No sports team has more players than a football team.
February 10, 2011
Courtesy of Brian Woodson
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
BLUEFIELD, Va. — No sports team has more players than a football team.
Coach Mike Gravier is busy working hard on his recruiting class of talent for football.
That's just the nature of the game. With so many different skills needed for positions on both sides of the ball, along with special teams, and the frequency of injuries and the attrition rate can that comes with it, a college football team need numbers, and lots of them.
Just not 802.
While the numbers change often, Bluefield College football coach Mike Gravier's computer database recently included more than 800 recruiting contacts, but he admits to even more as he continues the task of finding players for a football program that last played a game in 1941.
"Some of those are people that have contacted us, some are recommendations from coaches and some are from different recruiting services," Gravier said. "I've got a database that sends out mass texts or mass e-mails and when I have done that it has been about 1,200 at a time that I send out.
"Some of those I might never talk to. I saw one of them signed with Florida State so that is just a kid I had in a recruiting service. I just wish them Happy Thanksgiving, or Merry Christmas, again just getting our name out there."
Gravier has a pair of large dry-erase boards in his small campus office, full of prospects' names that might or might not be able to play for the Rams. There are many more that aren't on those boards. Yet.
It's his job to make those decisions.
"That is the hard part, what you find out is which kids respond to those texts and those e-mails, which kids are sending us film, which kids are coaches recommending for our level of play," Gravier said. "You have to take all those things and whittle it down even more.
"We've got all these DVDs, plus there are just as many that get sent online, kids that put stuff on YouTube or other websites. There are several hundred pieces of film that we have looked at and then you have to make those hard decisions, can this kid play for us."
Five have bought in. So far. It takes a special person to sign up to play for a program that will just be involved in scrimmages in the fall, with the real games not beginning until the fall semester of 2012.
Yet, Gravier has sensed an interest in athletes willing to make that sacrifice to have a chance to possibly start for four years, instead of waiting around and maybe only starting for a season or two at a larger school.
"We are getting that intrigue by some pretty good players that are looking at a program where they might have the opportunity to start for four years," Gravier said. "Kids now-a-days want to play, they are not as willing to sit as they were years ago."
His current quintet of athletes includes three students that were already on campus, a transfer from Campbell University and a recruit Gravier brought in from Quantico, Va. He's also had interest from some Bluefield College basketball and baseball players, but they're not involved with football just yet.
Those five are currently working out five days a week, either lifting or running, under the direction of Chris Shatley, a football player and intern from Concord, who is running Gravier's strength and conditioning program.
His only other staff member is Shannon Denton, a work-study student, who he calls his director of football operations for doing all the organizational tasks, such as keeping up with all the players being considered for the team, and there are plenty of those.
"We are getting a lot of interest nationally, I think with recruiting services, there are some for kids and some for coaches," Gravier said. "Kids are getting more nationwide in their search for colleges and with the Internet some are googling startup football programs."
Gravier top priorities are pretty simple.
"A lot of the guys we are looking at are very athletic," Gravier said, "and can could potentially play multiple positions."
That versatility will be vital for a program that will need to fill so many positions. He wants to use next fall's scrimmage schedule to put them in the right spots on the field in preparation for Mid-South Conference play the following season.
"That is why you want a kid that can play multiple positions," Gravier said. "If you have a guy who can play running back, receiver or DB, we can take a few weeks and try him a running back, take a few weeks and try him at receiver, and a few weeks trying him at DB and see where he is going to fit in on the depth chart."
Gravier hopes to have at least 60 and possibly 70 players enrolled and playing football in the fall, with an eventual collection of 85 to 100 in three years. He's glad to have another year to blend that talent into one unit.
"To be able to take that full year and really teach these guys, one, not only how to run our offense or defense, but how to be a college football player and get them into the weight room...," Gravier said. "A lot of the lineman that we are looking at are 6-4, 6-5, and they are only 235 or 240 pounds right now, but are good athletes.
"Hopefully in a year we can put 20-25 pounds on them and have them still remain athletes. Some big, long kids that can run."
Finding those players is difficult enough. Getting them to come to Bluefield College is another. Not that the school doesn't offer a quality education, but the 50-year-old father of three has to convince teenagers what the school has to offer, and try to offer some type of financial package to help with the cost.
In Division I football, the prize is usually a scholarship that pays for an expense-free tuition. Not so at the NAIA level. Gravier, with the help from the college, must develop monetary packages that will assist students with the cost of attending a private institution.
