Rallying around Frostburg

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It was an emotional first home game and win for Frostburg State.
Frostburg State athletics photo

FROSTBURG, Md. – On Saturday, Frostburg State rushed for 220 yards, pulled away from Utica with a 21-point fourth quarter, earned its first win as a member of the Empire 8 and its second this season, an accomplishment since they’ve averaged two a year since 2006.

But on the drive to and from, and during my entire time watching the game, I could not get one thought out of my head:

I would not be here if Derek Sheely hadn’t died.

And if I hadn’t gone, I wouldn’t have been able to share with you the sight of tears that suddenly appearing in coach Tom Rogish’s eyes, as after six minutes of keeping his emotions in check for an interview, he said losing the senior fullback was “like losing one of your own kids.”

Or that people from as far away as Eastern Oregon and as far up the college football ladder as Pitt have reached out to Rogish and the Bobcats, but that the correspondence they could most relate to comes from one of our own.

“Gosh, I got a letter from a young man from Wisconsin-Stout,” Rogish said after Saturday’s 44-24 win. “I don’t know if you remember, they lost a player in 2009, Marty Platek. [A Stout player] wrote me a letter. It hit home so much, about how it brought their team together. Just a great letter, a Division III football team, it was his roommate that passed away … I read that to our players.”

Platek, who was 20 when he and UW-Stout junior Caitlin Higgins died in a snowmobile accident on Jan. 2, 2009, hasn’t been forgotten. An award bears his name at Simley High School in Minnesota. The former roommate of the Blue Devils defensive back still carries the memories, and therefore Platek’s life touches someone in Frostburg, Md. in September 2011.

It’s probably small consolation to those who knew Sheely, but his existence is still changing that of others for the better. It’s not the Secret Service, which Rogish said he applied for and had hoped to join after graduation, but Sheely mattered, and still does.

Fans black and white, male and female wore white shirts with Sheely’s face printed on them to Saturday’s game. They were adorned with his No. 40, and the words, "A true warrior." Cheerleaders wore black armbands. Sheely’s name was written in chalk on the concrete by the entrance to the field and his number was made with Styrofoam cups on a fence.

The team took Sheely’s jersey, pulled over pieces of wood so it can be carried above the players, into the postgame huddle. They shouted his number when they broke. But it wasn’t just brief outward displays of emotion that meant Sheely affected lives.

“It’s been tough these past two weeks,” said Josh Volpe, the quarterback who passed for 242 yards and three touchdowns Saturday and called Sheely his best friend. “You can never prepare for something like this. We know he would want us to keep pushing. That’s kind of what motivates me. That’s kind of what motivates this whole team. It was our senior year, and he wanted to go out with a winning season. That’s our goal right now.”

J.D. Hook ran for 189 yards in the win, much of it behind freshman fullback Adam Tuzikow.

“I’m a starter now, and I wouldn’t have been if it wouldn’t have happened,” Tuzikow acknowledged. “But whenever I think about it, from everything I hear – I didn’t really know him since I’m a freshman – he’s always been a hard runner and his workout ethic … Whenever I get down and think about quitting, I think of what he would have been doing, and it makes me go so much harder.”

Tuzikow cleared a path for Hook on the 1-yard touchdown run that made it a two-score game with 8:12 left.

Frostburg State
J.D. Hook and Frostburg State pounded the ball just like Derek Sheely would have wanted it.
Frostburg State athletics photo 

Frostburg held the ball for 39:09 in the game, including more than 10 minutes in each of the final three quarters, and for 6:04 during a 10-play drive in the fourth that put the game away.

“We wanted to pound the ball,” Volpe said. “That’s what he loved to do. He wasn’t about glamour, he was about blocking.”

Odd then, that Sheely died doing something he loved. If there hadn’t been a traumatic brain injury from a helmet-to-helmet hit, as Sheely’s father told the Associated Press last week, then he would have played Saturday, in the home opener. Probably in front of fewer than the 2,307 fans that showed up. Not in front of D3football.com, but as one of the hundred-plus games that are played every Saturday in D-III even further away from the spotlight. He would have lined up behind Volpe, his friend since high school, and blocked.

There was a void on Saturday, a spot that Derek Sheely wasn’t in, that mattered. Maybe the game’s outcome would have been different if Frostburg hadn’t practiced and played with the emotion they’ve drawn from losing him. The score was 16-14 at half and 23-17 at the end of the third, after all.

