|More than 200 Division III football teams take the field this weekend for their first games of the 2018 season.
2017 Rose-Hulman file photo
By Adam Turer
We don’t have to be here.
There is very little incentive to be a Division III football player.
There are no scholarships. At most campuses, there is little recognition or cachet. Aside from players’ relatives, fans often either arrive late, leave early, or linger at the tailgate only occasionally glancing at the scoreboard. There is little to no special treatment academically or socially.
The passion for the game must be renewed from one year to the next. It is almost unheard of for a Division III program to have a senior class remain nearly intact from when those young men arrived on campus as freshmen. And that’s at even the most successful programs. Of the 250 football teams taking the field this season, the majority will fall short of a winning record or reaching their own expectations. Of the 32 teams that qualify for the playoffs, 31 will end their season in defeat.
It takes a special kind of person to make the commitment to be a Division III football player. Because there are no scholarships, there is less external pressure. Because only the tiniest percentage of D-III players find opportunity at the next level, there is no financial pressure to succeed. If anything, there is more pressure to give it up, to focus on academics and social life and enjoy the brief window of the college experience before real life comes calling. For some players, real life happens during college and yet every year there are D-III players who keep playing while raising children and balancing fatherhood with all of the other responsibilities of college and football.
Every year in Kickoff, we at D3football.com talk to all 250 head coaches in order to figure out what players to watch. Every year on almost every team, at least one key starter with eligibility remaining decides not to return to school for one reason or another. Sometimes, it’s academics; other times, it’s financial; or it could just be injury. Sometimes, it’s a loss of passion, or family obligations that require more time and commitment that places football on the chopping block.
Playing Division III football is in some ways a luxury. It’s a way to cling to all the values that you grew to love while playing the game with your best childhood friends. It affords an opportunity that you would not likely have if you attended a larger school with a scholarship program and tried to secure a coveted walk-on spot.
Many teams have players who went to bigger schools for their first year, spent their first fall tailgating, then transferred to a D-III school in part because they missed playing football. There are players at marquee programs who earned D-I or D-II scholarships, but started to fall out of love with the game when they realized how intensely those programs are run. Their passion for the purity of football attracted them to Division III.
Most of the pressure on D-III football players is internal. We don’t want to let go of what is likely our last chance to play a game we’ve loved since we were too small to fit into shoulder pads. It’s a tricky balancing act. We could quit at any time, and our families would not suffer. Our future earnings would not suffer. Our academic standing and social life might improve, if anything. Yet, we gut it out. It might be because of our friends on the team, or the thrill of victory, or a coach who is helping mold us as men.
Sometimes, the pressure is too much. Players transfer, seeking greener pastures. Players quit, and search for a way to fill the void left without football.
We know we don’t have to be here, and yet year after year D-III players make irreplaceable lifelong memories.
The one word I often hear repeated from Stagg Bowl champions and from players who have yet to win a college football game is the same: brotherhood.
We see how important the D-III brotherhood is during time of triumph and during times of tragedy. But one thing that remains vital to a successful D-III experience is appreciating that brotherhood during the quiet times, the seemingly stable times. Making sure that you are there for your teammates and understanding that none of them have to be here. We all make a choice and a sacrifice to play Division III football, and some sacrifice more than others. The best teams seem to keep that brotherhood strong in every single activity they do, from study tables, to film sessions, to the weight room, to pre-practice meetings, to long nights at the library, to Sunday morning meals the day after a satisfying win or a difficult loss.
We don’t have to be here, but the brotherhood of Division III football ensures that we aren’t here alone.
It’s time to shake things up a bit here at D3football.com. Our weekly columns are going to have a different look. Rather than seven Around the Region columns, we are going to bring you three feature stories each week looking at unique and inspiring players and programs from all over the country. I’ll still deliver a weekly Around the Nation column on Thursdays including Players’ Corner Q&A’s, so players please reach out if you’re interested in participating. I’ll also bring you instant analysis on Sunday mornings (or sometimes early afternoon) in Read & React, formerly known as Snap Judgments. If you listened to this week’s podcast, you heard the exciting news there, too. Rather than one extended podcast every Monday, Pat and Keith are going to have a 30-45 minute podcast on Monday recapping the weekend’s action, then another one on Friday looking ahead to the next week’s slate of games. Our panel will still bring you predictions in Quick Hits each week. And don’t forget, it’s not too late to order Kickoff and get caught up on everything you could possibly want to know about the 2018 D-III football season.
Enjoy Week 1’s games and the 2018 season!
What do you know? Do you know things? Let's find out!
There are so many worthy stories to be told and I can’t find them all on my own. Please share with me those stories that make you passionate about Division III football. If you have suggestions for next week's column, please reach out to me on Twitter at @adamturer or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for reading!