Sideline Guy: Cold Weather, Warm Reception

[Note: This is an entry of an ongoing Stagg Bowl blog by sideline commentator Frank Rossi. To read his previous entry, click here.]

My first full day in Virginia has started very well, although, as some have pointed out after my first blog entry, the weather has become suspect. More on that in a bit, but first, an update to the map since last I updated you here.

Last night, I waited in Dulles Airport for Pat Coleman to finish his day job and tripped onto a Washington, D.C., staple, Five Guys, for a makeshift lunch/dinner. I now understand the hype that I’ve heard — “cheap eats” that make a burger lover happy. For me, this trip is about accentuating the positives, so Five Guys gets high marks on the karma scale to kick things off (granted, my diet is deteriorating down here with the hotel cookie and the greasy food, but New Year’s resolutions don’t start for another couple weeks…). When Pat picked me up, we headed down to Roanoke without incident (meaning, no fights about the music choice). By the time we got settled in at the hotel, it was bedtime for me after a long day of travel.

This morning, I woke up pretty early without any problem — I think I have a little adrenaline running through my veins with the Stagg Bowl approaching. The daytime hours involved two events; the first was interview sessions with both teams, and the second was watching both teams practice on the actual Stagg Bowl field. Interviews with the coaches present some instant contrasts when you compare the two men. For Whitewater, Coach Lance Leipold comes across a little reserved but very warm — an easy guy to talk to, and someone who you know bonds well with his team. For Mount Union, Coach Larry Kehres comes across more as a stoic authority figure at first — very direct with his answers, but very open about his feeling about certain topics. In fact, Coach Kehres was more fun to speak with after the official interview, as he became anecdotal (for instance, we know now that he’s a “Criminal Minds” fan on CBS based on some post-interview comment he made). This is the type of thing you don’t get to see on game day or from conference calls with the teams; it truly humanizes the men who have become household names in Division III households over the last couple years.

We also had a chance to briefly speak with Mount Union senior running back phenom Nate Kmic, who can’t even explain himself why other teams have trouble tackling him (aside from crediting his offensive line). Let me be honest: if the Mount Union offensive line blocked for unathletic 5’9”, 160-pound me, maybe I’d average two or three yards per carry — not eight. Kmic is modest, but I know, like all of you, that he has a talent that can’t easily be measured — especially since he comes across as unimposing when you meet him in street clothes for the first time.

The interview session was a good time — and a chance for me to confirm that Pat Coleman is the equivalent of “Norm” from “Cheers” in Salem (except, without the alcoholic intake on a perpetual basis and much thinner). He might be able to run for mayor around here, although Coach Kehres might be able to run a close race against him.

The daytime hours closed with both teams practicing. I won’t get into specifics about what the teams did on the field as the practices are not for public consumption. However, I was able to place faces with a lot of the names that play major roles in Division III Football on the sidelines, including Selection Committee Chair Dick Kaiser and many of the Committee members. It was also great to see a man I interviewed after the Warhawks’ win last year, former head coach Bob Berezowitz, who stays very much involved with Whitewater Athletics (that’s a good thing with his wisdom surrounding the team to this day). We all braved the rain on the sidelines in 50-degree temperatures to watch the teams prepare, and there were plenty of stories being shared by everyone. The weather today was not as bad as the weather we experienced during the 2007 Stagg Bowl (which was about ten degrees colder with a more persistent rain), but it also provides a preview of the weather forecasters believe we will see this Saturday (my big ears can’t wait).

So, Thursday at the Stagg Bowl isn’t so much about the families and the fans as it is about the teams, the media and the NCAA role players that helped to get us to this point this season. Now that today’s practices are over, we will move into a transition point — tonight’s Gagliardi Trophy presentation reception — when families and fans begin to become more integral in the process. Mount Union quarterback Greg Micheli will receive the honor — no surprise there as his play on the field and grades and service off the field are tremendous feats. I’ll discuss this ceremony more later. In the meantime, it’s time to get ready for the reception — but all in all, I just wanted to say that today’s experiences have made me understand a bit more that a lot of people care a lot about the promotion of Division III Football and the values it promotes. I felt part of a bigger family today based on the work we do in Salem — and I’ve been treated like family all day.