Tuzikow started. Volpe kept his friend in the back of his mind. Fans wanted to see a win “for” Derek, and I went to the game.

After, as I stood talking to Rogish, he said to me that he had young visitors at the Bobcats’ season opener.

“My grandkids were there for the Geneva game,” Rogish said. “I played with them more than I’ve ever played, I hugged ’em.”

At that moment, we turned and looked at my children, ages 6 and 5, tackling one another on Frostburg’s 10-yard line. It was but a moment in time, a small thing, but a reminder nonetheless. To hug them, to not be afraid to tell them I’m proud of them, or too cool to say “I love you.”

It’s very small consolation I’m sure, but Derek, thank you.

Last week in ATN former players discussed seizing the moment, because football memories last a lifetime. Turns out memories sometimes last longer than life. It’s dangerous for a D-III player, when he sees empty seats and the lack of TV cameras at games, to think he might not matter.

Sheely might have played mostly in obscurity until he died, being a fullback on teams which struggled. But he mattered.

“Derek was such a fine young man, had everything going for him, 3.7 grade point average,” said Rogish, who said he’d only lost a player once before in 30 years of coaching, in a car accident while he was coach at Indiana (Pa.). He said the funeral was on Sept. 11, 2001 and the team was en route, about 30 miles from Shenksville, Pa. when Flight 93 crashed there.

“[Derek] was just beautiful in classes, his sense of humor,” Rogish said. “What he could do in the classes was very much equal to what he could do on the football field.”

That’s the epitome of a D-III athlete. Emulate that. Remind someone how much you love them, today. Do something to remind yourself that Derek Sheely mattered, that Marty Platek mattered, and that every one of us who plays this game, whether we’re still here or not, matters to someone and has the power to alter the course of life itself.

Make some noise

Between ex-players’ advice, teams’ color schemes and rivalry games, last week’s column generated more e-mail feedback than any in years. Yes I forgot Bethel somehow on the colors list – thanks to three of you for reminding me. Tom Haley sent along a great note about how Castleton State only wears “343 Green.” To make that colors list, I had to boil all the different shades of colors teams claim down into their basic color. I guess 343 Green is something off the Adobe color palette. Not to be confused with Kelly or Forest or Pea-Soup Green.

In any case, I thought two pieces of feedback stood out, and I would like to share. The first is from one of the ex-players who was featured in the Twitter-fueled column last week, Tom Linnemann, giving his advice in long form:

“I don’t want to sound like an old-school codger because I’m certainly not that. I love the evolution of football and how great players have evolved on the field. And there are a lot of throwbacks. But I would tell players to focus on building a tradition and winning games rather than worrying about that dumb-as-hell term “swag”. If you aspire to talk or act like that guy in the Old Spice commercial you’re a douche, not “swag.” Deion Sanders was awesome. He had legit “swag.” You’re not him. You play D-III football. Get over it. I was perhaps one of the most, ahem, confident/hated players in the MIAC when I played but instead of prancing around like a stupid peacock I tried to hang 40 on teams in the first half so I could eat a turkey sandwich and watch the underclassmen play. I don’t understand how some players are more impressed with how great the training room is or how the jerseys look instead of looking in the trophy case and focusing on winning. I’m starting to sound like Andy Rooney. My point is that I tried to score on every play and looking good in the process didn’t matter.

“I would also tell players to spend at least the amount of time you spend studying for a class in the film room — or even more. That probably drives administrators nuts but it’s reality if you want to win. I got my job because of the connections I made playing football. Are you gonna get your job based on your English 212 Writing Well class?  If you’re never surprised on Saturdays you have a better chance to win and a better chance to make adaptations and adjustments. But it’s not just about watching film. It’s not about having the tape on the big screen and eating Twizzlers or Gardettos with your feet up. It’s about deliberate study. You won’t be prepared if you think that somehow ambiently you’ll understand how they’re rolling their safeties or which cornerback has better hips and breaks on the ball. You have to go into a room and study it with INTENT. Coaches talk about practicing with purpose on the field but then it’s lounge time in film—not if you want to use it to the fullest. Deliberate study is another separation between you and the other player.”

“The second comes from the mother of a player. Identifying info is omitted because I didn’t ask specifically if I could publish it with names.”

