Opinion by Mike Wendlandt
Even though there is a new coach, not much has changed for the Drake football team. Coach Rick Fox, the top assistant under former coach Chris Creighton, has kept most of his predecessor’s principles in place. The most influential and obvious one is without a doubt the five program goals the staff emphasizes with each and every player.
When recruiting, this is what Fox tells each and every young man as he thinks about going to Drake.
“If you look at these goals and say ‘yes’ to each one of them, then this is the place for you. However, if you have (an) issue with even one, then your time here will be miserable, because you’ll be miserable 20 percent of the time,” Fox said.
That attitude and the men who buy into it is a large part of what makes Drake one of the top academic athletic programs in the country.
Fox has drilled these principles into his players every day during spring and fall practices and during team meetings, and it has paid off in a dramatic way, as each student-athlete has played a significant role on and off the field during his time in Des Moines.
“This is what we do and who we are,” Fox said. Let’s take a look at them.
1) Academic Success
Coach Fox, as well as Chris Creighton before him, has always stressed the importance of academics, especially at a non-scholarship school. Always determined to see the entire team graduate, academics are always placed above the game itself. Knowing the importance of the future is what makes Fox so different than others throughout America.
In the player’s lounge, there’s a bulletin board tracking progress. It’s not a record of football achievements, but academic. That has been part of the reason Drake ranked second in the PFL with 66 players maintaining a 3.0 GPA or higher, a school record.
2) Be Our Best
This is the football part of the goals. And to be clear, Fox wants to remind us that winning is not the end-all of the game. Behaviors that are your very best will, however, lead to that end result.
“If we are working year-round, paying attention in film study, working our butts off in the weight room, keeping focused, the winning will take care of itself,” Fox said.
He cites the examples of two men who are recognized at Drake, but not enough as he feels they should be.
The first is Johnny Bright. The legend and Heisman finalist was a man who exemplified the Drake attitude even in the face of adversity. If you don’t know his story, it’s in the athletics office and the library and is incredible.
The second is “Mr. Drake,” Paul Morrison. He has attended 690 Drake football games over his time here. Think of that number again. Players today are striving for that kind of longevity and dedication.
3) “We’re a Family”
This is the coolest part of being on a team. For most college athletes, this is the most they’ve been away from home, and to have an atmosphere like the Bulldogs have is one-of-a-kind. Every year, the coaching staff gives a questionnaire to each player, and one of the questions asks about the best part of being on the team, and most if not all answer that they’re a family.
Another story came up with Fox and is heart-wrenching and encouraging at the same time. During the early Creighton years, a freshman player faced some serious family health issues and needed a ride home.
After that day’s practice, the coaches asked for volunteers to help this young man, and at least 50 hands went up. That’s what this team is like, a bond that is so deep that they are always family, even after their time with the team is over.
4) Have Fun
This is pretty self-explanatory. Football is first and foremost a game, something designed for enjoyment, and that especially applies for the Bulldogs.
“If a program I coach is described as a business, I’ll beat my head against a wall,” is one of Fox’s favorite Creighton-isms.
It also helps players play without fear of mistakes, keeping them looser and in higher spirits.
“They’ve been playing since they were little kids, why should the attitude change now?” Fox said.
5) Be an Impact Man
Finally, this is a point that the coaching staff loves to discuss. Being an impact man is about more than just making a mark on campus. It’s leaving a mark on the city of Des Moines.
As the coaches say, life is bigger than the gridiron, and the players take that advice to heart, helping out all over the city.
Taylor Coleman is a Big Brother. Graham Butler works with Freedom for Youth. Other guys work with FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) or serve with Meals on Wheels. The initiative that the players take, without prompting from the coaches, is something to behold.
Men like this should make any Drake student or alumnus proud to be a Bulldog.
Wendlandt is a senior radio/televison production major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org