North Xtra: North Hills' Kappas will run defense for D-III powerhouse

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The Mount Union defense will be under a new reign, but with a familiar face.

Chris Kappas, a 2008 graduate of the University of Mount Union, is the team's new defensive coordinator.

"It's really a dream come true," he said. "Mount Union is the reason I'm where I am. The program means a lot to me."

Kappas may be in a new role, but he's no stranger to Mount Union football. He was a stand-out athlete at North Hills High School and went on to have a decorated college career as well.

He began his journey at West Liberty State College (now West Liberty University) his freshman year, but transferred to Mount Union, a dominant Division III football powerhouse that has 11 national championships.

At Mount Union, Kappas was a defensive back. He was a three-year letter-winner, an Academic All-OAC player and garnered Academic-District honors. He was also part of the 2005 and 2006 national championship teams.

He never abandoned the game after graduating from Mount Union. He returned to his alma mater and spent three years as an assistant coach for the Purple Raiders. He did, however, spend some time apart from the program in 2010 and 2011.

For two seasons, Kappas was an assistant coach for Bowling Green State University. There, he coached defensive line. Kappas believes that his past coaching experiences will play a huge role in his current position.

He said that the influence from former Bowling Green head coach Dave Clawson and former defensive coordinator Mike Elko helped him tremendously.

"I didn't just learn the X's and O's, I learned the grind put into a Division I football program," Kappas said. "Sometimes here at Mount Union, we beat teams by a lot and it's just because we have better players, but at Bowling Green the wins are gratifying because it could be one [coaching] adjustment that's the difference in a game."

Clawson and Elko are now at Wake Forest, Clawson as head coach and Elko as defensive coordinator.

Kappas continues to be influenced by others. Mount Union head coach Vince Kehres has served as the team's defensive coordinator since 2005. Last season, he was the team's head coach and defensive coordinator.

"I lean on him a lot," Kappas said.

Kehres embraces his role as the example for Kappas.

"Just like I had great mentors that helped me work my way up, I definitely plan on being involved with him," Kehres said.

Even though Kehres will help Kappas along the way, he's confident in the young coach's ability to take control of the defense. He said that Kappas' coaching experience -- which also includes a stint overseeing the wide receivers in 2013 -- brings a lot to the table.

"His experience at Bowling Green makes him a great mentor." Kehres said. "We wanted to learn about the schemes from Bowling Green. It was a quick turn around last year and we needed him on the offensive side, but in the winter we talked a lot and we wanted to implement some things [on defense]."

The Purple Raiders defense ran a 4-2-5 scheme for the past nine years, but this year they will be implementing a 4-3 defense. Kehres said they are always making subtle changes year to year.

"It's a challenge with the ever-changing offenses," Kappas explained. "We want to be sound and create turnovers. Our expectation is always to be the No. 1 defense in the country. We want to be the top defense in all categories, but wins are most important."

Having the "winning formula" for a successful season is important to Kappas, but overall, he hopes he can provide more than that to his student-athletes.

"You want to be influence to them for life after football," Kappas said. "We have some guys in the pros, but 99 percent, especially at the Division III level, don't go on to play pro.

"We want to teach them the daily grind. We take this approach in football. A lot of guys take this and apply it to what they do everyday now. We drive [the point of] being the best you can at whatever it is you do."

Kappas and the Purple Raiders will get things rolling at 6 p.m. Aug. 28 with a scrimmage at Washington and Jefferson College.

Ryan Petrovich: rpetrovich@post-gazette.com or Twitter: @RyanPetrovich


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