Familiar competition, in a new field

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February 12, 2008

1:19 PM

__How ODU’s new football program will impact the Tribe__

p. Two and a half weeks ago, 5,284 passionate fans packed Kaplan Arena to watch the College take on the Monarchs of Old Dominion University in a thrilling men’s basketball showdown. Throughout the exhilarating contest, students and supporters of both schools rabidly cheered their teams on to victory in a game that exhibited an electric energy rarely seen in Williamsburg

p. It is exactly that type of atmosphere that administrators from both schools hope will become the norm on the gridiron as well when ODU launches their new football program in 2009. One week after their historic opener against Division II Chowan University Sept. 5, the Monarchs will make the 45-mile trip up I-64 to Williamsburg, entering Zable Stadium for the first time in what will be a nearly annual series.

p. The 2009 ODU football squad will not, however, be the first to take the field in the history of the school. The university fielded a team from its inception in 1930. Over the next 11 years, the squad compiled an overall record of 62-19-4 under Head Coach Tommy Scott before folding after the 1940 season due to poor attendance and debt.

p. After a 66-year absence, the program was formally revived with a 2006 ceremony announcing the return of football to the Norfolk campus. A year later, athletic director Jim Jarrett announced that University of Maine Associate Head Coach Bobby Wilder would be hired to run the program as only the second head coach in the institution’s 78-year history.

p. Last Wednesday, another milestone in the evolution of the program was reached as Wilder signed 21 players to compile the school’s first recruiting class of the new millennium. In the coming months, those players will be paired with walk-ons derived from a series of open tryouts taking place this spring. They will comprise a roughly 60-member squad that will begin practicing in the fall of this year. As the team will not begin play until 2009, the entire squad will redshirt for the 2008 season, preserving their four years of collegiate eligibility.

p. A program’s strength unquestionably comes from its ability to recruit top-quality players, and Old Dominion’s location in the talent-laden Hampton Roads area will be a boon for the squad. However, the creation of a new program just 50 minutes east of Williamsburg could also have negative effects for the recruiting efforts of the College. According to Tribe Head Coach Jimmye Laycock, 14 of the 100 players on last year’s Tribe squad came from the Hampton Roads area, including standout tailback DeBrian Holmes and top recruit Terrence Riggins. With a competitive program right in their backyard, the prospect exists that high profile high school stars from Hampton Roads could overlook the College in favor of ODU.

p. Laycock, in turn, downplayed that possibility, emphasizing the Tribe’s national recruiting strategy and varied roster.
“We need to maintain a very broad recruiting base given our academic standards, so we do not stay focused too heavily on any one area,” Laycock said.

p. He also cited the College’s current overlaps with area schools as proof that the Tribe will remain relevant in the local recruiting picture.

p. “I don’t think it will have any greater impact than [what] we experience now with [the University of] Richmond, James Madison [University] and some others,” Laycock said.

p. As with any program, Old Dominion is expected to suffer significant growing pains in their first several years of existence. Competing against schools fielding rosters full of third, fourth, and fifth-year players is difficult under normal circumstances and becomes nearly impossible when assembling a team composed solely of redshirt freshman and sophomores, as the Monarchs will for their first few years of competition.

p. However, Dave Johnson, a sportswriter for the Daily Press who covers collegiate athletics in the peninsula, cited ODU’s location in a talent-rich area as evidence that the program could experience success.

p. “This [recruiting class] looks like a solid first effort,” he said. “They’ll spend the 2008 season redshirting, which gives them the benefit of getting stronger while getting acclimatized to college.”
Johnson went on to cite the examples of Coastal Carolina University and the University of South Florida, two schools which recently started football programs and quickly became regional powers, as hope for the ODU program.

p. However, he went on to caution that results are tough to anticipate before a team takes the field, a task made even more onerous by the current strength of the CAA, which the Monarchs will join in 2011.

p. “The CAA is one of the best, if not the best, conferences in [the FCS],” he added. “It could take a decade or so until ODU is able to compete for the championship.”

p. Regardless of how long it takes for the Monarchs to be competitive, the on and off the field competition between the Tribe and ODU should provide for a healthy and exciting rivalry for year’s to come.

p. “Our two schools have competed against each other for years,” said Laycock. “So I assume the potential for a great rivalry exists.”

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