The Macalester Scots are having a season that is beyond words. In their first season in the Midwest Conference they have quickly risen to become one of the best “feel good” stories of the year. Winners of their first conference title in 87 years, school record for wins, 8-game win streak; there is so much to love about this team, unless you attend Illinois College, St. Norbert, or Carroll University.
The Scots Braveheart defense has been a force all season long, and for the better part of the year, QB Samson Bialostok and RB Zandy Stowell were dominating on the ground. That overshadowed a group of very talented receivers who jokingly admit that they don’t fit the typical “diva” persona of a receiver. For half the season, this group was known more for the little things that they have done, but now Ben Hillman, Victor Bordo and Tre Nowaczynski are showing that if they get the chance they can be as dynamic and dangerous as any group of receivers in Division-III football.
Hillman is a senior, and led the team in catches with 42 and yards with 556. His coach, Tony Jennison, calls him “committed, because he has had to battle through so many injuries and ailments, yet is still out here giving it his all.” This is an assessment that the senior thinks is quite accurate.
“When I was a freshman I came here, and in the second game I dropped a pass and Coach Larson would not let me forget about it. So in the off-season I decided that next year was going to be my year. So I started off the offseason with exertion headaches, because I was putting so much weight on the bar that my body literally couldn’t handle it, and I was giving myself a headache. I literally had to go and have a brain scan to make sure my head wasn’t going to explode. It just went downhill from there. I got bad knees and Coach J (Jennison) would say I had WD-40 in my knees just so I could walk. This year I joked that I had lost my one good joint, against Grinnell I dislocated my shoulder. I already had bad knees and a bad right shoulder, so I was like great, the one joint I was counting on and now it’s gone.”
There is no doubt that Hillman has had to battle through some injuries to stay on the field, and the Scots are glad he did. The senior has made key contributions all season long, none more so than against Illinois College. This was the conference championship and Hillman had his biggest game of the season, grabbing 12 passes for 155 yards. He had no catch longer than 20 yards, but several times the team needed a first down, and Bialostok frequently found himself looking Hillman’s way to get it.
Junior Vic Bordo has quickly established himself as the guy that Bialostok turns to when he needs a big play. In the last four games Bordo has 9 catches, but for 220 yards, an average of 24.4 yards per catch. Of the 9 catches, 5 have been for touchdowns. His 82-yard grab on the first play of the game against Carroll set the tone early that the No. 24 team was not going to bully Macalester, especially down 7-0. His two TD catches last week helped dig Macalester out of a 14-0 deficit.
Bordo began the season as the team’s primary slot receiver but has now moved outside, and has seen his chemistry with Bialostok raise immensely. “I think we are coming to a point where we trust each other a lot more. We had to step up and he knows he can depend on us now, and so it makes this offense a lot more balanced.”
Bordo is described by his Coach as “athletic” and “smooth.” “He gets open,” explains Coach Jennison, “and the plays he makes it looks like he is not even really striding hard. There is such a natural flow to it.”
Bordo doesn’t see it. “I think he says that because he is a nice guy. The coaching staff puts me in the best position to be successful here. I just get the job done on the field, but I am not as good as he assesses me.”
The smooth part has become the source of great amusement on the team. Coaches have joked that he doesn’t even look like he is running, and Hillman adds, “He is so smooth because it looks like he gives zero effort, but it’s because it is always exceptional.” The junior doesn’t see it, but he clearly is enjoying the critique.
Sophomore Tre Nowaczynski is being utilized by the team more and more each week. He had four catches in the first three games for 38 yards, but since then has grabbed 19 balls for 353 yards and 4 touchdowns. His 70-yard touchdown catch last weekend tied the score and a few minutes later Michael Abramson was kicking a 21-yard, conference winning field goal. Besides catching passes, he is also now the team’s primary return man, returning 12 kickoffs over the last four games for 259 yards, a 21.6 yard average.
Nowaczynski is the guy who can do it all, both on and off the field. He not only has seen his part in the team’s offense increase, but has become a leader on the team, and his interests are diverse and numerous. Coach Jennison refers to the sophomore as “gregarious” because “he is one of those guys that everyone loves to be around. He is such a great people person.”
“I like people. I like to be around people,” adds Nowaczynski. “I don’t think I would label myself as that. I think people enjoy life more if they are around happy people, so I love when I can do that.”
The funniest part of the assessment is that others think the sophomore doesn’t see it. “He is always trying to convince me he is not happy,” explains Bordo, Nowacyznski’s roommate. “But he is always smiling, and is like a social chameleon. He can talk to anyone about anything.”
The three have built great chemistry on the field that has made them more successful with each passing week, but it is the off the field relationship that is making the biggest difference on the field. These three young men clearly like each other as people and enjoy the comradery they have created.
“One of the primary reasons I am a receiver is because of these guys right here,” Bordo reflects. “Both are such genuinely nice, smart, caring people. It makes playing this position a lot of fun.”
Nowaczynski agrees. “This is such a great group of guys. Some of the best people I know. There is such a great friendship between us.”
The bond has been instrumental in their success on the field, and it has given them some amusing incidences with each other that has helped to tie the three together.
Nowacyznski is Bordo’s roommate, and the thinks people have the wrong idea about the junior receiver. “Victor is a great guy. People don’t really know him because they think he is such a hermit, but their perceptions are so wrong. He is such a great guy. They just don’t know.”
Hillman has never been comfortable being front and center. “I am an introvert, and so it is hard to be the senior who is supposed to lead the team.” His discomfort has created some interesting interactions, especially with his receiving mates. “It is hard for me to get to know people, so last year I wanted to talk to Victor so I went up to him, but then I didn’t know what to say, so I like rubbed him on the head, and walked off. Then I was like ‘Oh my God I can’t believe I did that.’ So I texted him thinking I had just ruined our relationship, but he forgave me.”
The three laugh at the incident, but it doesn’t stop with Bordo. “Last year, I met Tre for the first time and he is shouting at the weight workout at 6:30 in the morning. Last year he would be at practice yelling, ‘I love to run.’ I was thinking, ‘No you don’t,’ but it seemed like he actually was loving to run.”
They laugh at the things that have gone on between them, but it is clear that despite being three completely different people they enjoy the friendship and the chemistry that they have. “These are two of the best guys,” Hillman states emphatically.
Through all the good natured ribbing, these are three guys who step up to do what the team needs. Early on in the season the Scots were dedicated to establishing a tough running game, and the three were happy to be unselfish to help the team reach its aims.
Now opponents are trying to stop that running game, and so the passing game has had to step up and this is what these three have done. This is no longer a team that relies on 10-plus play drives to suck the life out of opponent’s enthusiasm. They attack with 70 and 80 yard pass plays. They get 20-yard catches on third and 12 to keep drives alive. They get this because three men are taking their game to an entirely new level.
Saturday will be the biggest challenge of the season for the three Macalester Scots receivers. Wisconsin-Whitewater has an incredible defensive front, meaning it is going to be tough to run, and they will have to pass to win. It is a challenge, but one the three embrace. One thing can clearly be expected from Ben Hillman, Victor Bordo, and Tre Nowaczynski. They will give their all, and that all always seems to be a key to helping this team win.
By Robert Pannier