Around the Region

The evolution of a program: Rhodes and its seniors

Rhodes has made a couple of significant leaps up in status in recent years.
Photo by Joe Fusco,

It’s an understatement to say that Rhodes’ football program has turned it around. The Lynx were practicing on a sandpit, losing games regularly by 20 points or more, and didn’t have the lights to play night home games. More importantly, the team hadn’t won a conference championship in 15 years before its 2013 shared Southern Athletic Association title.

As fourth-year head coach Dan Gritti said, “There was a great deal of inertia that was brought upon by years of losing.”

A lot of the change has stemmed from Gritti, who came to Rhodes in 2011 from the University of Chicago, where he was the defensive line/linebackers coach and special teams coordinator of a strong defense and special teams unit, at a school that is historically renowned for its academic excellence and research contributions. While the scale of the situation was different at Rhodes, Gritti was intent on bringing a championship brand of football to an academically sound school.

“The No. 1 goal — and probably No. 2 and No. 3 goal — of myself and my staff when we came in was we had to change the culture,” Gritti explained.

The losing culture, he said, was one that was built on “measurables” rather than strong all-around football players, with the character and the drive to only accept winning and winning big. He instituted a hard-nosed work ethic, an expectation of success and a “cerebral” approach to the game.

The other group responsible for improving the struggling program, that was a combined 7-13 in the two years before Gritti got to Memphis, was the 2011 recruiting class, who, now seniors, helped “change the culture.”

Seniors like Ryan Niedermair and Zach Wade on the offensive line, Joseph Raby at linebacker and Mike Edel and Dale Hutcherson at wide receiver brought their winning mentality from high school and put it into play at Rhodes.

“I feel like the one thing we all had in common is [that] we came here to win,” Raby said. “Our main objective was to win and win championships.”

The advantage of having players who come into a program with that mindset and attitude is, as Gritti said, “immeasurable;” but, it’s only as good as the evidence of change of performance on the field.

And it wasn’t pretty at first — the Lynx went 3-6 in Gritti’s first year — nor were the rewards...

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Justin Goldberg

Justin Goldberg is a newspaper copy editor and freelance writer in southwest Virginia. Originally from New York, he played Division III basketball in that colder region of the country, but moved to Virginia in 2008 to earn his M.F.A. in creative writing. He has written for multiple publications, including C-VILLE Weekly and The Roanoke Times. He is happy to join for his first season as the Around the South columnist.
2013 columnist: Andee Djuric
2012 columnist: Kyle Robarts
2008-11 columnist: Jason Bowen


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