A Look at BC Football Past & Future
BC’s football coach Mike Gravier talks about past problems with players and what he is looking for in future recruits.
February 13, 2012
After going through its first fall semester, Bluefield’s football program is working through growing pains.
As expected, there was some attrition. According to head coach Mike Gravier, between five and 10 players left the program before the start of the spring semester. Some players did not meet the standards set by the coaches and Bluefield College. Other players decided that the program was simply not a good fit.
BC's Football team during last year's season
“Some of those were guys that we got rid of because of grades and some guys made the decision to transfer,” said Gravier. “We didn’t feel they were going to get a chance to play here, so they wanted to go somewhere where they were going to play. There were varying circumstances there.”
With no official games in the fall of 2011, Gravier said that Bluefield offered a chance for some incoming football players who did not meet minimum academic requirements to focus on classes and become eligible. While some members of the team were dismissed for failing to meet the requirements, many of them took advantage of the opportunity and have returned.
“Last year, we took a flyer on some kids because we knew we had a year to get them eligible,” said Gravier. “We weren’t so concerned about a kid being eligible, we just wanted to get him in school and get him a chance because a lot of those kids couldn’t go anywhere else. We took a chance on some kids and some kids made it. They’re going to make it, which is great.”
Gravier, who has had experience starting a new football program as the head coach at Malone University, expects to see improvements each year as the returning players grow into role models for future members of the program.
“The big thing for our guys this past semester, we didn’t have any of those upperclassmen to show them the ropes and to help them know that going to class is important,” said Gravier. “Going to see [Director of Academic Support Services] Crystal Kieloch is important. I think we’ve got plenty of resources here. Part of it was immaturity. Guys just didn’t understand what they had to do academically. I think with the guys that came back, the light kind of came on for them.”
With a program made almost entirely of freshman, Gravier said, everyone had to make the adjustment to the unfamiliar demands of being a college student.
“I think our guys have learned what it takes to be a college athlete,” said Gravier. “That was really our focus, teaching them that it was way different than high school. Our expectations are much different, whether it’s in the classroom or on the field. They’re starting to learn what we expect.”
Gravier and the other coaches are back on the recruiting trail looking to fill out the roster for the upcoming school year. Since they will be playing their first official slate of games in the fall, Gravier said, the coaching staff has shifted its recruiting philosophy to include only students who already meet the academic requirements set by the NAIA and Bluefield College.
“We are looking academically at a different kid this year,” said Gravier. “We’re talking to some pretty good students, and that’s obviously going to help us in the long run for retention and it will help our team. Those guys can work as tutors and help our teammates out.”
The establishment of the football program has led to an increase in enrollment at Bluefield and has raised the number of residential students. Derek Wright, residence hall director of the male dormitory Rish Hall, said that the football program has negatively changed the atmosphere of the campus.
“At times I feel like the atmosphere has gone to less of a Christian-based atmosphere,” said Wright. “I’m not saying that there are not outstanding football players. There are many that I am fond of myself. I believe there are great athletes out there that can have very good character, but I feel that many of our athletes on campus don’t possess the character traits that Bluefield students should represent.”
Gravier said the problems are partly a result of the size of a football team.
“The big difference is, instead of bringing 20 guys on campus like they would for [other sports], we’re bringing 70 and next year, 85,” said Gravier. “It’s the same issues that have always been at Bluefield College, it’s just more visual now because there are more of them.”
Wright said he has seen an increase in reported incidents in the residence halls that are primarily associated with football players.
“I’m seeing honesty as being a problem,” said Wright. “With that, problems of alcohol abuse and substance abuse that are prevalent on a lot of college campuses. It can sometimes be an issue, especially with athletes. Not all the time, but it has seemed to be an issue. We have had more alcohol- and drug-related incidents in my department since the football team has come in.”
Gravier said the behavior mentioned by Wright is not acceptable for players in Bluefield’s program.
“If your college experience is to be partying and that scene, then this isn’t the team for you to play for,” said Gravier. “We’re going to get some guys that are going to push the envelope a little bit. In some cases, we’ve gotten rid of those guys. There are guys that are on campus that are getting in trouble that are no longer with the team. Everybody associates them with the football team because that’s what they came in under. We’re cutting those guys loose.”
Wright said the football players that have consistently presented problems are not returning to Bluefield.
“We’ve seen a lot of students that do have these persistent problems, but they do tend to leave,” said Wright. “The problem could be weeding itself out in the first year.”
While doing FBI background checks is not financially realistic, Gravier and the other coaches do talk with high school coaches to get a grasp of the character of prospective recruits.
“When we talk to coaches we let them know what we are about as an institution,” said Gravier. “We want guys that are a good fit. The little bit of time we spend with them, some of them you can get a feel for. Coaches are pretty good about telling us, ‘this kid is a great player, but I would never push him on anybody.’”