Two Tigers see action at Wilkes University
As seniors at Northwestern back in 2011, Payton Bachman and Ty Cunningham played large roles on both sides of the ball.
In their first season at Wilkes University this fall both former Tigers earned their way onto the field, but for the first time in their careers they squared off on opposite sides of the ball.
"It was different," said Cunningham, who played outside linebacker in nine of the Colonels 10 games. "There was more competition between us."
"We were going against each other," said Bachman, a receiver who often lines up in the slot.
Bachman, a former All Colonial League First Team selection at defensive back and receiver, caught a team-high 21 passes at Wilkes this year, accounting for 209 yards (second on team). He also had two carries for 21 yards and a pair of punt returns for five yards.
"I'm pretty happy," he said of his first college season. "It could have went better."
The part that could have been better was the team's 5-5 overall record and 4-5 Middle Atlantic Conference record. Both Bachman and Cunningham felt they could have won a few more games and expect to in the years ahead.
Both players came into their college careers after accomplishing a lot in high school. Cunningham led the Tigers in rushing (1,000 yards), scoring (17 rushing touchdowns, 6 passing touchdowns) and passing yards (865) as a senior. Bachman was Northwestern's leading receiver (35 catches, 568 yards, 7 touchdowns) and was second on the team with 259 rushing yards and three touchdowns.
They were both a big part of the team's defense as well. Cunningham led the team in tackles with 116. Bachman was fourth on the team with 64 tackles, while tying for a team-high three interceptions and recovering two fumbles.
But both players headed to Wilkes-Barre having to prove themselves to a new coaching staff.
Cunningham began the season as the second-string outside linebacker, but earned his way into the starting line up by the second game and made five starts this season. A midseason consussion limited Cunningham's role over the final half of the season, but he finished with 34 tackles, which was seventh on the team. He also had three tackles for loss and one interception.
It took some time to get used to the rigorous college practice schedule.
"There's a lot more of a time commitment," he said. "As the season went on the games became a lot more fun."
Bachman found the practices are a little more intense than they were at Northwestern.
"The coaches get on you a lot more than in high school," he said.
While he didn't see much time at receiver early in the season, some injuries helped him get a chance, which he took advantage of. His best game of the season was a five-catch effort against Albright on September 15.
Despite their performances this season, both players know that no one has a position locked up next season. At any level, but especially at the Division III college level, new recruits or transfers can come in any time and unseat an incumbent starter.
"I have to reprove myself," said Cunningham, who shared time with a freshman classmate this season and will battle that same player for time next year.
While Bachman led the team in catches, he knows it doesn't give him a free pass heading into spring camp.
"All our receivers are coming back," he said. "You never really know. If you practice well you get to play."
As difficult as the college game can be, both mentally and physically, Bachman doesn't mind having to be his best all the time.
"I like it," he said. "Sometimes you just want to take a play off or have an easy practice, but you can't."
The Colonels only graduate eight seniors. They will have to do some rebuilding around the line of scrimmage, but their backfields and skill positions return experienced players, including two former Tigers that plan to help the team compete for MAC titles over the next three years.