When winning takes a back seat
The field is often the site of a football coach’s greatest
triumphs. Don Morel can tell you what it’s like when the
field becomes the site of a coach’s worst nightmare. The
unpleasant journey that UW-Eau Claire and the family of Justin
Greenwood are beginning is one that Morel and the entire community
at the University of La Verne have been on for nearly a year.
In a Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference game against Redlands last Oct. 24, quarterback Rollie Dykstra was tackled while diving for the goal line on an option early in the second quarter. The Leopard senior was helped off the field by the trainer and a teammate, then appeared to suffer consecutive seizures. He was taken to a local hospital and the game was called.
“It was devastating, first and foremost,” Morel said. “It was tragic that an accident like that happened. We felt awful just for Rollie.”
In the days following Dykstra’s injury, La Verne’s 64 other players did not practice, and Azusa Pacific allowed La Verne to cancel the next week’s game. Football, Morel said, just wasn’t on the minds of the people at the 1,300-student school about 30 miles east of Los Angeles.
“Everybody, not just the players and coaches, but everyone in the La Verne community was affected,” he said. “There was a period there when we weren’t sure if Rollie would make it, period.”
According to news reports, Dykstra had surgery to relieve swelling in his brain and spent three weeks in a coma. But he is alive and recovering from his injuries in a rehabilitation center in Bakersfield, Calif.
But Morel and the Leopards can’t visit Dykstra. In fact, they don’t even receive updates on his condition anymore. Though Morel says the NCAA has a $20 million catastrophic insurance policy that covers Dykstra’s medical bills, the school community still has to keep its distance due to fear of litigation.
In the first week following the accident, Morel says he got phone calls from high school, college and professional coaches who had been through the same thing. Many recommended that the school provide crisis counselors, and Morel says several of his players met with such professionals. The university community gave the football team space to work through their emotions, Morel said. The rest of the season, he added, “became much, much bigger than football.”
“We had 64 other guys that were really suffering at the time while Rollie was in critical condition,” Morel said. “One thing I learned was that every individual deals with it differently. No two people are feeling the same thing at the same time.”
Though the coach felt a range of emotions, eventually his team would have to take the field again. Though they did, winning their final two games, the emotions surrounding the game were never quite the same.
In the first half of a 33-12 loss to Whittier Nov. 2, Morel remembers his team looking “really out of it.
“I don’t think we got excited for another game,” Morel said. “In fact, even though we won our last two games, I think it was just a giant relief when the season was over.”
Finishing the season at all meant more than winning.
“I think we pulled together as a team, a community and school,” Morel said.
But being able to finish didn’t mean it was easy.
“Weeks after, it’s still a struggle,” Morel said. “You start to question the game itself.”
Football, for all that’s great about it, is a dangerous game, Morel acknowledges.
Around Division III, football communities can second that.
Greenwood, an Eau Claire linebacker, was injured on a
helmet-to-helmet hit against UW-River Falls on Saturday. Similar to
Dykstra, he had emergency brain surgery and has been
Shay Ratliff, one of Hardin-Simmons’ top receivers,
sustained a concussion in the season opener and is not only out for
the season, but has reportedly withdrawn from school.
Linfield defender Ray Lions cracked a vertebrae in his neck (Around the West, Sept. 23) in the opener against Redlands and has not played since.
For Morel’s team, the emotions from Dykstra’s ordeal are still present.
“I don’t think it’s something you just get over in a summer or a fall,” he said. “You don’t get over it. In some way, it’s always there.”
Division III vs. the rest
Early-season, pre-conference slate schedule openings leave plenty of room for non-conference matchups. It’s also when Division III teams see how they stack up against teams from other classifications.
Though we can define “stack up” in several ways, as there is certainly a range of team strengths within each classification, here’s Division III’s record against everyone else:
vs. D I-AA: 3-5
We don’t distinguish a Division I-AA non-scholarship from I-AAs with scholarships. The three victories are UW-Platteville 21, Drake 20; UW-Stevens Point 56, Butler 7 and Montclair State 23, Iona 21.
vs. D-II: 3-9
Some of these aren’t pretty, but then again, why is a middle-of-the-pack ODAC team like Guilford scheduling Division II power Carson-Newman, currently ranked No. 3? We don’t know, but a 41-0 whooping is what one gets for such ambitiousness. Our wins are Curry 22, Stonehill 16; Concordia-Moorhead 42, Moorhead State 28 and UW-La Crosse 28, South Dakota 24. Nice work.
vs. NAIA: 23-15
Okay, the definitions get a little sticky here, but we don’t define future Division III provisional members Crown (2004), Tri-State (2004) or Northwestern, Minn. (2005) as Division III’s yet, so their games are counted among the NAIA’s. That other classification got a few cheap victories over Division III’s brand-new program in Huntingdon, but then again Division III got a few easy wins over Southern Virginia. The most significant here is Linfield 47, NAIA No. 24 Southern Oregon 42. NAIA No. 8 Asuza Pacific has beaten Pacific Lutheran and Cal Lutheran, while No. 22 Walsh beat Westminster (Pa.) 43-20. For what it’s worth.
