Academics bigger part of PAC's appeal
College Football Videos
How to recruit football players to an NCAA Division III program is a skill first-year Westminster coach Scott Benzel only recently began to develop.
Until he took the Westminster job in January, Benzel, a Plum grad, spent his time trying to convince prospects to play at FCS programs St. Francis (Pa.) and Robert Morris, the two previous stops in his coaching career.
As Benzel and several other coaches indicated at the Presidents' Athletic Conference media day Wednesday at St. Vincent in Latrobe, because D-III teams have no athletic scholarships or spacious, state-of-the-art training facilities to offer, their sales pitches must focus on other aspects. In the PAC, that increasingly means a school's academic variety and reputation.
“The biggest difference for us was understanding how competitive recruiting is at this level,” said Benzel, who previously served as a defensive coordinator at St. Francis and Robert Morris. “You've got to be very, very good at articulating your strengths as a college.”
Whatever Washington & Jefferson coach Mike Sirianni and Thomas More coach Jim Hilvert convey to recruits must work like a charm because the Presidents and Saints, who have combined to claim at least a share of the PAC title each of the last eight years, enter the season as the conference's frontrunners.
With 29 of the 34 first-place votes, Thomas More took the top spot in the PAC preseason poll, which included coaches, media members and sports information directors. W&J, which received two first-place votes, took second, and Waynesburg followed at third.
“We have a ton of ability,” said Sirianni, who returns six starters on offense and five on defense. “We don't have many seniors. But we have a great recruiting class.”
With the addition of Carnegie Mellon and Case Western Reserve, the PAC increased to 11 teams and enhanced its collection of schools known for high academic standards. Case Western placed fourth in the poll, and CMU came in seventh.
From Benzel to Geneva's Geno DeMarco and Waynesburg's Rick Shepas, the coaches discussed how certain fields of study figured prominently in recruits' decisions to attend their schools. The PAC might not churn out under-the-radar NFL prospects at a prodigious rate, but it produces bundles of engineers, they agreed.
“It's tough coaching kids that are smarter than you, trust me on that,” Case Western coach Greg Debeljak said. “And these are sharp, sharp kids.”
CMU and Case Western, which remain affiliated with the University Athletic Association but now also belong to the PAC, will compete for the conference's championship and automatic berth to the D-III playoffs.
Last season, CMU went 2-3 against teams currently in the PAC as part of a season in which the Tartans finished 3-7, their worst record under Rich Lackner, entering his 29th season.
“I think last season was a little bit of a slap in the face, and hopefully it was a wake-up call for our guys,” Lackner said. “I follow a lot of the PAC teams. I know a lot of these (coaches), and I see the talent they recruit in this region. … But I'd like to get in there and see them up close, and see how we do.”
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- District college notes: Seton Hill sweeps lacrosse awards
- WCCC women’s basketball team captures 3rd straight conference championship
- W&J softball team likes underdog role
- District college notebook: Pine-Richland’s Giordano wins gold at ACC championships
- Point Park basketball player finds home-court advantage
- Campus clippings: Schrecongost, Stein excel at PSAC swimming championships
- Seton-La Salle graduate Heintz brings scoring touch to Mercyhurst
- District college notes: St. Vincent women open PAC tournament Friday
- Cal U men honor Dana Zajicek