BLOOMINGTON — Trevor Koepke's redemption (or more like revenge) tour enjoyed a solid opening act last Saturday.
The Illinois Wesleyan senior cornerback was named to the all-College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin second team in 2017. The Titans earned a share of their second straight CCIW title last season, but Koepke's name was nowhere to be found when the all-league teams were announced.
"I was very disappointed, especially coming off sophomore year when I got second team. My goal (last year) was to get first team," he said. "Not getting either was kind of a punch in the face."
The 6-foot, 170-pound Koepke, a Tinley Park High School graduate, has something to show those coaches who didn't vote for him. He began doing that by recording an interception, a fumble recovery, two broken-up passes and seven tackles as the Titans suffered a 33-27 overtime loss at Wisconsin-La Crosse.
For his effort, Koepke earned the CCIW Defensive Player of the Week honor.
"It should be motivating for Trevor. He's a good player and wasn't recognized for that," said IWU coach Norm Eash. "The only thing he can do is go out and prove his point."
The Titans, who are ranked No. 18 in the D3football.com poll, also have something to prove this week after a seven-turnover performance. IWU opens CCIW action when it travels to face No. 17 Wheaton (1-0) at 6 p.m. Saturday.
Two of La Crosse's touchdowns came off turnovers, including an 86-yard return of a fumble in overtime. The Titan defense, in their first game under new coordinator Grant Caserta, allowed 277 yards and 12 first downs.
"Obviously we had some mistakes. Letting up the first touchdown 50 seconds into game was not good," said Koepke. "Other than that we stayed composed and calm. We all relied on each other and everyone was there for each other. Other than the first drive, we did a good job getting off the field and giving the ball to the offense."
Caserta is having the cornerbacks play press — or bump-and-run — coverage where they hit and try to disrupt the receiver at the line of scrimmage.
IWU didn't do that much under previous coordinator Jeff McDonald, who is now the head coach at Elmhurst. Koepke admitted he was "a little skeptical" at first about the change.
"But after doing it for a while it's kind of more comfortable and I'm getting my confidence up with it, especially going against our receivers (in practice)," said Koepke.
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Eash said that will help the IWU offense, too, because that's the way most CCIW defenses play.
Often in practice, Koepke will find himself lined up opposite two-time all-CCIW first-team receiver Jack Healy.
"There's always a lot of mutual respect," said Healy. "He helps me a lot because he's tall, long and fast. He gives me really good looks and helps prepare me."
Bullie a workhorse: Sophomore tailback Hamid Bullie didn't play in a game last season at Division II Virginia State before transferring to IWU. His first game with the Titans gave him plenty of work.
Bullie had 37 carries, the third most in IWU history, and gained 177 yards. Six of Bullie's carries went for 15 or more yards as he was named CCIW Offensive Player of the Week.
"I've noticed in practice this week he's a lot different," said Eash. "He has that doubt out of his mind."
The IWU record for carries in a game is 39 set by Kurt Swearingen against Augustana in 1977 and tied by Chris Ross against North Central in 2002.
Eash said part of the reason Bullie had so many carries was IWU ran 105 plays. Eash thinks that might be the most plays in his 33 years as Titan coach along with the 32 first downs.
Kicker shuffle: When senior placekicker/punter Patrick Tata, nursing a leg injury, told Eash he couldn't go before the game, the Titans turned to freshman Jonathan Rukujzo.
Rukujzo didn't flinch. He made field goals of 22 and 32 yards and was 3-of-3 on conversions.
"He came through for us," said Eash. "When you're playing in overtime, it was big for him to hit those. That was a positive."
The punting didn't go quite as well. Rukujzo averaged 29.8 yards on three punts. Tata is questionable this week and if he can't play, Eash isn't sure who will be the punter against Wheaton.