Neighboring schools find simultaneous success

More news about: Greensboro | Guilford
Guilford coach Chris Rusiewicz gets douced after his team notches a win -- something that's more common this season than in years past.
Guilford athletics photo

There is something in the Division III football locker rooms in Greensboro, N.C. A feeling that has not been present there for quite some time. Something that brings about hope, optimism, confidence and pride. Something that makes waking up and going to class more palatable, that makes a campus take notice, that makes parents and alumni show up and cheer louder. Greensboro College and Guilford College are doing something that neither program has done much of in the last 15 years, and something the two have never done concurrently: winning.

The neighboring teams -- whose campuses are separated by a five-mile drive down Friendly Avenue -- have already combined for seven wins this year. The programs have never combined for more than nine wins in a season. Each team currently has a winning record in conference play. The Quakers have not had a winning season in the ODAC since 2005. Greensboro has just two winning seasons in conference play and has yet to finish above .500 overall in the program's 15-year history. Greensboro went winless in 2011. Guilford went winless in 2010. Already this season, each team has surpassed its win total of the last two seasons combined.

Not surprisingly, each team is finding its newfound success under new leadership. Bill Young is in his first season as head coach at Greensboro. Chris Rusiewicz is in his second season as head coach at Guilford. Both inherited programs that needed to make adjustments beyond X's and O's.

"The biggest thing is building trust between the coaches, players and parents of the players," said Young, who served as an assistant coach at Greensboro since 2000. "We want everyone to know that we are in this thing for the right reasons -- to get these young men degrees and to help them get better every day."

"We immediately noticed a difference with the new coaching staff," said Guilford senior offensive lineman Daniel Biggerstaff. "They gave us structure and they made the offseason exciting. Every workout and every practice feels like it has a purpose."

The culture changes have led to early results in 2012. Both teams notched big victories last week. Guilford defeated Bridgewater on Thursday night, giving Rusiewicz his first home victory as Quakers coach. Greensboro held off Averett on Saturday, leaving the Pride in a five-way tie for first place in the USA South.

"Our guys haven't experienced success before," said Young. "We try very hard not to look at statistics or records and just keep the focus on us."

Winning is uncharted territory for the upperclassmen who stuck with each program through a winless season. It helps that each roster is loaded with many freshmen and sophomores who were accustomed to winning at the high school level. The Quakers are led by freshman quarterback and Greensboro native Matt Pawlowski, who has twice earned ODAC Offensive Player of the Week honors this season. He responded to the opportunity to come to Guilford and help turn the program around.

"It's rough and you can get accustomed to losing," said Rusiewicz. "What we pushed in recruiting was 'come here and make a change.' We emphasized getting local talent."

Prior to Thursday, Guilford had not won a home game since October 31, 2009. The Quakers had not beaten Bridgewater since 2006. A victory like the Quakers' 23-20 triumph over the Eagles can be the kind of win that a rebuilding program like Guilford looks back on years from now as a defining moment.

"No doubt it's a turning point," said Rusiewicz. "We've been waiting for that moment and getting close and we knew it was just a matter of time until it clicked."

Biggerstaff is one of three seniors who has stuck with the Guilford program for all four years. He believes the turning point was the first win of the 2012 season, when Guilford won at Averett.

"That was when we realized that if we do what we're coached to do, we can beat anybody," he said the senior from Belmont, N.C.

His only regret is that he will not be able to continue to play alongside his talented new teammates in the coming years.

"This season makes me wish that I was a freshman this year," he said. "This year's freshmen have a completely different attitude."

Similarly, very few seniors stuck it out for four years at Greensboro. The team's top senior is one of those who gave up on the Pride. Wide receiver Antwan Thorpe transferred to Catawba College and spent the 2011 season there, before returning to Greensboro after Young was promoted to head coach. He admits that a lot of the reason for his defection was his own immaturity, and now he tries to set an example of the attitude change in the Pride locker room.

"We always had a lot of talent at Greensboro, but now we have more people willing to put in the extra time and work," said Thorpe. "For us seniors, it's our last chance to be on the field together and show people that we can be a winning team."

Greensboro is sure to be happy to have Antwan Thorpe back this year. The receiver, who had transferred to another school for a time, hauled in his 18th and 19th career touchdown catches against Averett, putting him at the top of the Pride's record books.
Greensboro athletics photo

In the Pride's 18-16 win over Averett on Saturday, Thorpe set a new Greensboro record for career touchdown receptions, hauling in his 18th and 19th scores. His new unselfish outlook after a year away mirrors that of the rest of the team.

"Coach Young gave me a second chance," said Thorpe. "I'm all about winning as a team now."

There is a buzz spreading around both campuses. In August, few people outside of the football locker rooms believed that either team would have this kind of early season success. Now, the Quakers and Pride have the city's attention.

"A lot of people on campus were shocked [by our win over Bridgewater,]" said Rusiewicz. "We opened up a lot of eyes. I think we realize now how hard it is to win. Our senior class deserves it."

"It feels good coming to class after a win," said Thorpe. "Our fan support has never been this high."

When Rusiewicz came to Guilford from Ursinus last year, he knew he would have a young roster. He brought in young assistant coaches who he felt would be more fit to weather a rebuilding process. The process is nowhere near complete, but it appears to be on the right track. The freshmen and sophomores, led by Pawlowski under center and Josh Wiliams in the backfield, have a foundation that is built for long-term success.

