By Jon DePaolis
The St. Xavier University football team may have been stopped short in its quest for an NAIA championship in 2018, but one thing it had plenty of was standout players.
Included in that mix was junior linebacker Josh Hettiger, who was named the Mid-States Football Association’s Midwest League Co-Defensive Player of the Year.
“It definitely means a lot to me, because I work a lot harder than a lot of people know,” said Hettiger, an Oak Lawn native who played high school ball at Richards. “As soon as the game [against Morningside College in the NAIA quarterfinals] ended, and we were eliminated from the playoffs, I was back in the gym the next day. I work hard every day of the year.”
But despite getting the award recognition, Hettiger was quick to compliment his teammates.
“Getting acknowledged for my play is spectacular, but I would be just as excited if Dmitri Joe or Kevin Block or somebody else on the defense got Player of the Year. All of them are capable of doing it.”
Hettiger’s puts the Cougars’ success and goals ahead of his own, and he is prepared to do all he can in his senior season to help his team attain the ultimate goal.
“At the end of the day, I would trade every individual award I’ve gotten for a chance to play for a national championship,” he said. “Going into this offseason, that is my goal.”
Coming into 2018, Hettiger said the Cougars knew they had the potential to be good.
“We knew we had the guys to do something special this year,” he said.
Even after a 2-3 stretch to start the season, the guys in the locker room still believed; but they also viewed the challenging start as a bit of a reality check.
“Everyone just kind of looked at each other and were like, ‘This isn’t what we were supposed to do,’” he said. “’This isn’t the team we are, and this isn’t okay anymore.’
From then on we just made it our goal to get better in practice every day and to not have one bad practice. We just kept playing.
“I think everyone just looked into the mirror and started giving more, and everything just kind of came together.”
Saint Xavier won its remaining six regular season games to claim the Midwest League crown, then won its playoff opener before falling in the quarterfinals to eventual national champion Morningside.
This season, in 13 games played, Hettiger compiled 134 tackles (50 solo), 20 tackles for loss, nine sacks, one forced fumble and one interception. That came after an injury-shortened 2017 season during which he notched 68 tackles (32 solo), eight tackles for loss, five sacks, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.
“I play with a lot of energy out there, so whether it is me or somebody else on the team making a play, it just gets me excited,” Hettiger said. “I think a lot of my plays come from that.
“Every game I go out there, I try to make the biggest impact possible.”
Looking ahead to 2019 and what will likely be his final season of football, Hettiger has his sights set on a lofty goal — an NAIA championship.
“I’ve gotten more excited every year I’ve been here,” Hettiger said. “We have great coaches and great players. We’ve just got to put it together.
“I’m excited for how hard everyone is going to work this offseason. We’re losing a lot of key contributors, but a lot of freshmen who made plays this year are just going to be that much better next year.”
Hettiger hopes that will be enough to fulfill one of his goals when he decided to head to St. Xavier.
“I’ve been here for four years now, so I want to get [a national title],” he said. “That was my goal coming — I wanted to get more than one. But at the end of the day, I’ll be happy with that one ring.”