
up would imply he went to sleep
at some point.
"I wouldn't wal
said. "I mean, I'd
energy drinks an
class at 8 a.m."
champion at man
he's remarkably c
fact that he's a f
athlete, a full-time
and close to
being a full-
He's all of these
who goes three
nights a week
"I catch up
"I'm just wired
all week. That day
Of course, it
"On Sundays, w%
rehab. That's pret
between 13 and 1
lone day off, a fi
higher if it wasn
The injury re
ke up," Hinojosa Though Johnson has his sights
d take a couple set firmly on football, he also
id then I have has a few ideas in mind should a
professional career in the sport
osa is clearly a not pan out.
aging his time, An education major, Johnson
asual about the will spend time in the coming
ull-time college semester as a student teacher.
college student His other career interest -
- is a bit more
- outside the
"It's a great box for an
. c athlete with
recruiting piece to his academic
tell recruits you're "My uncle
. , was a fire chief
10 minutes away. in Lansing,"
the stories he
work followed by a full days work.
His methods differed, but the end
results were largelythe same.
"I don't do Red Bulls," Johnson
said. "I usually take a quick nap
and go to class."
Like Hinojosa, Johnson plans
on spending the coming semester
on campus, working out in
preparation for various combines
and tryouts. He has the blessing
of being at least relatively healthy.
If all goes well, Johnson could
represena major step in elevating
Concordia to some semblance of a
Former Cardinals punter
Tom Greenwood almost did it
following the 2013 season - he
made several NFL draft boards
after placing47 kicks inside the
20-yard line his senior season, but
his career stalled post-college.
Johnson would be the first
Concordia player to advance
past the collegite level. he isn't
holding his breath.
Whether you're Takari
Johnson, sights set on a career
in football, or Mario Hinojosa,
sights set on a career fighting
crime, the here and now
is a constant uphill battle:
representing a small Lutheran
school playing NAIA football in
a town whose college football
fans have come to expect Rose
Bowls and yIeisman Trophies. It's
something Concordia has had to
deal with from day one, and has
gradually adapted to.
"It's a great recruiting piece
to tell recruits you're 10 minutes
away in either direction from
EMU and U of M," Pries said.
Tough as it is playing small-
school football in a big-school
town, it's even tougher when
you don't have a field to play
on. For four years, Concordia
practiced and played wherever
it could, often turningto nearby
Huron High School to host its
"We knew what we were
getting into as a coaching staff,"
Pries said. "We have avery honest
recruiting philosophy. You have
to be blunt and honest about the
current situation you're in.
"We told recruits what the
plans were (for a new stadium),"
Pries continued. "We didn't know
exactly when all of it was going
to happen, but we knew it was
Things are different now -
prior to the 2014 season, the
school finished building Cardinal
Stadium, complete with a brand-
new artificial playingsurface and
three sets of modest bleachers,
all in the shadow of a red-and-
white. farmhouse that simply
doesn't seem to belong in Ann
Arbor, and certainly doesn't
belong anywhere near Michigan's
The lack of a venue was the tip
of the iceberg in the early going.
"Those first classes - what's
special about them - is that
they've been told the honest
truth," Pries said. "They came
here when we were pretty much
on a farm field."
As for legitimacy?
"Whether you're playing in
front of 110,000 or 1,000 or 2,000,
it's college football," Pries said.
, I just crash."
:s never that
we do our injury
ty much it."
ms to sleep
5 hours on his
gure would be
't for the ACL
heard at family gatherings made
him dream of life as a firefighter
from an early age.
"If I'm not able to find a job
right away, I'm going to go into
EMT training," Johnson said.
He has three careers cooking
- as an athlete, as a teacher and
as a first responder.
Johnson, too, was often faced
with the burden of a full night's