August 31, 2012

In 2012, what are you playing for?

Photo by Ryan Tipps, D3sports.com
Louissant Minett and UW-Whitewater are playing to get back to Salem and beat Mount Union, but every D-III player faces the same opponent: Himself.

Former Luther offensive lineman Brandon Boles asked me on Twitter this week, simply, “You ready for Week 1?”

Ready as in eager, yes. Ready as in prepared, heck no.

Maybe it’s easy to say because I haven’t been slogging through two-a-days at camp, but it feels like the season swooped in more quickly this year than ever before. It’s hard to believe we’ve put Kickoff out and Thursday’s games marked another season’s kickoff. Not that I’m complaining.

As I ponder what to make of the season ahead, I keep coming back to one thing: In 2012, what are we playing for?

Doesn’t everyone want to stand in the middle of the field in Salem hoisting the walnut and bronze trophy, at the end of some remarkable, unprecedented dream?

Truth be told, 237 teams’ stories won’t end in Salem. Some have literally no chance to get there (this means you, NESCAC). For others, thoughts of winning the Stagg Bowl are a pipe dream.

Shoot, half of you aren’t even going to win in Week 1.

So what are you playing for?

To put up stats? To be an all-American? To win at all costs?

How about playing for family – both the school you represent, and the people who raised you? Before anything else, play in a way that would make them proud.

If I may invoke the legendary Frosty Westering, play against your best self.

It might be antithetical to everything you’ve ever been told, but I wish I’d been coached not to look so often at the scoreboard. I wish I’d spent more time as a player looking within myself, pushing to get the most out of every moment.

I look back on my career and consider it that of the consummate Division III player in a lot of ways – not the star, but the cog in the wheel. The guy who never missed a practice or game and got in where he fit in on the team.

But I’d be lying if I told you I went my hardest on every play … in practice. Or that I gave everything I could in the weight room or video room. Yeah I left it all on the field, effort-wise. I don’t have major regrets. I was good. But I could have been a lot better.

If you’re playing in a game this week, you’re playing against an opponent. But you’re also playing against that – the voice in your head that strips things down to bare honesty and asks you ‘Did you go all out just now?’

You need to answer it yes. All the time.

If you do, it doesn’t guarantee that you’ll win on Saturday, or Friday, or Thursday. But it does guarantee you’ll feel like a winner. You’ll have beaten several opponents – apathy, lost opportunity, future regret.

So what are you playing for?

At UW-Whitewater, they’re undoubtedly playing for a shot at beating Mount Union again in the Stagg Bowl, and vice versa. Sure they have to go through Stevens Point and Platteville and Berea on the way, but the seasons in Whitewater and Alliance are defined by whether or not a championship is won.

At Wesley, Mary Hardin-Baylor, Linfield, North Central and St. Thomas, and perhaps a few other places, they’re playing to be that one magical team that breaks through D-III’s glass ceiling. Each of those teams has been on the field against one of the Purple Powers, confirming that to a degree, it can hang. It just has to play its best game against the nation’s best teams. As many as 237 teams are dying to see it happen.

It could happen. It starts by being your best self, every day.

Across the nation, seasons are defined by the pursuit of a conference championship, a playoff bid or a win in a rivalry game.

But you can’t win the Stagg Bowl, or your conference, or your rivalry game (with the exception of the Mississippi College at Millsaps Backyard Brawl, and the Greensboro at Guilford Soup Bowl) in Week 1. Unless you mean it in the coachspeak way, that games are won long before they kickoff, by the work you put in leading up to them.

Now is your opportunity.

Play for now. For today. Live in the moment, have your best practice, get the most out of film session, etc. You have the rest of your life to dawdle, to party, to meet girls. You have 10 weeks to define your football legacy, and although you should already have started, it begins now.

And if you think the season sneaked up on us, just imagine how quickly you’ll be turning in the pads, wondering where all the time went.

A dose of perspective

There are 239 football-playing D-III schools. If it seems like we number-drop a lot, it’s because we do. Sometimes it’s necessary to have perspective on what D-III actually is, as compared to Division I, or the NFL, or your state high school athletics hierarchy.

Some more numbers:

27 conferences, all but two with seven or more teams, and all but four with eight or more teams.

50 first- and second-team preseason all-Americans

18,000+ players, as reflected by the reported to camp counts in Kickoff ’12. (I will update this to an exact number if I get a chance to go through and tally them up)

15 of 239 D-III teams West of the Rockies

46 west of the Mississippi (and 19 of those are within spitting distance, in the MIAC and IIAC)

21 in southern states (Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina).

0 in Florida.

0 in the Mountain time zone.

