Thursday, December 31, 2009

A Rough Decade Remembered

How things change.

Ten years ago, Georgetown sat comfortably at the top of the still-fledgling metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, having defeted the final two opponents of the 1999 season by a combined 101-13. A 2000 schedule of eight MAAC opponents, Holy Cross, Davidson, anf Fordham followed.

Georgetown had other plans, however.

Three weeks into the new year of 2000, Georgetown announced an invitation to the Patriot League, beginning a new era on football at the Hilltop. Let's not kid anyone--the results weren't what we expected, but the alternative may have been even worse. Think about this: of the Hoyas' nine wins in 1999, seven were against teams which no longer exist. The collapse of the MAAC was imminent, and Georgetown had a lifeboat, even if it was way in the back.

As number go, the 2000s will go down as the poorest decade in Georgetown football: ten losing seasons, a combined 29-80 (.263), and a just awful 6-49 (.109) in league play. Kevin kelly ended his fourth season with a combined mark of 5-38, lowest of any fourth year coach in Division I.

Looking back on the decade, there are plenty of lowlights (yes, I actually got up at 1:00 am that Sunday to watch the tape delay of Lehigh's 49-0 halftime score to open the 2002 season, it finished 69-0), but there's one game this decade that stands out as a strange turning point for the decade.

On October 18, 2003, Georgetown faced an Ivy League opponent for the first time in 1937 at Cornell. Led with a great performance by senior WR Luke McArdle and a promising efort by freshman QB/RB Alondzo Turner, the Hoyas didn't just upset the Big Red, they beat them, 42-20. At that point, Georgetown was 11-17 over its two and one half years in the league. With a three game winning streak, it appeared to anyone who saw it that Georgetown had turned the corner. We were wrong.

One stat absolutely stuns me from that game. Following the Cornell game, Georgetown reentered PL play with a 3-8 league mark over the prior two seasons. In the intervening six years, the Hoyas are 3-36. Think about that.

However many the heartaches and plain old indigestion of the last ten seasons, there is an opportunity to review and recognize some of the best players of the past decade. For those students or young alumni who only know the last two years and haven't thought much of the talent on the field, know that there have been very good players that gave their all over the past ten years:

Glenn Castergine (TE, 2002,03,04,05): A two year starter at tight end, Castergine was efficient and effective in a position Georgetown has not always focused on.

Frank Terrazino (OL, 2001,02,03,04): A four year starter in a tough position. Got things donwe.

Liam Grubb (OL, 2003,04,05, 06): Maybe one of the best Georgetown linemen I've ever seen--hampered by injuries, Liam was an outstanding performer.

Dan Matheny (OL, 2006,07,08,09): A four year warrior.

Ryan Goethals (OL, 2001,02,03,04): A valuable four year starter that helped elevate the Georgetown running game when it needed it.

Ed Kuczma (OL, 1999,00,01,02): Along with Adam Rini, a consistent leader on the line in the years between the MAAC and PL.

Dave Paulus (QB/P, 2000,01,02,03); A nod ahead of Matt Bassuener (2004-07), Paulus was the best quarterback in a rough era for Georgetown QB's--he probably deserved more time from the coaches but when he was in the games, he made the most of it. Punting wise, he's probably the best punter of the modern era.

Gharun Hester (WR, 1997,98,99,00): An outstanding receiver who ended his career at the beginning of the decade, Hester is the school's all time leader in yards (3,089) and touchdowns (39).

Luke McArdle (WR, 2000,01,02,03): Maybe the best offensive performer of the decade, and the school's all-team leader in punt returns. Georgetown's first all-PL first team selection.

Kim Sarin (RB, 2002,03,04): Georgetown's first 1,000 yard rusher in a season since (maybe) John Gilroy in 1917, Sarin averaged 4.9 yards a carry over a three year career cut short by injury.

Charlie Houghton (RB, 2006,07,08,09): Largely a result of his rookie of the year season as a freshman, Houghton was a solid running back who injuries eventually overtook. Overall, though, the 2000's were not good years for a Georgetown rushing game that sank to the bottom of the subdivision.

Kyle Van Fleet (All-Purpose, 2004,05,06,07): Tight end, fullback, linebacker, whatever, Kyle would play anywhere the coaches asked and did all he could. His five touchdowns in 2007 led all teammates, and Van Fleet received the Duffey-Scholar Athlete Award for the season.

Kenny Mitchell (All-Purpose, 2005,06,07,08): My pick for the most underutilized talent of the decade--Mitchell could have been even better than Gharun Hester with his speed and agility, and was never a focal point of the Jim Miceli offense. His kick return numbers are in the record books but it could have been so much more.