Your article "Dear Players, Heed Our Advice" could not have come at a better time. My son is a freshman on a nationally ranked D-III team and is having a hard time not being the starter and star he was in high school. He has a few friends that went D-I and I think in the back of his mind he still feels like he “settled.” He is discouraged right now because the older players are out of town for a game right now and he and most of the freshmen were left at home. Basically, his attitude sucks and if anything derails his D-III career, it won’t be his abilities, it will be his attitude. He really doesn't understand the way college football works, but I sent him your article and asked that he really sit down and read it.

“Thanks for taking the time to write it. I have a feeling it’s going to make a big impact on how he moves forward.”

I appreciate that there are readers who the column matters to. Trust us, it would not be worth all the work outside our full-time jobs if it didn’t.

Reply to the above, or continue any other discussion on ATN’s Around the Nation thread, on D3boards.com.

Rivalry watch

I got about a dozen e-mails regarding missing rivalries, which is great. Some I’d omitted unintentionally, and some I left off on purpose, because in previous instances of doing such lists, I couldn’t find any evidence of the game being a true rivalry, in that it has both history and competitive balance. Some, like the Bronze Turkey game, go through stretches where one team dominates. Some, like UW-Whitewater vs. UW-La Crosse, Rowan vs. Montclair State and UMHB vs. Hardin-Simmons are more competitive rivalries than they are historical.

I didn’t forget Occidental’s rivalries, for example. I left those off, since no one from SCIAC country makes it clear to me that the Drum, Myron Claxton’s schools or the Claremont Consortium games are rivalries that make or break a season. What say you?

For now I’ll list everything suggested. But I think the ultimate goal here should be to track the rivalries that really rile fanbases up. Just because two teams add a trophy to their yearly matchup doesn’t mean its Monon Bell, you know? Thoughts?

Week 1 (Sept. 3):

Backyard Brawl, Mississippi College 33, Millsaps 27, OT: The Majors’ Beau Brady misses a 37-yard field goal attempt at the end of regulation, and the Choctaws’ Tommy Reyer scores from eight yards out in overtime.

Soup Bowl, Guilford 27, Greensboro 7: The Quakers win the first game of the Chris Rusiewicz era in grand fashion.

Week 2 (Sept. 10):

Secretaries’ Cup, Merchant Marine 35, Coast Guard 28: Kings Point’s Stephen Sasso finds Chase Dunn for a 40-yard TD pass with eight seconds left to win.

Week 3 (Sept. 17)

Courage Bowl, St. John Fisher 52, Rochester 3: Luckily this game still benefits a worthy cause in Camp Good Days, and the highlight is having cancer-affected children experience game week with each team. Because this was as big a dud competitively as there has been in the series. The Cardinals led 28-3 at the half and scored 45 unanswered after it was 7-3.

Week 4 (Sept. 24)

Transit Trophy, RPI at WPI

Mary Hardin Baylor at Hardin-Simmons

Week 5 (Oct. 1)

Holy grail/Tommie-Johnnie Game, St. John’s at St. Thomas

Week 9 (Oct. 29)

Dutchman’s Shoes: RPI at Union

CBB, Part I: Bates at Colby

Week 10 (Nov. 5)

Little Brass Bell: Wheaton at North Central

Bronze Turkey game, Knox at Monmouth

Cranberry Bowl: Mass. Maritime at Bridgewater State

CBB, Part II: Bowdoin at Bates

Week 11 (Nov. 12)

Oldest rivalry in D-III: Amherst at Williams

Monon Bell: Wabash at DePauw

Cortaca Jug: Cortland State at Ithaca

The Game: Hampden-Sydney at Randolph-Macon

Victory Bell: Franklin at Hanover

Cornell at Coe

Wesleyan at Trinity

Moravian at Muhlenberg

CBB, Part III: Colby at Bowdoin

Bridge Bowl: Thomas More at Mount St. Joseph

Regents Cup: Frostburg State at Salisbury

Keystone Cup, Widener at Delaware Valley

Have rivalry games we should add to the list? E-mail keith.mcmillan@c3sports.com

Tweet your question, get an answer

Send specific inquiries during the week to @D3Keith on Twitter, and I’ll pick a handful of questions to answer in the column, if not sooner.

Four questions this week:

1) How does @UMHB fall a spot despite winning on Saturday?