Much of what Gravier can do has to wait until potential recruits have filled out the FAFSA (federal financial aid) form, and that has to wait until their parents have completed their tax forms. There is also the VTAG (Virginia Tuition Assistance Grant Program)grant that is available for Virginia residents attending private colleges in the state.
"Virginia has to be our base," Gravier said. "One, it is the state we live in, but second, with that VTAG scholarship, that is $2,600 this year, that is a nice little chunk that we don't have to account for."
There is also football money available, but by dipping into other sources, there will be more to distribute for the number of students looking for help.
"The way we put together a scholarship is we get the federal money, which is going to be based on need, students get a certain amount from Bluefield College based on their grades, Virginia kids get a VTAG for going to a private school in the state and then we have football money on top of that," Gravier said. "We kind of take those three or four things and build a package for a kid."
Since the 30-year-plus coaching veteran was hired in July, Gravier has basically been Bluefield College football. He has had some help from the Shatley, Denton and the administration, but he's the one traveling the Southeast and beyond looking for talent.
"I am looking at Southwest Virginia or even over to Bristol as what I consider our local kids because they are in this region," said Gravier, who works 12-13 hour days, with the evenings usually spent calling potential recruits. "I have hit several hundred schools in the state and we're getting a lot of interest from North Carolina and Georgia because those kids are not that far away.
"The Florida kids, they look everywhere. That is just the reality of being in Florida, not all of them can go to Florida, Florida State and Miami so they have to find somebody else out there."
Gravier, who plans to build with high school and not junior college transfers — as many start-up programs do — is expecting a mix of regional and nationally recruited kids.
"Unless you live in Miami, Virginia Beach, Dallas, I don't know if you can actually stay in one small region to build a football team," Gravier said. "I think that is a little short-sighted, but there is a lot of talent here, I will tell you that and there is a lot of passion for football.
"Those are the kinds of kids I want, kids that are willing to put in the work and have that good ethic and are willing to live up to the demands that we are going to have as a football staff."
Not everyone will be a star. Football is more than just the quarterback — contrary to what has become a popular notion — it takes all kinds to build a successful program.
"What will happen is some kids maybe aren't a top-notch player, but they just want to be at Bluefield College and want to be part of the program and those kids will be on board," Gravier said. "I use the analogy, of those 60 kids I can't get 60 first round draft picks, just like an NFL team, I can't afford them.
"I need guys that will walk on or guys that just want to be at Bluefield College and be a part of our program that hopefully some day will be contributors to the team. Initially, it will just be guys that want to be here and want to be on the team and that is just the reality of starting out."
Gravier, who will have two full-time assistants, including offensive line coach, Mike Compton, a standout at Richlands, West Virginia and in the NFL, and a defensive coordinator still to be named, knows that different areas of the country have different types of athletes.
"You find a lot of that around here, that blue-collar attitude, mental toughess," Gravier said. "There is a different type of player here say as opposed to Virginia Beach, it is a different type of kids, but you need both types in order to build a football team.
"You can't do it with all speed and finesse, you can't do it all with toughness and the bigger kids either, you have got to find that mix."
Gravier has built programs before, helping to start up the program at Malone University in Canton, Ohio starting in 1993, spending two years as an assistant and the last four as a head coach, going 10-1-1 in his first season in charge, and winning three conference titles in four seasons.
"We were very fortunate, a big part of it is it comes down to the type of kid that you recruit, and they bought into what we were doing and what we were all about," Gravier said. "We never had the best talent in the conference and we still won it, but it was the type of kids that we got.
"Having done that before is kind of what I am searching for now, who is that kid who is willing to do the kind of work we are going to ask him to do and not make excuses. You will never hear me say we are young, that we're just a freshman, you will never hear me say that."
While he liked those athletes at Malone, he thinks his current crop — when they do get on campus — will be better.
"I know football has changed and it has been 17 or 18 years and players have changed, but I honestly believe we are recruiting better athletes than what we had at Malone," Gravier said. "Malone was kind of the blue-collar, tough, the Northeast Ohio, the Pittsburgh type of kid. I think we are getting more skill here."
When Gravier does begin to sign players, he plans to visit each school and be there for a signing ceremony.
"We'll make it a big deal," Gravier said. "That is a big decision for a kid and we want to publicize it, again for him and for us."
Note: This is the third in a series of articles on Gravier and the building of football at Bluefield College.