The national championship game is still more than three weeks away, and the Warhawks have not punched their ticket into that game quite yet.
But can this team return to Salem, Va., the site of the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl and play in its fifth straight title game?
Three UW-Whitewater Hall of Famers, who have either graced the football sidelines or have been associated with the program for many decades, believe so.
One of those individuals is Forrest Perkins, who coached here from 1956-1984 – the longest tenure in school history.
“I think they’ve got a good shot for a national championship,” said the 89-year-old Perkins, who was at the helm of only two losing seasons in 29 years.
And after the whipping the ’Hawks put on their 10 regular season opponents and Lakeland College – the team’s first round opponent in the NCAA tournament last week – Perkins could be correct.
While the ’Hawks still need to win four more games to win a national title, how are they in this type of position once again?
After all, they were only to the postseason four other times before their run began in 2005.
“It’s [the] commitment,” former head coach Bob Berezowitz said. “You come here, and you want to be the best.”
They have been the best in the WIAC the last five seasons, but Berezowitz pointed to the 2002 season when he scheduled Mount Union and St. John’s, two perennial Division III national powerhouses, as a turning point for the program.
“That kind of told us what we were going to do to compete [at the national level],” said Berezowitz, who retired after the 2006 season.
It seemed to have work.
That year the ’Hawks finished 5-5, but since then the team has had two 7-3 seasons, three 14-1 campaigns, a 13-2 season last year and currently boast an 11-0 record.
“This is probably one of the all-around better teams that we ever had,” said 82-year-old David Kachel, a long-time supporter and contributor to Warhawk athletics.
And the stats say that might be true.
UW-Whitewater has won all its games by at least 24 points, has not allowed a 100-yard rusher all season and is in the top five in the country in scoring defense.
“I like their balance,” Perkins said. “They got passing excellence. They got running excellence.”
True again, as their passing and rushing attack have complimented one another with 265.4 passing yards per game compared to 235.2 rushing.
This balance was shown when the team brought home 19 all-conference player sections, including 10 first-team picks and the WIAC player of the year, senior quarterback Jeff Donovan.
Berezowitz, who played under Perkins during the 1960s, likes the approach head coach Lance Leipold and his team have taken to get to this juncture in the season.
“It’s staying focused week-to-week and not looking ahead,” Berezowitz said. “I think Lance has done a great job of that, and I think his players understand that.”
But while Berezowitz pinpointed that 2002 season as a turning point, when did the culture surrounding the football program change?
“Once you win a national championship everybody’s interested,” Perkins said referring to the 2007 campaign.
Kachel echoed Perkins’ thought and why the team is bringing in talent like Levell Coppage, who continues to separate himself from Justin Beaver’s previous touchdown record. The sophomore has 48 career touchdowns and is the Division III leader in total points this season.
“Recruiting helps when you win a national championship, and they want to come here,” Kachel said. “So they go to an operation where they will win.”
Berezowitz, who recruited many of the seniors who will take the field Saturday against Illinois Wesleyan, is happy to see the team continue the winning tradition.
“You want to start something and hope it continues,” Berezowitz said. “And it has.”