It’s a tight cluster between No. 2 and No. 6, which is where the upper second tier ends for the moment. So it’s a constant re-evaluation of St. Thomas, Bethel, Mary Hardin-Baylor and Linfield, with Wheaton knocking on the door and Wesley and North Central having lost. I thought last week St. Thomas finally showed itself to be dominant in a 45-14 win against St. Olaf. Linfield’s resume – only one game, a win over 20th-ranked Cal Lutheran in Week 2 – leaves nothing to quibble with. Then you have Bethel, my previous week’s No. 3, struggling for a while and pulling away in a 27-9 win against Carleton. UMHB needed a stop on a two-point conversion to hold off McMurry, which as you’ll see in the next question, I respect, but to a degree. When your other contenders for the same spot all have good games and you barely get by, it shouldn’t be a surprise when voters across the entire poll reshuffle those teams. You don’t need a poll to reflect which teams merely won. A poll is supposed to subjectively evaluate the influence of each of those W’s.

2) How was McMurry not ranked or even receive votes after beating a d1?

Well, they lost 82-6 to a D-I the week before. And although their win against first-year UT-San Antonio was impressive, the 28-27 loss to UMHB is maybe the most telling result of the three.

3) Kicking around the idea of skipping a rare uwec home game to go see st thomas v bethel.Think theyll still be top 5 schools by then?

I’m not sure it’s important if they’re still top 5; it’ll be a game worth seeing. But I’ll try to answer the question you asked. The game is Oct. 22, or Week 8 in our parlance. Bethel goes to St. John’s two weeks prior but could be undefeated. The Tommies host the Johnnies the week before that, in Week 5, but also don’t seem to any other games they should be in danger of losing before then. So yes, go to St. Thomas at Bethel on the 22nd instead of UW-Eau Claire hosting UW-Stevens Point.

4) Whats it gonna take to get yall to show louisiana college some love?

I’m pretty sure I voted for LC this week, and higher than sliding them in at 25 too. But what’s it going to take for people to notice? Easy. Beat Missisippi College at home this week, then go to UMHB and win next week. If yes, see you in the top 15 afterward. If no, well, you’ll know why. Good luck.

Five Ways to Saturday

Follow Around the Nation …

• Throughout the week on Twitter. Follow @D3Keith. It’s a sporadic stream of short-form minutiae, most of it D-III related. It’s also the best way to directly converse with the column’s author.

• On Around the Nation’s Post Patterns thread, at the top of the General Football board. That’s the next best place to ask a question about a topic raised in the column, or continue a discussion unrelated to this week’s ATN.

• Mondays, Pat Coleman and I wrap up the week that was in our podcast. Download from iTunes or listen to it in the Daily Dose’s media player.

• When the column publishes on Thursdays.

• In Friday morning’s Triple Take, on The Daily Dose.

On Saturdays, The Daily Dose features a running game day thread and live chat, for real-time reactions from across the country.

The press box

Crowd sourcing: I’m going to start hiding easter eggs down here just to check and make sure people are really reading. Like “win $1,000 if you know how many yards Ricky Gales rushed for against St. John’s in the 1989 playoffs; but no cheating. If you use Google you can’t collect.”

In all seriousness, I’m looking to write later in the season about team names. Mascots. What they mean and why we care. Division III is or has been home to some of the great unique names: Poets, Lord Jeffs, Yeomen and Student Princes. There are Choctaws and Profs and Britons. We’ve got White Mules, Green Terror and Purple Raiders. What are the best names? What’s unique? What makes a great name. We’ve had fun with the name game before (Historic matchup? Plymouth State vs. Rockford in the Mayflower Bowl?) but let’s approach this differently.

Also looking for fish-out-of-water tales. What’s it like being a certain race or religion on a campus and a team full of people completely unlike you? What’s it like being the team that thinks one way, playing a whole bunch of other teams who operate differently. Send thoughts or ideas by e-mail or Twitter, and I’ll help you flesh them out.

For the Love of the Game: Send us a picture of you wearing one of the shirts below, and we’ll feature it in Around the Nation:

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Adam Turer

Adam Turer graduated in 2006 from Washington and Lee University, where he was a two-year starter at free safety. He lives in Cincinnati and covers area high school sports in addition to his full-time job as an attorney. Adam has contributed to D3football.com since 2007 and is in his first season writing Around the Nation after spending four seasons writing Around the Mid-Atlantic.

2014-2015 columnist: Ryan Tipps.
2001-2013 columnist: Keith McMillan.

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