Here’s a map of football-playing D-III schools on Wikipedia, and it even appears to be updated to reflect recent conference movement and teams expected to debut in the future. But accuracy isn’t even the point there. It’s to be able to visualize where the majority of D-III is located. Take a look at that crowd of schools in the northeast and upper Midwest. If you follow the parallel 36°30’ along the southern border of Virginia, Tennessee, Missouri, and then cut north along the western borders of Missouri, Iowa and Minnesota, that’s pretty much everybody.

Take a second to ponder these facts.

Consider them please, before you fire off a “what do you have against us?” e-mail. Even in 2012, we often get them, and we know it comes with the positions we hold. We’ll always be open to disagreements and hearing our readers, but educating yourselves on some of the basic facts will save us all a lot of time and trouble.

I remember what it was like, being more or less brainwashed into thinking my team was the end-all, be-all. To be honest, my world did revolve around Randolph-Macon football. We were going to win every game, our players were the best, and anyone that didn’t agree was against us.

That’s an okay mentality for a football player trying to smash everything in his path on game day, but it doesn’t work for a website of guys who all have full-time jobs away from D3football.com, trying to cover 239 teams from coast to coast.

In fact, our aims are the opposite. Instead of focusing on every fact about one team, we focus on every team and the facts.

So we’ll often have different views because we have different perspectives. And perhaps different aims. And that’s okay. But we’d save a lot of consternation if we understood each other’s perspectives a little better.

Sometimes we’re wrong. And sometimes we just misunderstand each other.

Recently I was asked why a player who we’d just done a feature with wasn’t an all-American. And to be honest, I could not be less interested in defending or justifying individual selections. I do think it’s important to explain the process, though, because I believe in it. And I think it’s important to have that perspective – if there are two first-team all-American QBs and 239 teams, the 10th-best QB might be simultaneously a superstar and not a D3football.com all-American. That’s D-III for you.

Until there is a day when there is both the free time and the financial viability of sitting around watching video of 239 schools, our process is the one we’ll use. And it’s the only one I’m aware of that’s completely based on input from people who actually watch D-III games in every conference in the country. Our all-Region voting encompasses media and school staff, and our postseason all-American picks come directly from the all-Region teams.

Even with a perfect process, not everyone is going to be happy or agree. That’s life, and we’ve got the thick skin to take it. Shoot, we’re flattered people care enough about our honors to be disappointed when they don’t get them. For the first few years after we started in 1999, I’m not sure that was the case.

But here’s the key takeaway:

Taking a negative approach is not going to help. Here are some better ways to use the energy:

Be part of the solution. Invite your local Around the Region columnist to see a game.

Make sure your school’s SID is taking advantage of the ability to post team news releases right to our site, where they show up right on your team’s page (Take a look at the scroll bar below the schedules for Wheaton or Cortland State or St. Thomas). Nominate for plays of the week, team of the week presented by Scoutware, and make sure your athletic department and coaching staff are participating in the nominating process for the various awards, including our teams and the Gagliardi Trophy.

In the end, we want a lot of the same things: Recognition for the players who exemplify what D-III is all about. So let’s work together on that.

What are we playing for, after all? The love of the game.

Three takes on Week 1

A weekly tradition at D3football.com is to take a look at each of the 11 regular-season weeks and the 100+ games going on across the country, and have three members of the D3football.com staff highlight some places to look for upsets, teams to keep an eye on, and other things to watch during a given week. Ryan Tipps, Pat Coleman and I take a crack at each week’s slate of games in various categories – one of this week’s was which 2011 playoff team will end up wishing it had a Week 1 bye?

If you haven’t seen it already, head over to The Daily Dose for a primer on the slate of openers.

D-III in the NFL

I saw Fred Jackson (Coe) and London Fletcher (John Carroll) embrace at the beginning of a preseason game this year. Then not long after, I saw Jerrell Freeman (Mary Hardin-Baylor) knock Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III to the the turf in another preseason game. (Nice Fred Jackson-visits-Coe piece here, by the way)

We’ve come a long way in terms of our players getting opportunities to succeed in the NFL. They don’t all make it, but at least they’re getting their shots. Which happens to the subject of Ryan Tipps’s centerpiece in Kickoff ’12, our preseason preview magazine, which is still available to purchase and read online. Tipps talked to Eric Rogers of Cal Lutheran and Demetrus Johnson of Coe, plus Alex Tanney, the Monmouth quarterback who was in camp this summer with the Kansas City Chiefs. Kickoff also had features on a couple of NFL-hopeful special teamers from Texas Lutheran and Q&As with RPI quarterback Mike Hermann, Mount Union defensive end Charles Dieuseul and UW-Whitewater wide receiver Tyler Huber, all of whom were mentioned as prospects by scouts we consulted.

As NFL rosters cut down, help track the movement of our players – From UMHB’s Nate Menkin to Beloit’s Derek Carrier, and more -- by tweeting to @d3football or @D3Keith, and using the universal D-III football hashtag, #d3fb.

