By BLAKE TOPPMEYER
Herald-Whig Sports Writer
Ethan Rockhold isn't afraid of a program that's not a proven winner.
He's seen what a good coach can do to jumpstart a program.
Rockhold, a Quincy High School senior, was one of four area football players to sign a national letter of intent with Quincy University on Wednesday's national signing day. Central-Southeastern's Dalton Heubner and Drew Miller also signed with QU, and the Hawks also added Dillon Butler, a transfer from McKendree who played high school football at Pittsfield.
Rockhold is excited for the opportunity to compete for QU coach Tom Pajic, who will be in his second season next fall. The Hawks haven't had a winning season since going 6-5 in three straight seasons from 2006-08. Before that, QU's last winning campaign was an 8-1 mark in 1994.
When Rockhold entered QHS's program in 2009, the Blue Devils hadn't reached the playoffs since 2003 and had only three all-time playoff berths. He watched QHS coach Rick Little, who was hired before the 2007 season, breathe life into the program. QHS reached the playoffs in 2009 and 2010 and had three straight winning seasons from 2009-11 before going 4-5 last fall.
"They're kind of in the same situation (QHS was) in," said Rockhold, a cornerback. "Quincy High didn't have the best tradition. I could easily say QU doesn't either. But they have a new coach, and we had a new coach."
Rockhold was a two-time All-Western Big Six Conference selection at QHS. He'll get to continue his career playing on the same turf, as QHS and QU share Flinn Stadium.
"I'm just coming back to home with a new team," Rockhold said.
Heubner, the 2012 Herald-Whig Player of the Year, is going to new home but with a familiar face.
He and Miller helped C-SE have its best season in program history last season. The Panthers went 12-1, bowing out in the Class 2A semifinals.
"Continuing (with Miller) means a lot. We've been together since we were little kids," Heubner said.
Heubner played running back and defensive back in high school, and QU recruited him as a defensive back.
Miller, a two-way lineman, helped pave the way for Heubner to rush for 1,507 yards and 22 touchdowns last fall.
"After he committed, he just kept talking to me about it every single day," Miller said. "We've been together since about kindergarten playing sports together, so I figured I'd just keep it going."
Butler, a Griggsville-Perry graduate, broke his wrist last fall and redshirted.
He totaled more than 1,000 all-purpose yards for Pittsfield as a senior.
When Butler decided he wanted to transfer, he made QU his first visit and never got any farther.
"I didn't really feel right at McKendree," Butler said. "I was going to check out some other schools, but QU was the first one I visited and I just had that feeling. It felt right."
The opportunity to turn around a struggling program felt right to Miller.
"(Pajic is) a great coach. He's going to turn the program around I'm sure," Miller said. "I'm hoping that me and Dalton can make something happen there and change the program also. That'd be cool to say, that we were the group that changed the program and made it a winning program."