New programs balance expectations with reality

Division III's two second-year programs met on the field in September as their building process continues.
Photo by Thomas Nettleton, d3photography.com

By Brian Lester

Alvernia coach Ralph Clark understands it’s important to find that perfect balance between reality and expectations.

It’s not an easy thing to do. As a coach, he wants to win. As the coach of a team playing just its second season of Division III football, he knows wins aren’t always easy to come by.

The Golden Wolves are 1-3, already matching last season’s win total.

“You have to step back and look at everything,” Clark said. “In the moment I’m a coach and I want to win. But after the game, you look at film and say he’s a freshman or he’s a sophomore and has never been in this situation before. You have to put things in perspective.”

The University of New England is in the same boat. 

The Nor’easters are in their second year of football as well, though they did play a JV schedule in 2017. They have also matched their 2018 win total, sitting at 2-2, with both losses coming by 10 and 12 points.

Nor’easters coach Mike Lichten knew when he took this job that time and patience were requirements. 

“Being able to stay patient is huge,” Lichten said. “Football coaches and players are wired a certain way. We work as hard as we can for as long as we can and want to see the results of our labor. It’s not always instant. But if you stay on the right track and do things the right way, progress happens.”

The players on both teams have taken notice of the progress. Sure, there have been challenges along the way, but the mindset has changed from Year 1. There is more confidence now.

UNE junior wide receiver Haelin Roberts has been with the program since the beginning and said game day feels much different in Year 2.

“I think the biggest thing is we don’t go into any game feeling like an underdog,” Roberts said. “We feel like we can win every game. We’re not here to just participate and be a part of the conference. We are here to win the conference. We don’t have any interest in just going .500. We want to win now.”

Teammate Joe Curit, a junior defensive back, sees a difference in the team this season as well.

“The biggest change is that we all have a lot more confidence,” Curit said. “We get more consistent each game and get more experience. We’ve been improving each step of the way.”

New England is averaging 30.3 points per game and rolling up 439 yards per outing. The Nor’easters finished last season averaging 22.4 points per game and averaging 300.6 yards.

Defensively, the Nor’easters allowed 43.4 points and 521 yards per outing last season. This year, through four games, the points allowed total stands at 31.5 and the yards allowed is 413.5.

Haelin Roberts puts up some receiving yards on UNE's blue turf. UNE was the first Division III school to have blue turf, but the second to play football on it, after Luther.
University of New England athletics photo

Lichten said one thing that has really stood out to him about his team up to this point is the way it’s handled various situations that can easily derail a young program’s season in a hurry.

“We’ve handled in-game adversity very well. We’ve played some tough opponents and we’ve made mistakes, like a turnover or we give up a big play, that can pull a young team away from its focus, but that hasn’t happened with us,” Lichten said. “We have stuck to our plan and the kids believe they can bounce back from mistakes. That’s been a big key for us.”

Alvernia has picked up its only win so far this season over Gallaudet, winning 20-14. 

The Golden Wolves played UNE in Week 2 and lost 35-28. Its last two losses have been by double digits.

Sophomore tight end Owen Morton knows a few plays here and there can make all the difference in the world when it comes to the outcome of a game. He said those moments have proven to be learning experiences.

“It’s a game of inches. We’ve been in a lot of close battles but have to be able to finish better,” Morton said. “As a team, we can see that, but at the same time, we are coming closer together and we motivate and push each other to be the best that we can be.”

Alvernia is averaging just under 20 points (18.25) per game while allowing a little more than 30 (30.3). The Golden Wolves are putting up 337.8 yards per game and giving up 377.5. 

So far, they are on pace to top last season’s numbers when they averaged 13.8 points and allowed 44.1. They averaged 234.4 yards per game in 2018 and gave up 416.8.

Clark likes the direction things are headed but understands there is more work to do.

“To me it’s all about maturity and development. The mistakes we make today are the ones we can’t make tomorrow,” Clark said. “Our players continue to work hard and we just have to keep making progress. If we do that, we’ll keep getting better.”

Lichten can say the same thing about his program.

“Regardless of who our opponent is or regardless of what we did the previous week, we have to keep going out there and prepare the right way,” Lichten said. “That’s how you fulfill your potential. We’re never going to be perfect but we’ve learned a lot and accomplished a lot the last four weeks.”

Maybe just as important is the fact that both programs are laying a foundation for future success, something the players embrace.

“It’s been amazing to be a part of this,” Curit said. “When coach was recruiting us, he said we could really make our mark on something. We feel we have built a good culture here and have set a good standard.”

Morton has similar thoughts on what’s taking place at Alvernia.

“Most schools already have an established program, but we are only in our second year. We are laying a foundation for the future,” Morton said. “Everything is a learning experience and we continue to build this program as a team. We know we have each other’s backs as we do it.”

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