To no surprise, the defensive picks are stronger across the board.

Michael Ononibaku (DL, 2002,03,04,05), Pound for pound, the best defender of the last 30 years. Georgetown's only All-America selection in the decade, this scholar-athlete and Duffey Award winner was a remarkable player in the Benson-era defensive sets.

Alex Buzbee (DL, 2003,04,05,06): Three inches taller and twenty pounds heavcier than Ononibaku, Buzbee leveraged a solid four career into a NFL roster spot in 2007, the first Hoya to do so since Jim Ricca in 1955. An All-PL selection as a senior, Buzbee finished third all time in sacks, one-half sack behind Ononibaku.

Ataefiok Etukeren (DL, 2005,06,07,08): A solid force on the defensive line with quickness and power, Etukeren made it to the last cut of the Buffalo Bills as a free agent signing in 2009.

Scott Pogorelec (DL, 1998,99,00,01): A four year mainstay on the early 2000's line, played nose guard with distinction despite being only 245 lbs.

Andrew Clarke (LB, 2000,01,02,03): Fourth all time in tackles, Clarke was a high school RB who became a defensive standout. His 119 tackles in 2002 is a single season record, with 23 tackles in a single game, also a record.

Jason Carter (LB, 2002,03,04,05); Despite weighing only 215, Carter was a strong tacker and defensive presence as a "rover" in the defensive sets. When there was a tackle to be made, he was there. Sixth all time in career tackles.

Matt Fronczke (DB, 2000,01,02,03): Third all time in tackles, one of GU's best secondary corps in a generation, a second team all-PL selection.

Maurice Banks (DB, 2002,03,04,05): A second team all-PL selection in 2004 and 2005, Banks was a solid secondary performer.

Travis Mack (DB, 2006,07,08,09): A strong three year leader on defense, placing third on the team in tackles with 66 in 2009 and 232 overall, fifth most in the modern era.

Derek Franks (DB, 2003,04,05,06): A three year starter, he finished with 75 tackles in his senior season.

Marc Samuel (PK, 2000,01): Kicking was very much a hit or miss (no pun intended) affair for the Hoyas in the decade, but the University of Kentucky transfer and GU Law student managed to finish in the top three for field goal and extra point accuracy over his two seasons.

As for the next decade, well, the losing must end. Either the coaches have to correct it, find someone who will, or Georgetown is going to be forced into reevaluating the commitment it puts into the Patriot League. This school's tradition and its program deserves a more competitive effort than what was seen in the 2000's, and that's not a knock on the players or the coaches who battled through it, but a call to action in the years to come.

Georgetown can do better, everyone knows that. It's time to start making it happen.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Acres of Diamonds

What's the worst thing about being an 0-11 team in November? Being one in December.

The last week or so has seen an outpouring of Internet grumbling over the winless Hoyas, who commanded little or no media attention in their weekly losses but seems to have become a point of discussion following the euthanasia of programs at Northeastern and Hofstra. Bad teams are supposed to clean house the weekend after the season finale, right?

"The alarming thing about Georgetown is they're doing nothing to fix their situation," writes one posted on a I-AA message board. "They haven't fired their coach and they've made no progress in updating their facilities. The fact that the coach has remained is the most curious of all imo. The program has hit rock bottom, shows no signs of life yet the course looks to continue. What's the point?"

Back at the HoyaTalk message board, a familiar writer to the site suggests this:  "I think Georgetown has 5-10 years left to prove to the community that there is still a place for football on the Hilltop. Otherwise, the program will keep falling down the slippery slope of doom, gloom, apathy, irrelevance, and embarrassment that this campus-wide joke has become."

The distinction between these two lines of thought is the difference between the word "won't" and "can't". The first writer thinks Georgetown won't remedy its situaiton, the second suggests it can't, which is a more serious contention; yet, I don't believe either.

But if you're under the age of 30, if you've never seen Georgetown written in an article that didn't involve a sports writer's tongue firmly in cheek, or if the only optimism you've seen on the program is that erstwhile New York Times feature on Bernard Muir and the future greatness of Hoya Football, one can be excused for being melancholy about the whole thing. Excused, but not absolved. Time to look forward.

So in this off-season, as the S.S. Georgetown is stuck on the shoals of college football, now is not the time to drop anchor, but get back out in the water. 

Growing up in Texas, I got to follow some great college football...and some really awful football, too. Chief offenders of the latter were the Horned Frogs of Texas Christian University, who endured five winning seasons from 1966 to 1997 and were the source of many a joke in the rugged Southwest Conference.

Esteemed writer Dan Jenkins observed that "Fans in the stadium learned to cheer for first downs, to holler at the offense "Hold 'Em Frogs", and once, a large hand-made sign appeared in the student section proclaiming: "We're #115."

