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First-year programs back on recruiting trail

Berry didn't have a lot of success vs. varsity programs but did win a game against LaGrange's JV squad.
Berry athletics photo

Berry coach Tony Kunczewski is hot on the recruiting trail.

The regular season for Division III football officially ended Saturday. But the head coach of the first-year program out of Georgia is returning phone calls in between visits to high schools, trying to spin a Week 11 bye into a head-start on courting new players.

Coach Buck Buchanan at Hendrix, the first-year program out of Arkansas, was still conducting exit interviews with this year’s players on Tuesday morning. The Warriors, who had the best record of the three start-up teams in the South with three wins, played the final week of the season. But while Buchanan talked with players about their season under his staff, that coaching staff was already out on the road as well -- hunting for the second class of Hendrix Warriors.

It’s the same at Southwestern, where coach Joe Austin says he’s planning on recruiting “the other half” of his football team this offseason.

There are challenges and growing pains with building a football team where none existed before. There are basic questions of infrastructure and personnel. But there is opportunity in a brand new program, as well.

Hendrix, Southwestern and Berry all offer recruits new, state of the art facilities. In Arkansas, it’s all brand new -- from the locker room and weight room to Young-Wise Memorial Stadium. The Texas team was born, in part, as a result of the opportunity to lease newly built, 10,000-plus seat Bernard Birklebach Field from the Georgetown Independent School District. In Georgia, the Richards Memorial Gymnasium, originally built in the 1930s, got a dramatic renovation, while brand-new Valhalla Stadium is in the works.

Austin is the only one of the three coaches without prior experience on the staff of a first-year team. He says he specialized in rebuilding programs, “reclamations.” In some ways, he considers starting from scratch an easier task.

“In a lot of ways an empty cupboard is better than a messy cupboard,” he said. “… We’ve got a lot of guys that we want to have. We don’t have to clean up a mess. We don’t have to change the culture of the program, we don’t have to get rid of kids that don’t have the right attitude.”

But even with plenty of planning -- new athletic facilities, hiring coaches who in turn hire a staff and recruit those perfect players -- a brand new football program is inherently something of a last-minute assignment. Members of the staff gather may be completely assembled for their new assignments only a few months before players actually arrive. Berry’s staff met all together for the first time in July of this year.

Their players practiced for the first time on Aug. 13. On Sept. 7, they played their first college football game.

For those incoming freshmen,...

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Andee Djuric

Andee Djuric is a freelance writer and copy editor currently based in Virginia. She has 13 years experience covering sports for multiple metropolitan daily newspapers in the southeast. She is a graduate of Hollins University in Roanoke, Va., with a B.A. in English.
2012 columnist: Kyle Robarts
2008-11 columnist: Jason Bowen

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