Ronny Ponick is no stranger to success.
The former Co-Chippewa County Football Player of the Year and two-time Chippewa County Wrestler of the Year during his days at Stanley-Boyd has carried that success over to college where as a junior at UW-Whitewater he is a part of a potent backfield for the Warhawks football team.
UW-Whitewater heads into this Saturday’s Division III playoff semifinals as they travel to Benton, Texas to face Mary Hardin-Baylor with a trip to next week’s national championship Stagg Bowl on the line.
Ponick has taken on a bigger role in his third season with the Warhawks, running for 820 yards and 10 touchdowns on just 124 carries. He’s been at his best in the playoffs, running for 450 of those yards and five touchdowns in three victories for UW-Whitewater.
As a team the Warhawks have run for more than 3,300 yards and are averaging six yards per carry. Ponick is second on the team in rushing to sophomore running back Alex Peete, who has 1,303 yards and 22 scores.
“At Whitewater it is a tradition to pound the rock and pound the rock in our eyes means run the ball,” Ponick said. “We’ve had a long line of good running backs and we’ve also had a long line of other players that have played multiple positions.”
Ponick has tallied 11 total tackles on the defensive side of the ball as well.
The UW-Whitewater program is no stranger to the Division III playoffs, but this weekend is making its first appearance in the semifinals since 2015. The Warhawks won the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship during the regular season and carried that dominance into the playoffs. UW-Whitewater outscored playoff opponents Eureka (Ill.), St. Norbert and Bethel (Minn.) by a combined 147-47 margin.
“The coaches, the way they’ve talked with us and how they’ve set up practice, everything has led up to the playoffs,” Ponick said. “We’re about to reach our peak in the playoffs. That’s what they strive for and then it’s just about mastering our craft and who wants it more.”
Ponick attended Division III Augsburg College in Minnesota after graduating Stanley-Boyd in 2015 before transferring to Whitewater in 2016. As a freshman he ran for 78 yards and two scores in abbreviated work before posting 262 yards on 38 carries and a pair of touchdowns last year. He earned WIAC Offensive Player of the Week honors as a sophomore after a game with 190 rushing yards, one touchdown and one catch in a 40-21 win over Washington-St. Louis on Sept. 16, 2017.
Ponick’s ballcarrier workload has increased significantly this year, but with a number of capable running backs in the stable he knows he won’t have to shoulder the entire load.
“A lot of guys have really bought into the idea that we are going to run the ball and we’re going to do it efficiently,” Ponick said. “To have the front five (offensive line) in front of us, as motivated as they are they make things crystal clear, making reads concise and we just play ball from there. It’s a collective effort to everybody to hone in on one thing and it’s been the run game and we’re running with it.”
Ponick is not the only member of his family on the team. His younger brother Ryan, a freshman running back on the team, also transferred after playing at UW-Eau Claire a season ago. He has appeared in two games this year for the Warhawks. This marks the first time since 2013 that both Ponick brothers have been teammates on the same football team. That year they both were a part of the Stanley-Boyd squad that won the Division 5 state championship.
“Once we got him down here, got him on a visit and had a good conversation with the coaching staff and they were going to give him a shot, they really like what he brought to the table,” Ronny said of his younger brother. “He’s a very highly-motivated individual. It really helps that he’s my brother. We have talks behind closed doors about football and being able to sit down and watch film together…just having a second mind there where a guy just gets it.”
This week’s focus is all about second-seeded Mary Hardin-Baylor. The unbeaten Crusaders edged Saint John’s University 21-18 in the quarterfinals last weekend and square off with the Warhawks on Saturday. The winner of the game meets the winner of Johns Hopkins/Mount Union next week in the Stagg Bowl in Shenandoah, Texas.
The Warhawks have won six Division III national titles since 2007 and could move one game from another with a win this weekend.
“It’s going to come down to who can be more disciplined, who can be more physical and more who can be ultimately faster throughout the game and who can keep the pace and I think we’ve done a great job of doing that,” Ronny said.