They played in a battered old stadium and their best days were behind them. Attendance was nominal, and recruits took notice. From 1974-78, the Frogs were 8-49, 2-36 in league play.

No one was trying to drum them out of the league or to drop football. But when the SWC met its demise and the big schools went elsewhere, TCU was left behind in a big way, and people got serious about what to do. The school reached out to local businessmen, the so-called "Committee of 100",  to help reinvest local interest (and local dollars) into the program. Facility upgrades followed. Recruiting, still a second of third choice to Big 12 programs, began to pick up gems the big schools missed.

One of them was a running back from San Diego, and today his photo proudly stands at the entrance to its stadium, along with legends from days gone by:

And it was more than just players. TCU started hiring coaches that were good enough to be capable of being hired away elsewhere, and soon were (Pat Sullivan was nearly hired by LSU, Dennis Franchione by Alabama). Following Franchione's exit, the school promoted its defensive coordinator, Gary Patterson, and hasn't looked back. Over the past ten years, only Southern Cal has a better winning percentage among all Division I-A private schools than TCU. (Not even Notre Dame.) Patterson, thought to be in the running for the vacant ND job, just signed a contract extension. And why not? He's built something special.

Two weeks ago, TCU finished 12-0 with a thorough pounding of New Mexico, 51-10 and stands waiting for a BCS bowl. A generation ago, no, a decade ago, this would have been unthinkable. TCU was the Temple of Southwestern football (and look at Temple these days!)

What changed? What got these stands filled time and time again in a region full of Longhorn and Aggie fans?

 What got a student body not much larger than Georgetown to fill these stands?

 What got hundreds of children to line up before the game to "run" with their home town team?

Because TCU has discovered a truism that Georgetown hasn't: you don't need to look far to build a base of support. But first you've got to work at it.

In 1890, a Baptist educator named Russell Conwell toured the countryside telling a story, considered one of the most memorable speeches of the 19th century. Royalties from the speech made him enough money to fund a struggling Baptist school in Philadelphia he called Temple University, and to this day it remains a hallmark among motivational speakers. Known as the "Acres of Diamonds" speech, it carried a simple message--before one goes searching the world for success, take stock of what one has right now, and start using those resources to build wealth.

Wrote Rev. Conwell: "Greatness consists not in holding some office; greatness really consists in doing some great deed with little means, in the accomplishment of vast purposes from the private ranks of life, that is true greatness."

It was true in Conwell's time, as he built Temple into a major research university.

It was true for TCU, as they have built a major college program from the wreckage of years of futility.

Most importantly (for this column), it is true for Georgetown. But first it's got to work at it.

We bemoan (and I am sometimes guilty of same) that Georgetown doesn't have the tools it takes to compete. Not to compete in the Big East, of course, but even among smaller private schools. And yet, look around and see the diamonds on the fringe of that forsaken field called the MSF:

  • This is a University that provides educational opportunities unmatched by any Catholic school in the nation, a peer with the major research universities of the nation. 
  • This is a University that can recruit, educate, and graduate a cross section of conscientious leaders from its football program for generations to come, whether they be CEO's, field generals, or college presidents.
  • This is a school whose contacts provide its football student-athletes significant internship and networking opportunities for careers that will exceed their expectations and open doors that will change their lives and the lives of others.
  • This is a University with a vast network of alumni that have played football for the school, willing and able to devote resources towards student support, facility improvement, and coaching development.
  • This is a University whose representatives can walk in to a recruit's home anywhere in the nation and tell its story.
  • This is a University fully capable of attracting outstanding student-athletes, near as well as far, who can compete at a designated level and provide its students and alumni success on and off the field of play, with or without the comforts that other schools may enjoy.
  • This is a University with a proud football tradition dating back to the very origins of the sport, with a long-term record of competitive success that ought to be cherished and embraced rather than ignored and minimized.

And look around! Look at the diamonds in its midst! This is a University that can certainly compete and win at the Division I-AA level and bring honor and distinction to its legacy. One doesn't have to go to a BCS bowl to do it, either. Georgetown has resources at its disposal Northeastern never had, and Hofstra never will! But first it's got to work at it.

The basketball folks like to say we are Georgetown, and so "we" are. But if Georgetown can excel with honor in basketball, in track, in lacrosse, rowing, sailing, et al., it can do the same in football, I'm convinced of it. That its own students (much less alumni and Internet message boards) haven't heard that message is a problem in need of solving.

It won't be easy, but that's not the issue.

"Difficulty," wrote Edward R. Murrow, "is the excuse history never accepts."