"I wanted a young staff because I knew we had young players," said Rusiewicz. "We wanted to get it turned around together over five or six years."

Whether either program has fully turned the corner will be determined over the next four weeks. For now, each appears to have achieved the most important goal in rebuilding a downtrodden program: changing attitudes. Guilford plays its next two games on the road at Randolph-Macon and Hampden-Sydney. Greensboro can ensure the program's fourth non-losing season with a win at North Carolina Wesleyan this weekend, which would give the Pride three chances to secure that elusive winning season. The newfound enthusiasm within each program is undeniable.

"Our senior and junior classes have a greater appreciation for where we're at right now," said Young. "We're just having fun and riding the wave."

Wesley keeps winning: Despite trailing in each of their seven games, the Wolverines stand at 6-1 and ranked No. 6 in the country. Wesley rallied again, this time against USCAA school Virginia-Lynchburg. The Wolverines held the Dragons to 184 yards of offense and just 15 passing yards. Wesley must now contend with an NAIA opponent and jet-lag, as the Wolverines trek to California to take on Menlo this weekend.

Centennial spoilers: Muhlenberg ruined what was to be a Friday night showdown between the only two undefeated teams in the Centennial. The Mules bounced back from two straight defeats to hand Gettysburg its first loss of the season. A late touchdown off of a fake field goal was the difference as Muhlenberg held off the Bullets, 35-31. The Mules' fake field goal came after the Bullets scored on a fake field goal of their own to tie the game at 28 early in the fourth quarter. Trailing 31-28 with 2:32 to play, Mules holder Joe Carlucci tosses a 15-yard touchdown to Ian Gimbar to give Muhlenberg the lead.

Gettysburg has to recover quickly, as the Bullets head to Maryland for a Friday night battle with the CC's lone undefeated squad, No. 16 Johns Hopkins. After this contest, the Blue Jays hit the road for games against Ursinus (3-2 in CC) and Franklin and Marshall (4-1 in CC). What was shaping up to be a two-team race between the Blue Jays and Bullets is once again wide open. Now, it is Gettysburg's turn to play spoiler and really create some chaos in the Centennial.

Mid-Atlantic Upset of the Year? So far, it looks like LaGrange's 20-6 domination of Christopher Newport in Newport News is the upset of the season in the Mid-Atlantic. P.G. Standard led the Panthers defense with seven tackles and an interception. LaGrange held Christopher Newport to 212 yards of total offense and forced quarterback Marcus Morrast into 2-12 passing for 14 yards and two interceptions. Quarterback Ed Russ passed for 105 yards and rushed for 104 and a touchdown. Kent Gibson added 120 yards and a touchdown on the ground. The Captains had not lost a USA South game since October 9, 2010. The Panthers have the signature win of their first season as a member of the conference. They also just made the rest of the season a lot more interesting for almost every other team in the league. Five teams -- Ferrum, Greensboro, and Maryville are the others -- are now tied atop the league standings at 2-1. LaGrange travels to Maryville on Saturday in a game that should provide more clarity atop the USA South.

Making a statement: Washington and Lee remained the only unbeaten team in ODAC play by pasting Randolph-Macon, 49-14. The Generals have won five straight games and have won their first three ODAC games by an average score of 45-21. The Yellow Jackets continued their dominance of time of possession, but the game plan was no match for Washington and Lee's explosive playmakers. The Generals ran just 49 plays compared with the Yellow Jackets' 80, yet outgained Randolph-Macon by 160 yards, averaging 10.4 yards per play. Sasha Vandalov rushed for a career-high 199 yards and two scores on just six carries, including an 86-yard touchdown run. Luke Heinsohn added 125 yards rushing and three touchdowns. The Generals also won the turnover battle, 3-0. W&L travels to Bridgewater this weekend, while R-MC looks to bounce back at home against Guilford.

Quick hits: Connor McGrath was a workhorse, carrying the ball 34 times for 202 yards and three scores in Susquehanna's 38-18 win over Moravian...Franklin and Marshall's defense, led by Chris DeStefano and Jonathan Struss, stopped McDaniel on 10 of 12 third downs en route to a 35-10 victory...Seven different Panthers scored in Ferrum's 51-35 win over North Carolina Wesleyan...A late pick-six by Ruben Rodgers was the difference as Maryville held off Methodist, 28-24...Greg Cordivari returned for the Cardinals and led Catholic to a 34-7 win over Shenandoah, passing for 277 yards and two scores.

Looking ahead: Gettysburg at Johns Hopkins on Friday night. After allowing 35 points to Muhlenberg, Gettysburg dropped to 13th in the nation in scoring defense. Tied with the Bullets, allowing 12.67 points per game? You guessed it, Johns Hopkins. Momentum is with the Blue Jays, who come off of a 49-0 shutout of Dickinson. The Blue Jays have also been the better defense in measure of yards, allowing 36 fewer per game than the Bullets. Gettysburg's Larry DelViscio, who ranks fourth in the nation in solo tackles per game, will have his hands full with an offense averaging 499.33 yards per game. Blue Jays running back Jonathan Rigaud has rushed for 12 touchdowns this season, one more than Gettysburg running back Ted Delia. These teams appear to be matched up almost evenly, with history and home field favoring the Blue Jays.

What Did I Miss? Do you know about any upcoming milestones, big games or new names in the Mid-Atlantic? Please share them with me. If you have suggestions for next week's column, please reach out to me at @adamturer or Enjoy Week 8!