By Ryan Tipps
SALEM, Va. --
(UW-Plattevile), Chad Woodfork (Otterbein) and Andreas Platt
(Greensboro) represented the South in the D-III Senior
D-III Football Senior Classic photo
Perhaps the biggest hurdle the
organizers of the Division Three Football Senior Classic wasn't
logistics, wasn't coaching, wasn't the roster -- it was skepticism.
Could this event be pulled off in a way that maintained Division
III's core philosophies while also showcasing the talent at this
Coaches are watching. The NCAA is watching. Even the NFL was
watching. But in putting on an event like this, having the city of
Salem in your corner is one of your best bets.
While talking with players and parents, there was no question as
to the excitement of being in Salem, home to the Stagg Bowl since
1993, as well as giving these college seniors one last chance to
The opportunity to take the field “was the deciding
factor,” said Steve Javorek, whose son, Jeff, from John
Carroll, quarterbacked the South team. “I felt it was a nice
honor for him to get picked.”
Karen Mitchell, the mother of North team signal-caller Ian
Mitchell (from Dickinson), braved the cold rainy weather with her
husband on Saturday to see their son take the field for the final
time. “We were excited, one more chance to play,” she
Only a couple hundred visitors, most trying to show off their
school colors despite the rain jackets and ponchos, nestled in for
the game. That, coupled with the vacancies across the press box,
were a stark contrast to the energy that will fill the stadium in
two weekends when the Stagg Bowl is played. As always, thousands of
fans and national media will descend on the stadium on Dec. 19.
So why play the Senior Classic now, while many star athletes are
still in the playoffs and with many of the best players heading for
the Tazon de Estrellas matchup in Mexico? While the timing may not
be the best, that could change sometime down the road.
George St. Lawrence, who, with his son Peter, founded and
organized the event, hopes to turn the Senior Classic into a
showcase event on the same weekend as the Stagg Bowl, creating a
one-stop Division III mecca in Salem.
“The city of Salem was an unbelievable host,” St.
Lawrence said. “They welcomed us with open arms.” For
all of its experience, few would expect anything less from the
The St. Lawrences began putting the game together just three
months ago. They said they started with a list of 600 potential
athletes and whittled it down as injury and timing took its toll.
As the final week closed in, the organizers also brought in players
who they say were “overlooked” earlier on.
“We really had to have a flexible roster right up until the
day we arrived down here in Salem,” Peter St. Lawrence
Participants had to plunk down $350 as well as travel costs to
play, which made the game heavy on Midwest, southeast and northeast
region athletes. The elder St. Lawrence noted that a couple players
from Cal Lutheran wanted to take part, but financially it couldn't
work. With so little time to put the event together, sponsorships
-- and by extension, financial assistance for the players -- do not
Students arrived on Wednesday, and began practicing that night.
More practices were held the next two days, with the pregame events
culminating in a banquet Friday evening.
“Traveling back and forth [between the field and the hotel]
on the buses, the first day it was quiet; the second day, there
were a few kids in the back talking; and on the third, they were
all just talking. And then on game day, you've seen it, you've seen
the relationships really grow,” said Peter St. Lawrence, who
played at St. Olaf.
It's clear that both Peter and George St. Lawrence have a passion
for Division III and that they have lofty ambitions for how this
all-star game can grow.
“You can feel that power every time you talk to somebody
– player, coach, parent, administrator, anybody – when
they're around the football, you can feel that camaraderie,”
the younger St. Lawrence said.
“I know there's a lot of skepticism about D-III football
being unable to host a game like this, but you're seeing it right
now,” said his father, a high school coach, teacher and
athletic director. “Getting the opportunity to play one more
game, on this field, is very special to the players out
For all of the success in building camaraderie and relishing in
Division III football pride, the game lacked a crispness that you
would find among teams that have played together for longer
periods. The day was ruled by defenses -- the score tied at zero
going into the half. Neither offense, aside from a couple reverses,
was able to bring a lot of creativity to the play-calling, but that
was due more to the short time the players had together rather than
to the imagination of the coaching staff.
Greensboro's two entrants into the game were among the South's
stars: defensive back Andreas Platt nabbed his team's first
interception and was crucial to slowing the North's passing game;
defensive lineman Brandon Drumgoole pressured his opposing
The North succeeded in getting points on the board, finishing with
a 14-0 win. Three quarterbacks -- Dickinson's Mitchell, Kalamazoo's
Brandon Luczak and Gettysburg's Matt Flynn -- traded duties under
center. But it was MIT running back DeRon Brown, who lives a short
drive away from Salem, who put the game's first points on the
“I'm so far away that my parents don't get to come up there
very often, except maybe for one game a year,” Brown said.
“So to be here, in my home state … for my last game on
the field, getting the first score, making history, this is a dream
Much as the parents described, the players say they had a glowing
opportunity in this game, a chance to prove themselves among
“This is a great opportunity to represent Division III
football because a lot of guys don't get to represent. It's always
about Division I, Division II, and that's pretty much it. That's
all you hear about,” said Platt, the Greensboro defensive
back. “But we get a chance to show that we have talent as
Where does a game like this go in the future?
Well, for starters, a redrawing of the team boundaries will be
considered. Few Ohioans have ever thought of themselves as being in
the South. Aside from a couple of UW-Platteville athletes who had
to help balance the roster by playing on the South team, the
organizers said the roster stuck to the original configuration they
drew, including Illinois and Ohio in the South and Pennsylvania
split up. This could change as the organizers hone their setup,
which may use an East-West configuration next year.
“I think this is going to be a good springboard for this
game,” said John Troxell, Franklin and Marshall's head coach
who served as the South's offensive coordinator. “I think
there's going to be more and more publicity, there's going to be
better and better kids here.
The St. Lawrences “have a lot of heart and passion to keep
this going,” he said.
Javorek, the parent of a South team quarterback, echoed that:
“Talk about enthusiasm. We were at the banquet last night,
and it practically radiated from them. You could tell how excited
they were this was going to happen. And I think that kind of rubbed
off” on the players.
The 82 players involved, and many close to them, were pleased with
how the event turned out. Will it improve? Likely. But the bottom
line is that it's here.
“There are 238 D-III schools,” Peter St. Lawrence
said, “and a lot of people were saying to us that this is