First year produces national title for Leipold
But a win over the mighty Purple Raiders of Mount Union certainly added an unforgettable epilogue to what figures to be a long and successful storyline.
Leipold established credibility the moment he stepped on campus. With longtime Warhawk legend Bob Berezowitz stepping down at the end of last season and the program going through an identity crisis in trying to name his successor, Leipold took over in the midst of controversy.
Stan Zweifel, Berezowitz’s offensive coordinator for 16 seasons, was the frontrunner to succeed Berezowitz and was one of four finalists. In the end, Zweifel was passed over for Leipold, a Jefferson High graduate and former Warhawk quarterback. Leipold handled the transition with class—both on and off the field.
“When I look back and analyze the whole thing, there are always things you wish you might have done a little differently,” Leipold said of his first season. “But all in all, I’m pretty happy with the way everything unfolded.
“The work ethic of our coaching staff, and the acceptance and leadership of our seniors, are the things I’m most proud of. Change is sometimes difficult. But once everybody realized we were all Warhawks and that I was someone who was more or less coming home, we’ve worked together for a common goal.”
That goal culminated Saturday with the program’s first NCAA Division III title. Mount Union came into the game hoping to build upon its dynasty. The Warhawks left the field hoping it was a start of one of their own.
Whitewater came into Saturday’s game with a different mindset than the two previous years.
In 2005, the Warhawks were enjoying their first trip to the Stagg Bowl while Mount Union was hoisting its seventh Stagg trophy in 12 years.
Last season, the emotion of Berezowitz’s final game seemed to overshadow the event itself.
Leipold and his staff wanted the team to enjoy the experience, but there were definitely less distractions this year than the two previous Stagg Bowl appearances. The business-like approach paid off.
“As much as we want victory, there are defeats along the way,” Leipold said. “This season, we’ve learned to handle so many things in life.
“The one thing about it, rather in victory or defeat, is how you handle yourself. And I’m proud of how our kids have handled everything with a lot of class.”
Leipold’s job now is to hit the recruiting trail. The Warhawks lose a wealth of senior talent, including 2007 Gagliardi Trophy winner, Justin Beaver. The loss of quarterback Danny Jones, linebacker A.J. Raebel, wide receiver Neil Mrkvicka, defensive back Gabe Schultz and offensive lineman Brady Ramseier will also be felt.
“We’ve continued to build this season on the strong Whitewater tradition,” Leipold said.
It’s a tradition that now includes a national championship.