Thursday, September 2, 2010

Five In '10

There are plenty of occasions for this column to take a deep, serious analysis at a game, or a budget, or the state of the Patriot League. This isn't one of those columns.

Instead, with the 2010 season upon us, it's worth speaking as a fan and to feel what a lot of Georgetown fans haven't done for quite some time: hopeful.

It seems just a few short years ago (it was nine) when a sold out crowd at windswept Kehoe Field welcomed the Lehigh Engineers to town in Georgetown's PL debut. Georgetown was held to 31 yards on 29 carries, trailed 24-0 early, and lost 41-14. No matter. More than a few of us thought that with the right recruits, Georgetown was on its way within a year or two. Bob Benson cautioned otherwise, but even he had to feel that the corner could be turned--if not, he would have left for the Ivies (as was rumored) rather than hanging around.

So, it's 2010--the Hoyas are coming off an 0-11 season, with three PL wins in nine seasons to teams not named "Bucknell", and Bob Benson will not be in the Ivy League, but on a bus trip this weekend to Rapid City, South Dakota as the varsity football program of the Colorado School of Mines opens against the South Dakota School of Mines--a game where "what rocks" takes on a whole other meaning.

If the 2000's proved to be a deflating decade for Hoya football, the 2010's offer new beginnings. And for a lot of people, let's hope so. here are five I'm rooting for this season:

1. Kevin Kelly. Sure, the record is bad, and the 2009 Hoyas were less than competitive in all but two games last season. Remember Richmond?
"On Georgetown's first play of the game, Charlie Houghton fumbled at the GU 25, converted [by UR] in a seven play drive, 7-0. On Georgetown's second possession, Scott Darby was picked off at the GU 40, with a leisurely 12 play drive extending the lead to 14-0. On its third series, Keerome Lawrence fumbled at the GU 29 and Georgetown coach Kevin Kelly was cited with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, and the Spiders were up 21-0 with 1:26 in the 1st quarter."
As the New Orleans Times-Picayune notes this week about Tulane and its coach Bob Toledo (9-27), sometimes the issues are bigger than the coach.
"We don’t attract a lot of people," Toledo said. "We need to attract fans, so we have to do everything we can to try to attract people to come to our football games. Hopefully, this will give us an opportunity to get them to come out, and then play well enough that they’ll want to come back."

Simply playing well won’t do it. The truth is that we’ve seen Tulane play well and valiantly, have seen it push better teams to the limit for a half or a game before opposing talent and depth takes over. What we haven’t seen enough of is wins, and that’s the lone measure of success.

Yes, Green Wave fans, it’s wonderful that Tulane graduates its student-athletes at an admirable rate. Absolutely, it’s better that many of those student-athletes don’t generate a whiff of bad publicity while they’re on campus, and that after they graduate, they go on to become productive citizens. But they don’t post that on the scoreboard...So the bottom line is the same: We need to see some wins."
You've got to root for Kelly and his staff to succeed--by all accounts, they have the support of the players and the parents. But if Georgetown turns in another poor season, he's not going to earn the support of new athletic director Lee Reed, who is under a mandate to fix the program.

2. The parents. These are men and women who have supported their sons for years, as they grew from pee-wee football to All-County and All-State football players. It's never easy to see their kids beaten down every week on the field.

But let's give Georgetown parents some credit: they're always there--setting up tailgates that the University otherwise pleads poverty with, driving from places like Ohio and Rhode Island, or flying in from Georgia and Texas, to show their kids support and their love. Many support the program financially over and above the tuition check, and help support the future of the program that their kids won't even be a part of in a few years.  Like their sons, they've seen enough of the losses. They could use a cheer at the end of a game, too.

3. Keerome Lawrence. Every couple of years there is a player that keeps getting moved around the lineup and doesn't give up, but pulls it together for the team as a whole. Kyle Van Fleet was a player like that. So is Keerome Lawrence--he''s been a quarterback, a slot back, a receiver. Most of all, he's been someone is capable of making a big difference in a game. Now, as a senior, it's his turn to be a leader on offense--if not as a play caller, but as someone who can make the play when it is most needed--a sweep on 3rd and 5, a pass play over the middle, a key block on 4th and 1. Like his fellow seniors, Lawrence has seen one win in three seasons outside the Beltway, and certainly not in his home town of New Haven, where the Hoyas got knocked around pretty good two years ago on a sunny afternoon at the Yale Bowl. No guarantees this time around, but for his sake, I'd like to see the senior from Hillhouse HS have a day to remember this year at the Bowl.

