Manawa grad playing defense for Red Hawks
By Michael Westemeier
Defensive lineman Brandon Bartel didn’t waste much time making a positive impact on the Ripon College football program.
Playing in just his second career game last season, Bartel, a sophomore from Manawa, recorded three sacks in Ripon’s 24-14 win over Rockford University in his first-ever home game at Ingalls Field. That included back-to-back sacks in the fourth quarter to help preserve the victory.
“My performance in that game showed everyone that I was good enough to play at this level,” Bartel said. “I played even better than I was expecting during my first year with the team.”
That game set the tone for Bartel’s career so far, which includes 8.5 career sacks in less than two full seasons. That’s already halfway to Ripon’s career sacks record of 17.
“It would be cool to see my name up there with the greatest players to ever play at Ripon College and just to be a part of the great history and tradition that the program has set,” he said.
This season, Bartel has continued to wreak havoc on opposing backfields, ranking second in the Midwest Conference in tackles for loss (10.5) while being tied for seventh in the MWC in sacks (3.5).
The business management major also ranks fourth on the team in total tackles with 41, the 32nd-highest total in the MWC.
Bartel’s statistics have helped the Red Hawks to a 4-3 record this season, but there is something else that Bartel and the rest of the Red Hawks defense prides itself on more than anything: they have allowed just one rushing touchdown through seven games in 2015.
“Our entire defense takes great pride in that fact, especially having allowed zero rushing touchdowns during our first five games,” Bartel said. “Last year, we struggled at times in the red zone, but this season, we’ve stepped up our game and we make sure it’s hard for the other team to score when they get in that area of the field.”
Coach Ron Ernst, who also serves as Ripon’s defensive coordinator, stressed improvement in the team’s red zone defense prior to this season. He and Bartel’s position coach, Marcus Krien, who played on the defensive line for the Wisconsin Badgers just a few years ago, have been two of the bigger influences on Bartel’s career.
“Coach Ernst keeps pushing me to be a better player every day and coach Krien has been really helpful by helping me with my technique in practice,” Bartel said. “Coach Krien just has a different mentality and has played with some guys that are in the National Football League, so it’s cool hearing stories from his playing career.”
Bartel’s experience at Ripon College in just two short years – on and off the field – has been one he’ll never forget and he still has two more years left to enjoy what it will bring.
“I love the small-school atmosphere and the professors are always there for the students and are very helpful,” he said.
With three games left in the season and Ripon trailing the MWC North Division leader by two games, the Red Hawks likely will be on the outside looking in when it comes to the NCAA Division III playoffs, but that doesn’t mean Bartel and his teammates don’t have goals in mind to finish the season strong.
“Just win our remaining games in convincing fashion,” Bartel said. “We have Beloit and Lawrence coming up, which are two teams toward the bottom of the conference standings, but they’re also two teams we can’t look past. Rivalry games are always fun, which is what these next two games will be.”
• Michael Westemeier is the sports information director at Ripon College in Ripon.