Illini’s loss was U of C’s gain with QB Rinklin

By Chris Boots

With three losing seasons behind them and a dismal 3–6 record in 2004, Chicago Maroons football was in need of a fresh approach when Matt Rinklin, then a second-year at U of I, came calling for head coach Dick Maloney.

“Matt contacted me and expressed a desire to transfer to Chicago and play football,” said Maloney. “We viewed high school tapes of quarterbacking skills and were impressed and believed that he had the ability to be an outstanding player for the Maroons.”

Ready to get back onto the football field, Rinklin impressed the staff with his maturity, focus, and desire, despite the long layoff. Eager to live up to coaches’ impressions and take a starting slot on the team, the new Maroons signal caller pushed himself to prepare for his arrival in Hyde Park.

“Not playing for a couple years, I definitely felt that I lost some of my edge,” Rinklin said. “But the summer before coming here, I was really excited about earning a starting position, and that was the motivation I needed to work doubly hard and do the most intense training I’ve ever done.”

Yet, despite this relentless conditioning and the coaches’ high expectations, Rinklin remained somewhat of an unknown variable upon his arrival in Chicago. Sitting out for his two years in Urbana-Champaign left a myriad of questions about the state of his skills, and there was some skepticism that Rinklin might be too rusty to make much of an impact. Even more pressing, though, was the issue of how well the Big Apple native would fit in with the tight-knit Maroon squad.

“The most difficult part of coming to Chicago for me was integrating into the team socially,” Rinklin said. “You have to build trust. Initially, I showed up here, and people were pretty skeptical for someone not from their own backyard to come in and start, so it took time to gain their trust on the field.”

This trust was half a season coming, and doubts weren’t assuaged as Rinklin started his rookie season by leading Chicago in a familiar direction: four successive losses. However, amid external skepticism and the team’s plummeting record, Rinklin kept the faith.

“When I was put in for the first time, Coach asked me if I was ready to win the game,” Rinklin said. “At that point, I galvanized my faith in myself, and my strength in myself was unwavering.”

As Rinklin strived to prove himself to his teammates each game, the squad’s gradual embrace of their stranger showed as the Maroons coalesced on the field. The critical moment of Rinklin’s career came in his first conference game against Wash U, with any chance for a winning season riding on a win. Only after leading Chicago to a stunning thrashing of its archrival 27–0—in St. Louis—did the new kid on the block finally feel comfortable in Hyde Park.

“It wasn’t until I won at Wash U that I earned, or even deserved, the trust of my teammates,” Rinklin said. “That was the game we finally started to believe in each other and really came together as a cohesive team. You see that in the rest of the season when we won five straight.”

Capping his debut year by clinching the UAA championship at home against Case, Rinklin showed again that trust between him and his peers was essential to success.

“It was a really crummy day, not a great day for passing, and I was able to be a good teammate handing the ball off to Nick Schey and letting the rest of the offense get us the win.”

With high expectations last fall, the team struggled to repeat its success; Rinklin, by then a team captain, remained a leader despite recurring adversity. In Chicago’s home finale, Rinklin tossed two touchdowns to push the Maroons over Northwestern College, and a week later, they pummeled Eureka 44–12 to end his career on a high note.

As Rinklin leaves the team’s present for a place in its history, his numbers will live on in the record books. On top of his UAA title, Rinklin can also lay claim to the Maroons’ highest completion percentage in a season (58 percent in 2005), and he twice tied the record for touchdowns in a game, with a quartet of scores against Carnegie and Bethany.

Apart from the tangible, Rinklin also leaves the team with the enduring impact of his leadership and a passion for the game that bodes well for the program as they look to rebuild their offense around the running game.

“Matt contributes his leadership, first through words, but his greatest impression was his work ethic,” Maloney said. “He is at the very top when it comes to his in and out-of-season conditioning, speed enhancement routine, strength training, and mental preparation.”

However the team chooses to remember him, the power of Rinklin’s story can’t be denied. With so many Division I schools passing their pre-professional training camps off as amateur athletics, it took a long-dormant DIII program for the quarterback to realize his considerable potential and come out of retirement for a championship run.