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P-T's Swope to join football program at Valparaiso

| Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
(c) 2012 Lillian DeDomenic
Penn-Trafford senior lineman Eric Swope (57), shown blocking in a game against Gateway on Friday, Oct. 19, 2012, will continue his football career this fall at Valparaiso. Lillian DeDomenic | For The Penn Trafford Star

Eric Swope had his choice of colleges noted for their academics. In the end, he picked a school that had what he wanted in the classroom and a Division I football program, too.

Swope, a senior lineman for Penn-Trafford, committed earlier this month to join the football team at Valparaiso University, a Division I FCS school located in the northwest corner of Indiana in the city of Valparaiso.

The college hunt for Swope, an all-Quad East second team selection, had two major limitations: He wanted a school that offered a civil engineering major, and he wanted a school with a football program.

Swope found both in Valpo, a school best known athletically for Bryce Drew's game-winning 3-pointer in the first round of the 1998 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament.

“I only looked at schools with my major and football,” Swope said. “The football program, the coaches, the campus being close to Chicago were all selling features. Plus, how many civil engineers can say that they played Division I football?”

The list of schools Swope considered ranged from other FCS schools (Princeton, Lafayette, Georgetown), to Division III academic notables (Carnegie Mellon, Case Western Reserve, Rensselaer), to one of his other finalists, Florida Tech, a Division II program.

For varied reasons, each of those schools fell by the wayside before Swope settled on joining the Crusaders.

“I got hurt in the summer, so I didn't get to go to a lot of college camps to get recruited,” Swope said. “I looked at Ivy League schools, but getting in might have been an issue. Cost was a factor for some of the schools, like Carnegie Mellon. And Florida Tech was a main one I looked at, but their football coaches bring in a lot of junior college players, and they weren't nearly as interested in me coming there as the Valpo coaches were.”

The Valparaiso football program has fallen on some lean years recently, including a 1-10 record last fall, but that wasn't an issue for Swope. In fact, with a relatively new coaching staff, led by third-year head coach Dale Carlson, Swope sees similarities between the Crusaders and the Penn-Trafford program he helped lead to a 17-4 record over the last two years.

“I talked with the coach about how P-T used to be 3-7, and we turned into a 10-1 team,” Swope said. “When (Carlson) took over, the program wasn't in the best of shape, but he has turned around programs at the D-II and D-III levels, and he said he wants to build with people like me that are going to focus on school and football.”

Valparaiso is a member of the Pioneer Football League, a nationwide conference that stretches from California (San Diego) to New York (Marist) to Florida (Jacksonville). The league is a non-scholarship conference, but beginning in 2013, it will have an automatic bid for its champion to the NCAA tournament.

Both of those factors made the conference an appealing part of Swope's chance to suit up as a defensive lineman for Valpo after his graduation this spring.

“The travel will be a cool experience, going to places like San Diego,” Swope said. “On the road, it'll be a blast, with a lot of team bonding. I love to travel, and I hope one day to maybe live in the south, or somewhere warmer.

“That (the Pioneer League is) getting an automatic bid is a big thing, too. It would be great to get into the playoffs and have a chance to win it all.”

Matt Grubba is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5830 or mgrubba@tribweb.com.

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