BY JEFF FALK
There’s safety in numbers. There’s strength in numbers. And apparently there’s success in numbers.
For the Lebanon Valley College football team, quantity has translated into quality.
In its 116-year history, the Flying Dutchmen have never had more student-athletes on their gridiron roster than the 116 they do this year. And as its numbers have steadily increased, LVC’s success on the field – in the form of a 26-12 record over the last four years – has rivaled that of any span in program history.
It doesn’t take a brain surgeon, rocket scientist or math professor to identify the correlation.
And here’s even more scientific fodder for consideration: nearly one-seventh of Lebanon Valley’s male enrollment is a member of the football team.
“We’re still selling a good product in our school,” said Lebanon Valley head coach Jim Monos. “The opportunity to play in a successful program has become of more interest. The question used to be, ‘Can you help us win?’. Now the question is: ‘Can you help us win a championship?’ Kids like that. They want to be a part of it.
“Every Friday night, my entire coaching staff goes to a (high school) game,” Monos continued. “We try to see as many games and football players as we can. What you don’t know is what a kid is like academically.”
Not only has Monos witnessed this explosion of football popularity at Division Three Lebanon Valley, he may be one of the direct causes of it.
“When I came here in 2004, we had 65 players,” said Monos, who’s in his second stint as the Flying Dutchmen’s head man. “We weren’t very good. We won four games. We had six seniors and didn’t have a JV program. Last year we had 105 players and 24 seniors. All of a sudden, what it does, you’re senior-laden. It tells you about the success of the football program.
“The first thing was to get numbers,” Monos added. “We knew we needed a JV program to make the team successful year after year.”
Certainly, the Flying Dutchmen’s success has bred success. But there could be other, larger causes at work here as well, like the trickle-down effect that the reduction of scholarships on the Division One level has had on the lower levels of college football.
“It all filters down,” said Monos. “In Division One, it used to be 120 kids got full rides. You could stock-pile kids and you could make mistakes in terms of recruiting. Now it’s 65. And I think at the Division One-AA level it’s 60. At the Division Two level, the caliber of football has improved. At every level of football, the quality of play has improved.
“In the conference, we’re all probably in the same boat, between 100 and 120,” Monos continued. “Every school’s got to make that choice. When you get down to 80, it’s difficult to field a quality JV program.”
What is unclear is whether student-athletes are coming to LVC to primarily play football, thus making their educations secondary, or if they’re coming to get educations and then deciding to play football. It is a thin line which has become blurred.
“There are things we do to make sure that kids are making a good decision,” said Monos. “We don’t want them visiting without their parents. When they visit they have an individual meeting with me, so I get to meet them personally and meet their parents. Our goal is to get good students. I want good student-athletes who can help us win.
“Young guys, when they’re looking at schools, they want to be part of an opportunity to have success, and contribute to success,” added Monos. “The biggest difference has been that freshmen in the past had an opportunity to play varsity football. Now there’s three to five doing it, and we think we have a pretty good freshman class. The other thing is retention. We have kids graduating.”
Currently, Lebanon Valley College plays a five-game JV schedule.
“The quality of student-athlete who we recruit has improved,” Monos said. “And we get a lot of transfers. Last January, five young men came in who we had recruited, but went to a Division One or a Division Two school, and they wanted to play. The big difference between Division Two and Three is the opportunity to play. Any state (PSAC) school you go to, it’s almost an automatic red-shirt.
“We know how many people we have to visit,” Monos added. “This past year we yielded a greater number. We used to visit 180 kids, then we reduced it to 150. This year we visited 120 kids. We don’t cut. There might be some kids recruiting us and we’re not necessarily recruiting them. We watch tape on everyone who comes here.
“Last Saturday (against Widener), we had 17 young men visit. They were on the sideline and they got a good feel for the speed of the game and the athleticism of the players. It was a physical, physical football game. It’s good football.”
When you’re four, five, six deep at a position, it creates competition within a team. And that competition tends to translate into performance on Saturday afternoons.
“When you have that competition it makes you better,” said Monos. “But you have kids coming from different schools with different backgrounds. For quad-A kids who played at their high schools, the transition is not as great. But what happens, sometimes guys from single-A and double-A schools, those guys have never been pushed.
“That’s the big difference from years past,” Monos continued. “We always had young men who loved the game of football and liked to participate. But the question became, ‘Can they help you?’ There’s nothing wrong with participation. But the bottom line is being successful and winning football games. That’s been the next step that I’ve seen.”
Monos has heard of the term ‘two-way player’. He just doesn’t know what it means.
“In high school, it still happens,” said Monos. “I don’t think I’ve ever had guys go both ways since I’ve been here, or during my coaching at the Division Two level. As a coach, when we recruit, a two-way player is of interest to me. But we move people quite often, and sometimes it’s when we have a need.”
Of course, managing 116 men between the ages of 18 and 22 can be a logistical challenge. While every able body travels to away conests, not all of them dress in the same place at home games.
“We try to keep everybody together,” said Monos. “But in our locker room, we only have 103 lockers. Twelve kids have to dress across the hall. We’re not all in one locker room.
“My staff really supports me,” added Monos. “You try to maintain a ten-to-one (players-to-coach) ratio. I have 14 guys (coaches) with me, two or three are volunteers. We also have a JV team, so if you’re not playing varsity, you’re going to get a chance to play. That’s important.”
“One hundred-fifteen is a workable number,” said Monos. “We’d probably be better at 110 or 105. One hundred and twenty would be our goal. We’re not interested in stock-piling. We tell the kids, ‘you might have an opportunity to help us, but it might be a year or two years. They (the players) appreciated that evaluation.”
(Editor’s note: A shout-out of appreciation to the Lebanon Valley College sports information department, which contributed to this piece.)