DECATUR — Millikin's offense, riding the dual-threat talents of quarterback Matt Holmes, a second-team All-College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin selection, and wide receiver Erik Tobey, a first-team honoree, put up gaudy numbers in 2012. The Big Blue averaged 36 points and 433 yards per game, third only to conference and regional powers North Central and Wheaton.
Having lost the two to graduation, the Big Blue will turn its focus to finding new playmakers to join junior tailback Sean Dunning this fall, who rushed for 747 yards and nine touchdowns last season as a sophomore. For Millikin to build upon last year's 5-5 record, and help ease that transition, a lot of pressure will fall upon 2009 Effingham High School graduate and current fifth-year senior left guard Eric Whitaker.
Whitaker, a second-team All-CCIW pick in 2012, enters his third-straight season as a starter for coach Patrick Etherton's squad.
"Eric's a great leader, on and off the field," Etherton said. "His work ethic is second to none. He's an experienced player, he's been through it."
The former Flaming Heart was the only returning starter on the line for Millikin last fall, helping the Big Blue amass 4,329 yards of total offense. Holmes accounted for a good deal of that, passing for 2,162 yards and 26 TDs while rushing for a team-high 858 yards and five more scores.
"We had a great quarterback in Matt Holmes," Whitaker said. "One of the best I've ever played with."
Tobey caught 70 balls for 860 yards and 10 touchdowns from his flanker spot, forming one the most lethal pass-catching duos in Division III football.
But the key to Millikin's success was Whitaker's unit in the trenches. The six-foot-one, 280-pound guard helped balance a solid 50-50 run-pass attack. The Big Blue passed for 2,290 yards, and rushed for a total of 2,039 yards. Not bad.