Coaxing players to come to UD can’t be easy when there are no football scholarships to dangle, but head coach Rick Chamberlin is the pied piper who gets enough talent to make the Flyers a perennial winner, and the focus of very Pioneer Football League opponent.
DAYTON — If enthusiasm and optimist from its head football coach carries over to winning football games, then the University of Dayton would never lose.
And the Flyers seldom lose.
UD coach Rick Chamberlin and his curly grey/blond hair always tucked under a golf visor is an ambassador for the school and football on the level of a Henry Cabot Lodge, II.
As for enthusiasm and optimism, Urban Meyer and Nick Saban have nothing on Chamberlin except bigger and faster football players.
Once upon a time, UD played Division I football and produced notables Chuck Noll, John McVay, Bill Lange, Jim Katcavage, Gary Kosins, Jim Place, Mike Ciccolella and many others.
After the 1976 season, the Flyers dropped out of Division I and became a non-scholarship program.
Now they play in collegiate football’s lowest tier, something called Division I-AA/FCS. And they play in the Pioneer League, a group of schools that play Division I basketball but don’t give scholarships for football.
That means the players are 20 to 30 pounds lighter and a step or two slower. But that doesn’t mean their hearts are smaller, their desire is less or their abilities are inferior.
They aren’t on the field with NFL dreams, they are on the field because they love the game. But their desire to win is there as big and as wide as anybody wearing an Ohio State or Alabama uniform.
Yes, they are smaller and a tad slower, but in the Pioneer League they are on equal footing.
And thanks to former coaches Rick Carter, Mike Kelly and now Rick Chamberlin, the Dayton footprint is the largest in the Pioneer League.
The 2017 season opens September 2 when the Flyers bus to Pittsburgh to play Robert Morris.
And Chamberlin knows what that means.
“When it comes to our opponents playing the University of Dayton, they circle that date,” he said. “This is THE game for them. We’ve heard it over and over. This is the game they shoot for. They could go 1-and-7 in the conference, as long as they beat Dayton. That gives them a successful year.”
That, of course, is respect earned over the years so that the Flyers have become the New England Patriots of the Pioneer League.
“Like it? I do. I love it, the respect and the challenges they give us,” he said. “It gets our guys fired up, too.”
Adding to the dilemma at the start of this season is that fact returning quarterback and team captain and MVP Alex Jeske won’t play. And he won’t play for three to four weeks due to a fracture in his left foot.
What does Jeske mean to this team? He led the Flyer last year in rushing with 678 yards (5.6 yards per carry) and 14 touchdowns and completed 149 of 256 passes for 1,936 yards.
So when the Flyers played a open-to-the-public intrasquad game last Saturday, it wasn’t just public showing, it was a chance for Chamberlin and his staff to closely watch Jeske’s stand-ins.
“We made that game as close to real as possible, with officials and clocks and keep the speed of the game going,” said Chamberlin. “I thought, for the most part, it was a teaching moment for when we got into the film room for the mistakes we did make.”
Quarterback was handled by Will Bobek, a sophomore from St. Clair Shores, Michigan…and Kyle Kaparos, a sophomore from Columbus.
When it was mentioned to Chamberlin that he lost his star quarterback, he dropped his head, just momentarily and said, “Yeah.”
But the smile quickly returned and he said, “We have two young men battling it out and that’s what Saturday (intrasquad game) was all about. We put them both under pressure and both had ups and downs. They had some plays where we said, ‘Yes, they can handle it.’ And other plays it showed they need some more seasoning. We’ll have a decision on who starts by the end of this week. We want to go into game week saying, ‘This is our quarterback.’”
And where does Chamberlin’s effervescent personality come from?
“It comes from the place where I am,” he said. “A guy has to feel good to be part of this institution and a part of this football program. This program is one of the best and you have to love the passion with which these kids play football.
“You get connected to it, you really do, and it rubs off on you,” he added. “It’s a passion and I love the game of football. When you’re around good people like these young men, the coaches, the administration it just adds to that passion.”
Coaxing players to come to UD can’t be easy when there are no athletic scholarships to dangle and there is a $50,000-a-year price tag on your education.
“It isn’t hard to convince them that Dayton is the right place for them,” said Chamberlin. “Once they are here, they can see it, they can feel it. It is expensive, especially at Dayton, and I admire the families of our players because they make sacrifices. The parents say, ‘We know Dayton has a good product and we’re going to do anything we can for our son to be here.”
And Chamberlin, who also played at Dayton, takes it from there.
“These kids just love to be out here with their teammates and not for their own glory, but for the whole team,” he said. “That’s important to them and it’s why you see them get so excited when their teammate makes a big play.
Chamberlin, who played at UD and was an assistant for Mike Kelly before climbing into the chair at the head of the table, couldn’t be having more fun.
Since taking over in 2008, Chamberlin is 74-27 overall and 55-17 in the Pioneer League.