Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Editorial: Why the Best Thing about Lycoming College Football Isn't Football

Head Coach Mike Clark (Heading into his 7th Season)
Williamsport, PA - If you follow Division III Football, you can get real excited with the quality of play and the young men who play for the pure pleasure of the game. During this hyper media blitz time of year because of Division I basketball, the truth about Division III football is a sharp contrast in purity. And some football programs are also sharp contrasts when compared to others over time.

That brings us to Lycoming College Football. What Lycoming Football has going for it is the longevity of the coaching staff and what that consistency means to anyone sending their son to this North Central Pennsylvania campus. First you must start with the legendary 36 year coach Frank Girardi. He took the program from a struggle to quality with two appearances to the Stagg Bowl, the Division III National Championship game. Coach Girardi had that gift of convincing players coming to Lycoming that they were now a part of a great football family. I have talked with Frank on a number of occasions and the thing that he is most proud of is meeting degreed graduates years after the spicks have been thrown in the locker and learning what they are doing and hearing about their families.

I will always remember this story from a couple years ago. I was with Frank doing an interview when he received a call from one of his graduates. The graduate was being inducted into Lycoming's Sports Hall of Fame. Even though this young man was out of school for years and Coach G had years of retirement under his belt, he personally called to give the good news. He said that "I wanted to tell my guy ... the news personally. You are family and family enjoys good news together. Congratulations to you. Can you make the dinner in the fall?" With coach G, Lycoming football is family.

Head Coach Mike Clark (Lycoming College Photo)
Enter Head Coach and Director of Athletics Mike Clark who had the tall order of making his own trail as he was passed the baton from Girardi, the coaching legend. And run with the baton he did. Lycoming won the Conference Championship his first year as head coach. Remarkable, but to his credit, Mike gave a lot of credit to Frank Girardi. Now that was a class act from someone when did not let ego get into the way. All in all, Frank did not call one play in Mike's first year, Mike did all of that and took the team to the top.

In his sixth year , Mike took the Warriors to the top again. That is two times in six years. WOW! But again, Mike is as proud of the outside activities the team engages in throughout the year, and especially the continued family atmosphere that has been maintained from the Girardi years. Oh yes, Mike is one of those family members who played for Girardi (from 1989-92), helped them win four MAC Championships in four years and a trip to the National Championship game. During that period, those teams were the most prolific going 30-1-1 (a .953 winning percentage) against MAC Teams. Add to that, Mike has a great football family.  His wife, Danielle, comes to most games along with his three children, Allison, Brendan and Emily. You will also see his parents from the Philadelphia area at the games.

Steve Wiser (C) honored for his 40 years of service by Head Coach
Mike Clark (L) and Lycoming President Kent Trachte (R)
Mike has been blessed to have two other staff members who have been family for Lycoming Football. They are Assistant Head Coach and Defensive Coordinator Steve Wiser and Linebacker Coach Mike Weber. Wiser was a standout defensive player when Girardi started coaching at Lycoming back in the 70's. That translates into Coach Wiser has been around Warrior Football for 45 years. He is entering his 41st season as an assistant coach for the Warriors. Now that is longevity in my book.

Coach Wiser takes to Kabongo Bukasa
Called “The Wizard” by many in the game, Steve is more than a legend at the school. He was the architect of a defensive corps that changed the fortunes of the football program in the ‘70s before presiding over a damaging defense that has won 14 MAC titles in the last 35 years. That is one every 2.5 years. That means that every graduating class has a chance to have tasted the ultimate success of a MAC Championship in their football career. By visiting his office now and then, I have been impressed with the personal interest Wiser takes in all the team players. He guides them on community projects, because the program is also about giving of yourself to others. Then, I listen as he returned a call with a graduate. He keeps in contact with graduates over the years. He stays interested in them after their football and college career are over.

Assistant coach Mike Weber with Tanner Troutman
Steve's defensive linebacker coach is the cool tempered Mike Weber, who is starting his 26th season as an assistant coach. Since Mikes first year of coaching in 1989, Lycoming has won 12 League Titles, two National Title games and 11 NCAA Division III playoff games. Weber has also helped produce several All-Americans at the linebacker slot, including Ryan Yaple in 2007 and 2012 MAC Defensive Player of the Year Kabongo Bukasa, and he has coached 20 all-conference players at the slot. Weber was a linebacker for Lycoming in the mid-1980s and was a member of the Warriors first national playoff team in 1985. Mike resides in Williamsport with his wife, Tanya, and son, Michael. They have, on numerous occasions fed groups of team players in their home over the years. You will see Tanya and Michael at most games as they are avid Lyco fans.

Yes when the blitz and glamour of Division I college athletes flash on TV, athletes who now want paid for what they do, even though they get a free college ride worth thousands. Athletics who takes baseless courses to say they have "Graduated" from college. Athletes who get pampered and tutored and treated special. Or even worse, athletes who jump after one or two years from college to the Pros for the money, you easily see the purity of Division III football. Athletes like those at playing at Lycoming and other DIII schools, take real classes and play without scholarships because of the pure joy of the game and challenge of getting that degree that is worthwhile down the road of life. I am so thrilled each year during the football banquet to check out the graduates who are going to make a difference in this world due to a quality education, the family atmosphere and the legend that is Lycoming Football. This is why the best thing about Lycoming College Football isn't football,  but it is growth gained and the entrance into a great family.

John Green