College Sports

Davidson football is becoming a conference-title contender, much like in basketball

Davidson offensive lineman Ethan Steinbacher has seen the football program’s growth from afterthought to contender. He and the Wildcats look to end San Diego’s 30-game conference winning streak this weekend.
Davidson offensive lineman Ethan Steinbacher has seen the football program’s growth from afterthought to contender. He and the Wildcats look to end San Diego’s 30-game conference winning streak this weekend. Tim Cowie - DavidsonPhotos.com

Ethan Steinbacher arrived at Davidson College when the Wildcats would have looked at a game against San Diego as a chance to pull a big upset.

Times have changed. Steinbacher and the Wildcats now have reason to believe they can bring an end to the Toreros’ lengthy conference winning streak when the teams meet at 1 p.m. Saturday at Davidson’s Richardson Stadium.

The Wildcats (4-1, 1-0 Pioneer Football Conference) nearly beat San Diego (2-2, 1-0) last season, building a 31-7 lead on the Toreros’ field. But San Diego battled back and won a 56-52, despite an FCS-record 789 rushing yards by Davidson.

“It’s been an interesting transition,” says Steinbacher, a 6-foot-3, 287-pound senior offensive lineman from Cabarrus County. “We’ve gone from being a program with one or two wins a season, to what we have now.”

Under second-year coach Scott Abell, Davidson has become an offensive powerhouse. The Wildcats rank third in FCS in rushing, averaging 330.8 yards per game.

Steinbacher has more than a little to do with that. After a stellar career at Concord Jay M. Robinson High, including a stint on the school’s 2016 3A state championship basketball team, Steinbacher has become a stalwart on the Davidson offensive line.

He played one game as a freshman, made five starts as a sophomore, then played in all 11 games last season and was named a second-teamer on the Pioneer’s all-conference team.

Late last month, Steinbacher was named a semifinalist for the William V. Campbell Trophy, given annually to a football player for academic and athletic excellence. Candidates must have a grade-point average of 3.5 or higher.

“The atmosphere here has changed,” Steinbacher said of Davidson football. “It’s not an attitude of ‘Let’s get this over with.’ Instead, we can’t wait to play.”

Beating San Diego, which has a 30-game conference winning streak, won’t require some super-human effort, Steinbacher said.

The name Steinbacher is more closely associated with the North Carolina Tar Heels. Ethan’s father (Steve), a brother (Michael), and uncles Brian and Rick played football for the Tar Heels. Rick Steinbacher is an associate athletics director and part of North Carolina’s football radio team.

“Well, some people in the family probably would’ve rather seen me go to Chapel Hill,” Steinbacher says. “But my parents were great about it. They let me decide.”

Playing for the Tar Heels, he probably would have been a preferred walk-on.

“I liked what I saw at Davidson,” he says. “This is a great opportunity.”

And now Davidson football has gone from being an activity to pass time before basketball starts, to seeing the Wildcats chase for a conference championship.

“If we execute without mistakes, we can win,” Steinbacher says. “The atmosphere around here has changed a lot.”

Anniversary celebration: Saturday’s game will serve as a 50th anniversary celebration for the 1969 Davidson football team that won the Southern Conference and played in the Tangerine Bowl. The Wildcats finished 7-3 during the regular season and lost to Toledo in the bowl game.

The first 300 fans to arrive at the game will receive a commemorative banner.

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