What's featured in Kickoff

Speaking of Kickoff, if you’re not aware, it’s simply the Division III version of one of those college football magazines you can buy on a newsstand – with a caveat: We released it on August 21, so the information included would be as up to date as possible, and don’t waste any time putting it in the mail. You can access Kickoff '12 instantly online.

It includes preview capsules and predicted records for all 239 teams, more predictions from seven of our writers, and an article advising you which beyond-the-top 25 surprise teams you can expect to see winning conference championships and playing in the playoffs.

There are also more than three dozen feature stories and Q&As, including the five I listed in the NFL item. Here are the others:

Q&As with:

North Central CB Josh Mitchell

Birmingham-Southern RB Shawn Morris

Delaware Valley OL John LaVelle Jr.

Hampden-Sydney QB Nash Nance

Waynesburg TE Adam Moses

Pomona-Pitzer RB Luke Sweeney

Chicago WR Dee Brizzolara

Benedictine RB John Borsellino

St. John Fisher CB Troy Sant

Norwich OL Sean Southworth

Bluffton coach Tyson Veidt

McDaniel RB Joe Dillon

Features on:
Teams who stay balanced with the run game as passing attacks evolve

St. Thomas trying to break through to the top two

Louisiana College center taking over for his brother, the previous center

DePauw joining the NCAC

LaGrange getting acclimated to the USAC

Why MIAA players get the highest honors, but its teams don’t

Parity in the NJAC

Dubuque’s rise, and how they try to maintain it

Ithaca’s attempt to bounce back from the first losing season in 40 years

Coach Tom Journell taking over UW-Stevens Point

Profile of Middlebury QB McCallum Foote

Profile of Puget Sound WR Adam Kniffin

Profile of Widener QB Chris Haupt, a former major-league catcher

Profile on the third of three brothers who played for Hobart

The growth of the young programs in the ECFC

What you missed

If it’s hard to keep track of the changes each offseason, here’s a quick primer on what’s happened since last season.

Misericordia’s program debuts, in the MAC

McMurry left the ASC for Division II

Springfield left the Empire 8 for the Liberty League

Buffalo State left the NJAC for the Empire 8

Shenandoah leaves the USAC for the ODAC

LaGrange, an independent, joins the USAC

DePauw joins the NCAC

Chapman joins the SCIAC

Cornell leaves the IIAC for the MWC

Birmingham-Southern, Rhodes, Sewanee, Millsaps and Centre form the SAA

Trinity (Texas) and Austin, left behind in the SCAC, become independents

If you’re new here …

First, welcome. Let me introduce you to a few features around the site, and the vibrant community of fans, coaches and lurking players who support it.

I’d venture to guess that most Division III followers don’t start because of legacy, or because they grew up watching a team’s games. Some of us might have gone to games with our fathers when we were young, but for many of us, our first exposure to D-III came when we chose to play for a school, or a friend or relative did. And so each year, as a new class of freshmen take the field for D-III teams for the first time, we welcome a new group of fans.

If this is your first time on D3football.com, please poke around. The site is built to be intuitive and help you find just about anything you’re looking for – from scores (also the page where the week-by-week master schedule is kept) to frequently asked questions (Yes, there are D-III players in the NFL, no we don’t get scholarships, and 32 teams make the playoffs, most via automatic bid). If you can’t find something you need, we are here to point you in the right direction. Contact us via the site, or our message boards (some of our dedicated posters know certain topics better than we do) or on Twitter. We’ve got national coverage (here in ATN, on Triple Take and on Monday’s podcasts), regional columns and conference-specific message boards.

Five Ways to Saturday

Follow Around the Nation …

• Throughout the week on Twitter. Follow @D3Keith. It’s a sporadic stream of short-form minutiae, most of it D-III related. It’s also the best way to directly converse with the column’s author. Bottom line, if you’re not with @d3football and our various Twitter accounts, you’re missing out on the best updates there are.

• On Around the Nation’s Post Patterns thread, at the top of the General Football board. That’s the next best place to ask a question about a topic raised in the column, or continue a discussion unrelated to this week’s ATN.

• Mondays, Pat Coleman and I wrap up the week that was in our podcast. Download from iTunes or listen to it in the Daily Dose’s media player.

• When the column publishes on Thursdays.

• In Friday morning’s Triple Take, on The Daily Dose.

On Saturdays, The Daily Dose features a running game day thread and live chat, for real-time reactions from across the country.

The press box

Crowd sourcing: Share your ideas for the year-in-review column on the ATN thread.

Readers: Around the Nation encourages your opinions, questions and insights. Readers can best get a response by posting on Around the Nation's running thread on Post Patterns (under general football). Send email to keith.mcmillan@D3sports.com or use our feedback form.

Sports Information Directors: To contact Keith McMillan, use keith.mcmillan@d3sports.com, or mail to D3football.com, 12457 Manchester Way, Woodbridge, Va., 22192.

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