By: Chris Bendel – Staff Writer
The stat line from senior running back and reigning Pioneer Football League Player of the Year Connor Kacsor during his senior year of high school in the fall of 2010 would not surprise anyone following the Dayton Flyers football program over the last four years.
Kacsor rushed for 1,559 yards and scored 23 touchdowns through eight games of his last season at Leo High School in Indiana, where the team entered the first round of the Indiana state playoffs in late October. A buzz surrounded his play, about what might happen at football’s next level.
A slew of schools offering scholarships, unlike the Flyers, noticed Kacsor’s talent and made contact with the recruit, who possessed outstanding speed and field vision.
“When I watched I didn’t know if we could get him,” head coach Rick Chamberlin said. “I thought he’d be a scholarship guy but we still made contact.”
Already Leo’s alltime leading rusher, Kacsor’s career journey shifted course with just one play during that first round playoff game, the last of his high school career. Kacsor tore the ACL in his right knee, sidelining him for the remainder of the season.
Suddenly, the scholarship schools that were recruiting Kacsor stopped calling.
The promising recruit became a potential liability to the more high profile programs. Virtually, only one school remained in contact – the University of Dayton.
“They were the one team that really stayed with me,” Kacsor said.
Chamberlin and the UD coaching staff were in touch with him right after the injury, sending their apologies about the twist of fate and a promise to stick with him.
The conversations continued into January of 2011, when Kacsor committed to becoming a Dayton Flyer, altering the landscape of the Flyers’ backfield for years to come.
“It was just nice to hear that Dayton really believed in me and had faith,” Kacsor said. “They reassured me.”
Fast forward five years and the ACL tear reads like a blip on the otherwise steady progression of a once midlevel division 1 prospect, now All-American FCS tailback, that has caught the eye of NFL scouts and league opponents alike.
Last season, against Georgetown College, he recorded the most rushing yards in a single game by a Flyer with 301 yards, the only 300-yard game in the 100-year history of UD football.
UD running backs coach Mark Ewald joined the coaching staff after Kacsor’s redshirt freshman season and has witnessed the evolution of the tailback firsthand. Among several improvements was Kacsor’s gaining 25 pounds of “good weight,” according to Ewald.
The program now lists Kacsor at 211 lbs., but Chamberlin estimates closer to 215.
During his freshman season, he weighed 190 pounds. The innate speed and vision that first caught the UD coaching staff’s attention is now complemented by an ability to punish PFL defenders between the tackles.
“He’s got a burst, that topend speed that a lot of guys don’t have, but he’s continually gotten better,” Ewald said. “He can run away from you but he has the ability now to plow through people and he’s done a great job of getting yards after contact.”
It’s a skill set that could translate to the next level, according to Ewald.
In 2015, Kacsor’s stat line appears similar to his high school numbers. A junior season where Kacsor rushed for 1,547 yards and 17 touchdowns precedes a senior season where he has led the Flyers to a 4-0 record while rushing for 152 yards per game and six touchdowns.
Kacsor, who entered the season as UD’s all-time leading rusher with 2,975 yards, has earned a shot at a chance to compete for an NFL roster spot, or at the very least to continue his football career after he graduates from UD in December with a finance degree.
“As a young child [playing in the NFL] was really my dream… the opportunity is now presenting itself,” Kacsor said.
Scouts from the San Francisco 49ers, Cleveland Browns, Kansas City Chiefs and the Indianapolis Colts have all shown interest. The Colts traveled to Welcome Stadium to watch him practice Sept. 17.
“Coming from our level, there’s not a whole lot of opportunities,” Chamberlin said.
“Connor matches up well. He may not be a FBS type of running back so if a team’s going to take a chance on a guy from a level like this, they want to make sure there’s more to him than just the talent that he’s shown.”
According to Chamberlin, that includes the work ethic Kacsor has already demonstrated and the intelligence to fit in with the best football has to offer, regardless of the level of collegiate play.
Coming from an FBS program, Kacsor understands the work ahead required to make this dream possible but remains grounded by the fact that he has yet to win a PFL championship, the ultimate team prize that has eluded him despite all of the personal accolades.
Kacsor thinks with a team he believes in, that goal is attainable. Winning a championship is an achievement he wants to check off his list, before turning his attention to his career dream of playing on Sundays.
Photo: Connor Kacsor fights off a tackler during the team’s 31-27 win over Kennesaw State on Sept. 26. Kacsor is the program’s all-time leading rusher and has his sights set on playing in the NFL. Photo by Multimedia Editor Chris Santucci.