No, no, we’re not projecting the winner of the Division III version Heisman Trophy, although I still think that may not be a bad idea. As St. John’s head coach John Gagliardi approaches the all-time wins mark of 408, we thought we’d do more than just blitz you with a story before the big game, like many national media outlets will undoubtedly do. We asked you, the readers, to share your experiences with the man many in Collegeville, Minn., call John.
Here’s our second story:
“I met John in July of 2002, shortly after graduating from Ithaca College. I did not know that much about his program, seeing as I had only been living and working in Minnesota for a few weeks.
He easily agreed to meet me in his office for an interview on the new turf at Clemens Stadium and the upcoming season. I spent, easily 45 minutes to an hour in John’s office and we discussed him and his football program for maybe 15 minutes.
That to me is John in a nutshell, he would much rather talk about you than him. After the meeting, Jimmy Gagliardi and Gary Fashing took me over to their office and gave me more reading material and SJU information than I could [have] wanted, it just shows through that the whole program is pure class and it all starts with John.
When we traveled to McMinnville for the playoffs and what would be win number 400, everyone involved was very excited. As a reporter I was excited for a good game but really hoping for a win because it would be a great story to cover. They won in exciting fashion and as the clock winded down the 500 or so Johnnie fans started chanting “400, 400.” It was something else. But after the game we (the reporters and SJU fans) watched John walk quickly towards the locker room.
That is pure Gagliardi as well, as I found out many times over the year. You may want to talk about the win, especially when it was number 400, but he knew that there was only a few days before the next big game and he’d rather think about that.
Finally, John may be the most predictable coach off of the football field. Ask John a question and nine times out of ten you can guess the answer before it comes out. This teaches you to be very creative with your questions, very quickly. This was quite apparent in Oregon when the Saint Cloud-area media was done asking him questions and the Oregon media started. After the first reporter asked a common Gagliardi question, you could see all of the St. Cloud media packing up to go home.”
— Jim McGraw, reporter
Methodist hasn’t played in three weeks, but resumes its slate against Emory & Henry on Saturday. The Monarchs did not play their Sept. 20 game at Salisbury due to Hurricane Isabel, then had a scheduled off week.
Methodist head coach Jim Sypult said his kids are anxious to play another game.
“When they ask ‘when are we going to hit again?’ that’s a good sign,” Spyult said.
Stat of the
As often as we hear about Wooster’s Tony Sutton, he’s got company leading the NCAA in rushing yards per game (220.3) through this week.
Sutton and Dante Washington of Carthage are both juniors, and both have rushed for 661 yards in three games. Washington has done it with 82 carries (8.1 yards per) to Sutton’s 79 (8.4 per), but the Wooster back has 11 touchdowns to Washington’s seven.
National game of the week
There are several candidates, as ranked teams from the WIAC, OAC and ODAC clash. There are also big games in the east and west, both in- and out-of-conference. Who wants to pick just one when there’s such a healthy list of games to watch: No. 8 UW-Stevens Point at No. 3 UW-La Crosse, No. 18 John Carroll at No.10 Baldwin-Wallace, No. 14 Ithaca at No. 21 Springfield, No. 17 Bridgewater at No. 12 Hampden-Sydney, No. 4 Linfield vs. Pacific Lutheran, No. 7 Rowan vs. TCNJ, No. 20 Washington & Jefferson vs. Westminster (Pa.), No. 22 Bethel at UW-Eau Claire
Hindsight game of the week
Again there were about 15 candidates under the close-game file, and Christopher Newport’s win over Bridgewater did the most work to the national polls. ATN’s game of the week last week wasn’t a nail-biter, but we told you it would be a shootout. Wooster affirmed its national rank with a 62-33 win over Case Western.
Though kickers get dumped on quite a bit when linemen and linebackers have jokes to crack, there isn’t a player in Division III who wouldn’t want a guy as tough — or at least as accurate — as Augustana’s Mike Clark on his team.
The junior kicker hit a 54-yarder as time ran out to push the Vikings past UW-Platteville, 27-26. It was the second time this season that a kicker set a new Division record for longest game-ending field goal.
As always, Around the Nation is interested in your thoughts on certain subjects. When you write in, please include your full name, age, hometown and school you root for. Or use our feedback form.
1. We’re still interested to hear why life is unique in your corner of the Division III world. Take a minute and share what’s great about your campus, your state, your team and the people you know.
2. ATN is looking for more fond memories of longtime St. John’s coach John Gagliardi.
3. ATN is still looking for the most unique player names in Division III.
4. ATN wants to know what you think the spirit of Division III is, and what it should be.
Around the Nation is looking for new directories, media guides, record books and other helpful tools from both conference and school SIDs. The information is used when compiling Around the Nation, and is a great help for feature stories. SIDs can also add email@example.com to football-only release lists or e-mail us the Web address of online guides, but please label correspondence as such in the subject line. Snail mail to Keith McMillan, 14010 Smoketown Rd., Woodbridge, Va., 22192.