With one running back on the verge of setting the University of Dubuque’s all-time rushing record, it might’ve been easy to overlook the rest of the Spartans’ backs on the depth chart.
But with senior rusher Dwayne Allen Jr. sidelined with a turf toe injury, the chance for Kordell Stillmunkes to break out on a college football field finally emerged. For the last two weeks, he’s made the most of that opportunity.
“I just work hard at what I do and try to help my team out as much as I can,” Stillmunkes said on Saturday following Dubuque’s 20-14 win over Coe at Chalmers Field. “I hold myself to a standard where I always try to be the hardest working player on the football field every Saturday. I don’t have an offseason, just a non-season.
“This is what I do. This is what I love.”
It’s been somewhat of a whirlwind journey for Stillmunkes, a redshirt freshman from Cuba City, Wis. Two years ago, he committed to the University of Iowa as a walk-on. Injuries in the weight room last season (his true freshman year) prevented him from being able to see playing time with the Hawkeyes as early as he may have liked.
After spending the fall of 2018 dinged up, Stillmunkes decided a switch was in order. He didn’t know where specifically he wanted to go, but there was one team close to home that’s been forming a connection with him for the better part of the last seven years.
“I grew up near Dubuque so I knew a lot about this team,” said Stillmunkes, a 5-foot-10, 200-pound back. “I had some injuries at Iowa and that’s just why things didn’t really work out down there for me. I had no idea where I wanted to go. (UD) coach (Stan) Zweifel’s son, Mike, has actually been my trainer for years.
“Being able to come back to Dubuque and have that as my foundation, that was a big part of me coming here.”
At the start of the season, Stillmunkes was used primarily as Allen’s spell back with just 23 carries through the first three weeks. He’s seen 51 carries over the last two weeks, including a breakout 175-yard, two-touchdown performance at ranked Wartburg on Sept. 28 and another 101 yards and two scores against the Kohawks.
Those two games vaulted Stillmunkes all the way up to second in the American Rivers Conference in rushing yards. He trails Simpson’s Joe Meyer by more than 200 yards for the overall lead. However, on just 50 fewer attempts than Meyer, Stillmunkes is averaging 5.1 yards per carry, including an 80-yard touchdown run against the Knights (the longest in the A-R-C so far) that gave the Spartans a 17-0 lead in the first quarter (UD eventually lost, 42-25).
It’s no surprise to coach Stan Zweifel that Stillmunkes is already producing at a high level. Zweifel came to know the former Cuban from the time he started going to Michael Zweifel’s Building Better Athletes sports performance academy.
Dubuque’s faith in Stillmunkes was evident from the get-go in Saturday’s rain-soaked slog against Coe. He had 13 carries on an 18-play, 82-yard drive that ended with him slipping in the end zone for a 10-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. He had another 5-yard touchdown in the third quarter that re-tied the game at 14-apiece.
What’s been on display is the talent that carried Stillmunkes throughout his time at Cuba City. As a sophomore, seeing his first varsity action, he led the Cubans with 495 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns. The next year he broke out for 1,555 yards and 23 scores and was on pace for another big year in his senior season before a knee injury sidelined him after just four games.
Even then, Stillmunkes finished with 463 yards and more than a touchdown per contest, which drew interest from the Hawkeyes.
“He has exceptional speed,” said Stan Zweifel. “He was a state track champion in Wisconsin by his sophomore year. ... He’s got exceptional work ethic. I’ve never seen a guy work harder than he does. He’s a workout fanatic, and he’s done a really good job with Michael in improving his athletic ability.
“And most of all, he’s just a great kid. He’s a good teammate and he wants to be part of success.”
Dropping down from the NCAA Division I level to Division III, Stillmunkes said he was surprised that there isn’t much drop off in competition.
“The only difference is that at D-I, everyone’s a little bit bigger, a little bit faster,” he said. “But I was so surprised when I came here at the speed of the game. It’s not as different as I thought it would be.”
The Spartans’ staff is hopeful Allen can return to the field soon. The senior back is just 203 yards away from tying the school’s all-time rushing mark set by Justin Spaulding in 2011.
But at least for now, UD is getting a little taste of what’s to come with Stillmunkes. The early returns are very — very — promising.
“We’ve had a lot of really good backs here,” Stan Zweifel said. “He’s going to be one of those outstanding backs that we’ve had.”