UMHB football: Crusaders cement place as national powerhouse after second title

By Russell Wilburn

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SHENANDOAH, Texas -- Twenty-one years ago, Pete Fredenburg was hired to start a football program at Mary Hardin-Baylor. Immediately, he looked to the best program in the sport for guidance.

“Everything we did was to try and emulate Mount Union,” Fredenburg said. “Obviously, they were the people we tried to do things like to get our program to that level.”

Mount Union is the standard of Division III football. The Purple Raiders lead the division with 13 national championships, which is more than twice as many as any other team. Larry Kehres built the program into a national power. His son, Vince, was 84-4 with two national championships in four years heading into Stagg Bowl XLVI on Friday.

It was fitting that Mary Hardin-Baylor had to play Mount Union and Wisconsin-Whitewater, the second-best program in the sport, in the final two games of 2018. Before Friday, those were the only two programs to win multiple Division III national championships in the 2000s.

On Friday, UMHB beat Mount Union 24-16 in a thrilling game to win its second national championship in three seasons. Fredenburg admitted that beating Mount Union, the standard-bearer in the sport, for a Stagg Bowl trophy meant just a little extra to him.

Now, with the win, Mary Hardin-Baylor isn’t just chasing the dream of being one of the marquee programs in Division III football – the Crusaders are officially part of the elite.

“Reaching this point was obviously the goal when we started in 1998, not just from all the coaches, but from [the administrators],” Fredenburg said. “I think it goes without saying that this is one of the best programs in football. The commitment of so many people has allowed us to do this; it’s been a remarkable process.”

Mary Hardin-Baylor has been a winner since the beginning. After going a combined 7-13 in the first two seasons, Fredenburg led the Crusaders to a 9-1 record in 2000. In 2004, the Crusaders reached their first Stagg Bowl. Since then, UMHB has won double-digit games in all but one season.

However, something clicked in the last three years. UMHB only had one Stagg Bowl appearance from 1998 to 2015. Then, UMHB earned Stagg Bowl trips each of the last three seasons, capped off with a pair of national championships. Expectations have changed.

Fredenburg credits major facility upgrades with the increased success. UMHB built Crusader Stadium in 2013. It features the largest scoreboard in Division III football and a capacity of more than 9,000 fans.

The fan support doesn’t hurt. The NCAA put UMHB fans on the visitor side of Woodforest Bank Stadium in Shenandoah so they would appear on television. The visitor side was sold out hours before the game; any late-arriving Crusader fans had to migrate over to the Mount Union home side.  

“I just think that everybody that we started in August, their expectations were to win a national championship,” Fredenburg said. “We would beat somebody and have a good win, but it wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t good enough to reach the goal to reach the expectations that we have.”

The class of 2018 exemplified that most. UMHB went 11-2 in their first season, including the only regular season loss since 2010 to Hardin-Simmons. However, the group rallied and won two national championships. These seniors finish with a career mark of 55-3, and leave a strong legacy at the school.

“We’re the first one to win it,” senior wide receiver T.J. Josey said. “We definitely couldn’t do it without the guys who came before us. It’s kind of nice to say we’ve left a legacy, but we wouldn’t have been here without the guys before us.”

The perfect 15-0 season moves Fredenburg up to an absurd 85.2 winning percentage. That’s good enough for No. 8 in the history of the sport. His 225 wins also ranks No. 8 among active coaches. Fredenburg has the highest winning percentage of any coach in the top 10.

Mary Hardin-Baylor is a different football program than the one that took the field on Friday. Championships change everything. With a second trophy in the bag, UMHB officially takes its place as one of the most accomplished programs of the 2000s – at any level.

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