Historically, the UW-Whitewater football program has been recognized across NCAA Division III for its defense.
As it prepares for its national semifinal against Mary Hardin-Baylor today, it is the Warhawks’ offense that has opposing teams losing sleep.
In their first full season playing together, junior quarterback Matt Behrendt and junior wide receiver Jake Kumerow have quietly developed into one of the division’s most dangerous passing combinations.
The duo has hooked up dozens of times on the field this year, but it was a connection last summer that had the most impact.
“Lifting weights and (working out), we would just be together more,” Kumerow said of his offseason training with Behrendt. “The previous offseason, we weren’t together as much. He wasn’t the starter; I was a first-year.
“The fact that we were in the same grooves (this summer), working out together, sweating together — that stuff definitely helps.”
The results have been impressive.
In 2012, Behrendt split time as the staring quarterback and threw for 775 yards, with five touchdowns and five interceptions. Kumerow — playing in his first year with the Warhawks after transferring from the University of Illinois — caught 15 balls for 201 yards.
This season, the pair is rewriting the Whitewater record book.
Through 13 games, Behrendt has thrown for 2,844 yards and tied a school record by throwing 36 touchdown passes with only one interception.
Kumerow has been the biggest benefactor of that upswing, catching 69 passes for 1,198 yards and tying a school record with 17 TD catches.
In their Week 6 victory over UW-Stout, Behrendt set the Whitewater record for touchdown passes in a game with six. Three went to the 6-foot-5 Kumerow.
The pair connected for three scores again last week in a quarterfinal victory over Linfield, as Whitewater overcame a 17-point deficit for a 28-17 victory to stay in the hunt for another Stagg Bowl title.
“It has been exciting to see,” coach Lance Leipold said of the growth he has seen from the duo. “Because of the consistency and that body that Jake has and the ability with that frame to go up and get (the football), it gave Matt a lot of confidence throughout the year.”
While Behrendt’s hometown of Westchester, Ill., is just 20 miles away from Kumerow’s native Bartlett, Ill., the two had not met before coming to Whitewater. But once they got on the field together, they got to know each other very quickly.
“We’re best buds off the field,” Behrendt said. “That is a big help. Hanging out with him each and every day off the field, when we get on the field it makes (playing) a lot easier.”
Leipold believes that in addition to the chemistry that has formed between the two, a change in attitude also is responsible for Kumerow’s success this season.
“In all my years of coaching, I don’t know if I have seen a guy really turn a corner on and off the field in maturity like Jake did,” he said. “To watch his work ethic from winter conditioning and spring ball to how he approached his academics, he has had as much of a 180 as I have seen to the positive, and it has never let up.
“What you see him getting, he has earned.”