4. The freshmen. No team can long survive without them, for they're the future of the program. And too often of late, many of the youngest of the Hoyas lose hope as well as heart, and do not make a four year commitment to football. It would be callous to say that once they're admitted, football doesn't have the same priority as students, it's always something more than that. A lot of freshmen won't see the field this year, and guess what? That's OK. But the class of 2014 needs to commit not to 11 games, but to 44, to be there as a team, as a class, in the autumn of 2013 and know that their commitment helped turn a proud program back in the right direction.

This is the largest class of football freshmen in over 15 years, and it's a certainty that not all 33 will be playing as seniors. But the time to commit is not at the end of a season, but at the beginning--to make the sacrifices and endure the struggles that await them, and to build a program, together.

Too many kids came and went through this program in 2007, 2008 and 2009--they graduated, but they never turned the page for the program. For the class of '14, this is your opportunity.

5. A benefactor. This is the year to root for a special kind of donor, the man or woman who finally looks in the mirror and is ready to commit to a transformative gift to Georgetown Athletics in the name of the Multi-Sport facility. A decade of near-misses and "he's just not ready to give" stories have made the MSF a visible symbol of the state of the program.

How can we expect the next great recruit to commit to a school that can't even commit to a bare-bones facility to its students? Every one of these kids on the team played in a better facility than the MSF. Every one of them had better training facilities. Many played before larger crowds and marching bands and venues that would make Georgetown look like a junior college.

Georgetown can't print money. It's beholden on a benefactor to put the paddles on the project and bring it back to life. That doesn't have to be Ted Leonsis (he's got two teams and an arena to manage) or even Frank McCourt (who has some pressing issues of his own right now). But there is an individual..or two, or five, or ten that needs to make a commitment not just for a tax deduction or a name on a building, but for a generation of kids that will benefit greatly from their faith in what Georgetown stands for.And soon.

Names like Palmer and Baker and Schoelkopf did more than build stadiums for the Ivy League, they created a legacy and a legend for their universities to build upon. I don't know the name of that Georgetown alumnus, parent, or friend of the school, but I'm rooting for them to step forward, elude the wayward development officer that would steer them elsewhere, and take (and make) a stand. Preferably, an eight figured one.

And as for the season? The schedule begs for a hope for more than one or two wins. There is no Richmond or Old Dominion or even Howard to hang the excuse of "well, they're a schoalrship team, you know" on a sullen record.This team has the opportunity to win five games in 2010...and once you've just spit up that beverage that you were tasting while reading this column, a very brief explanation:

Georgetown "should" be competitive and/or favorable (notice, I did not say "favored") in four of its five non-conference games: Davidson, Yale, Wagner, Sacred Heart, and Marist. Three or four wins out of this group should be more than a goal but a expectation. If you can't beat Sacred Heart or Marist at home, you can't expect to make any progress. We'll all find out soon enough on Davidson, but Wagner is not far removed from the Wildcats and I think that's winnable as well. Yale? Well, given that GU has lost 10 straight to the Ancient Eight, it's no gimme, but even a close game would send a message that maybe, just maybe, this team isn't the sunken log it's been this last decade.

In the Patriot, I'd like to think that one or two games out there are winnable, but I'm at a loss to tell you which one.

  • Lafayette? A tough order, but it's the Leopards' home opener and shaking off the rust is never easy.
  • Holy Cross? It's Homecoming, and Georgetown hasn't lost three consecutive Homecoming games before, and a home win would be a great treat to the returning alumni.
  • Colgate? Ummm, probably not.
  • Bucknell? Why not shoot for a win on Parent's Weekend?
  • Lehigh? Either Lehigh is going to be very good in November or be facing a lot of issues. Either way, it's a longshot.

(Fordham isn't in the conference standings, and the last Georgetown win on Jack Coffey Field was back when Rev. Robert Henle S.J. was Georgetown president and Jack DeGioia was a freshman cornerback. Add 15 Fordham scholarships to the 2010 mix and, well, you take your chances.)

Five wins in 2010 for an 0-11 team in 2009 may seem unreachable, but the schedule Georgetown has certainly gives it opportunities to make a run for it, which, in the end, is all we can ask for. For the coach, the parents, the seniors, the freshmen, the benefactor to be named later, and the rest of us, let's make it a good one.

And yes, we need to see some wins.