Gustavus Adolphus Air Marshall Mitch Hendricks Leads Team into Dog Fight
On Saturday the Gustavus Adolphus Gusties will take to the field against the Bethel Royals in a game the Gusties must have if they intend to win the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC). While the game is a big one for the team, it may be much bigger for quarterback Mitch Hendricks, the Gusties Air Marshall that has been lighting up the scoreboard and the passing lanes with an aerial show that has not been seen in the MIAC before. For Hendricks it is not only a chance to take his team to the top against the conference’s best, but also to prove wrong a whole lot of naysayers along the way who thought that the junior did not have the skills, size and ability to play the sport’s most challenging position.
Entering Saturday’s game Hendricks has thrown for 2605 yards. That is first in all of Division-III football and his 29 touchdown passes are just two off the pace. His numbers are so good that he is seventh in all of college football in passing yards, just narrowly trailing Texas A&M’s Kenny Hill for sixth. It is the kind of season that has seen him break at least five major school records so far, including 500 yards passing games in a season, touchdown passes in a game, most yards thrown for in a single game, touchdown passes in a season, and pass completions in a game.
It has been a truly remarkable season already, one that many thought he was not capable of. “Not even in high school did people think I had the arm strength and size to be a good quarterback. I was 130 pounds as a sophomore, so I can see where there were some concerns, but I proved I had the skills to succeed.”
Hendricks actually began his career at another MIAC school, but did not feel like he was getting the chance to compete for the starting quarterback job, so he transferred to Gustavus Adolphus following his freshman season. It was a decision he clearly did not regret. “I wanted the chance to succeed, and I really liked Gustavus Adolphus a lot. The coaching staff and players are great here, and this has been the best experience for me.”
In his sophomore season the team had a big-time running back who was second in the conference in rushing yards and first in rushing touchdowns. This allowed the quarterback to learn the offense in his first season as the starter until more was required of him. That came this season when the coaches came to him to discuss his new role in the offense. “They wanted to throw more and told me that they had all the confidence in the world that I had the skills and ability to make this work. When your coaches have that kind of confidence, you want to deliver for them.” The coaching staff was greatly rewarded for their confidence.
The Air Marshall began the season with a very pedestrian day according to his standards. Against Crown College the team rolled to a 42-17 win where Hendricks only threw 28 passes, completing 23 of them for 281 yards, but added five touchdowns. The next week began a four week stretch where he threw for at least 350 yards and four touchdowns in every game. The biggest game of all was his 504 yard, seven touchdown performance against Augsburg College. Both numbers set school records, as did his 33 for 39 performance. It was an outing that established that he was a force to be reckoned with.
“It’s been a great season so far, and I just hope I am able to continue it going,” Hendricks adds. “I think I am proving that I had what it takes to play this game.”
A lot of people enter the football arena trying to prove something. Hendricks is no different. He is not trying to prove that he is a great quarterback or the best quarterback in the conference. Instead he is looking to show the world that he belongs on that field as much as anyone else. “There were a lot of people questioning my skill set and wondering if I really had what it took to be here. I think I have shown that I do belong, but I have a lot more to prove as well.”
The proof will come this Saturday when Hendricks’ team takes the field against Bethel University. The Royals are leading the conference this year after winning it last year. The quick start has the Gusties thinking they can topple the Royals, but they need their star QB, dubbed the “Gustavus Gunslinger” by some of his teammates, to come up big for them. “I know this is a big game for us. I need to give my absolute best and be careful not to make mistakes. They have a great secondary and they can hurt a team that makes mistakes, so I need to be at my best.”
His best has proven to be as good as it gets this season, and not just on the field. He has quickly established himself as a leader on the team, and a guy that his teammates look up to. “In meetings and things he is a guy who will joke around and keep us loose,” star wide receiver Matt Boyce explains, “but in games, when he gets into that huddle, he is all business. I think that is part of what makes him so special.”
Another part that makes the junior so special is his willingness to accept the responsibility that comes with the role he has been placed into. His candor about the pressure on him is something special. In talking about what he needs to do to win this week, the QB was quite direct in how he needed to perform at his absolute best, and that meant outdueling Bethel’s MVP quarterback Erik Peterson. “I know he is the reigning MVP, and he has a great group of running backs, but I do approach a game like this thinking I have to outplay him. He is the best in the conference, and if I am going to be the best, I have to beat the best. I can’t claim that title until I prove myself.”
That is the kind of pressure this young man has placed upon himself. He pushes to take his team to the next level, and strives to implement an offensive attack that is second to none. He also wants to prove all those who doubted him that he is for real. He wants to prove he belongs.
The junior quarterback openly admits he has a chip on his shoulder. He has done a lot already, but feels he has so much more to prove. He is one of the hardest workers on the team, and his work ethic has translated onto the field.
At the Minor League Sports Report we refer to Mitch Hendricks as the “Air Marshall” for a lot of reasons. Yes he leads a phenomenal passing attack, but he is an Air Marshall in many other ways. The Gustavus Adolphus quarterback is a leader who has established himself as a young man of great character and perseverance. I don’t know if he will win on Saturday against the Royals, but one thing is for sure – he may not have the size that most quarterbacks have, but he has more than proven that he is as big a man as any on the field.
By Robert Pannier