Ballston Spa product Chris Ohnsman is the kind of player who often falls through the cracks when recruited by a Division I football program.
But on a DIII football team like Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the 5-foot-10, 280-pound defensive lineman’s versatility is invaluable.
Ohnsman, who excelled at football, wrestling and lacrosse in high school for the Scotties, will be one of the key veteran players on an RPI defense that lost its undisputed leader in lineman Ted Abriel (76 tackles, six quarterback sacks, two recovered fumbles) to graduation.
“He’s got the passion and the heart of a Division I football player or Division I wrestler, for that matter,” said RPI second-year head coach Ralph Iernia of Ohnsman at Monday’s annual media day at East Campus Stadium. “At 5-10, he’s not maybe what a DI coach is looking for up front. But he’s very capable, and he’s an outstanding football player. His technique, his hands and his feet are great. He’s going to be a very important player for us this season.”
Ohnsman played in all 10 games for the 5-5 Engineers a year ago. He made 34 tackles, recorded one quarterback sack and both forced and recovered a fumble.
As a sophomore, he started for the junior varsity team and got into only one varsity game after trying to bounce back from a torn ACL injury that kept him out the entire 2011 campaign.
“I tore my ACL in the Upstate-Downstate all-star game [in] my senior season in high school,” Ohnsman noted. “It forced me to sit out my entire freshman year, and it really set me back. Now, both my knees take a regular beating, but that’s just the nature of being a defensive lineman. I don’t have any problems lingering from that specific injury, but we’re always a little sore.”
Ohnsman’s ability to excel in three different sports in high school only helped him become a better football player.
On the gridiron, he was the Empire Division Player of the Year in 2010, as well as an all-state second-team performer en route to leading the Scotties to the Empire Division championship. Ballston Spa was also the Section II Class AA runner-up in 2009.
Ohnsman was a five-year starter in both wrestling and lacrosse, as well as a three-year captain in both and an all-league performer in both three times.
Ohnsman was the Section II runner-up in wrestling twice and was a state tournament qualifier as a senior.
Other scholastic awards included the 2011 Capital District Student-Athlete Award runner-up prize and the 2011 National Football Foundation and College Football Hall of Fame Capital District Chapter Award.
“At this point, I’m basically just a football player. I don’t do any more wrestling or lacrosse,” Ohnsman said.
“I can’t do the cross-training from all the different sports, like I used to, but I must admit that both lacrosse and wrestling did a lot for my football career. It made me a much better all-around athlete, and both my hip work and my footwork benefitted tremendously from playing the other two sports.”
Ohnsman said RPI’s defense, particularly the defensive line, will be one of the keys to the team.
“Football starts in the trenches,” he said. “We have a lot of defensive players on this team who are very hungry. We’ve got plenty of guys who are coming back as starters, or other guys who are trying to step up into being starters or to earn some extra playing time. All our defensive guys are very hungry on this team.”
Ohnsman is the total team player, and he has no personal goals other than to win as often as possible.
“We try not to look at the personal side of football, like tackles or sacks,” he said. “It’s all about winning games. If we win the league championship, that would be everything for us. And if we don’t, no personal league award would make up for that.”
6 — at Norwich, 1:30; 13 — ALFRED, 12; 20 — at Castleton, 12; 27 — WPI, 7.
4 — at Merchant Marine Academy, 1; 11 — ST. LAWRENCE, 1; 18 — at Rochester, 1; 25 — HOBART, 12.
8 — at Springfield, 1; 15 — UNION, 12.
Home games in CAPS.