Contributing to the culture: Football players not just athletes on College of Idaho campus

Football players expected to be a part of the college experience — winning will come later

ccripe@idahostatesman.comJuly 6, 2014 

Editor's note: This is the latest in an occasional series on the building of the College of Idaho football program.

CALDWELL - College of Idaho football coach Mike Moroski's first chemistry class at UC Davis included 500 students.

"I didn't mind sitting in the back," he said.

The players who will open a new era of Coyotes football in September don't have that luxury. The largest classes at the tight-knit, liberal arts school include about 70 or 80 students. Many classes take fewer than 20.

"You have to be on your game," Moroski said. "There's no place to hide. You've got to be willing to engage, willing to participate in class. And I think that breeds a certain confidence in students and young people. So the faculty would be rightly concerned because of what you hear about guys who are playing college football not being interested in getting an education.

"I honestly don't think that could happen here. They'll have to leave before they skate through."

Moroski's job when building the Coyotes' first football roster since 1977 was much different than the one facing Bryan Harsin and his predecessors at Boise State.

First and foremost, Moroski needed to find contributors to the College of Idaho culture.

Winning, while important, is secondary.

The first class of about 60 recruits arrived last summer. About 55-60 more will join them this summer in preparation for the season opener Sept. 6 at Pacific (Ore.) and the home opener Sept. 13 against Montana Western.

College of Idaho President Marv Henberg told his coaching candidates he expects recruits to extend the mission of the college, add character and leadership to the student body, infuse themselves in the college culture and win games "as soon as practical."

"I'll have patience with the winning, but I won't have patience with the other three," he told them.

Neither will the rest of the campus community, which expressed reservations during the decision-making process on adding football.

The first players were watched as closely in their year without any games as they will be on fall Saturdays this year.

"There was a lot of pressure on them," said Kendall Pavey, a softball player who graduated in the spring. "So many people were skeptical. There was a lot of pressure on them to not be too big-headed. It was not going to go over well if they came in and acted like they owned the campus or acted like the saviors of the school.

"I don't think anybody acted like that. Hopefully they knew how they acted this year was going to be a big deal for how we reacted as the student body that was already established."

The school asked Moroski to recruit 35 players for the 2013 class. One benefit of adding football, after all, was to increase enrollment.

He nearly doubled that number.

"It didn't take long, after being here a short time, to realize that it's football country," Moroski said.

The program provides little financial support to the players. Moroski spread five tuition scholarships among the players for 2013-14 based on ability and need. The tuition for the upcoming school year is $24,200.

The scholarship count increases to 10 for 2014-15 and can max out at 24. Eventually, money for room and board and books could be included.

Still, the average scholarship would be around 20 percent. Players also can receive academic scholarships and need-based financial assistance.

"There are a number of people sacrificing for them to go through college here," Moroski said, "and I like that. I like that they understand the value of the experience and the education."

College of Idaho had 1,092 students in 2013-14 - enrollment that has grown by 10.6 percent over the past four years.

Long term, Henberg wants to build to more than 1,200 students. The school, he said, has similar infrastructure to Northwest Nazarene in Nampa, which has more than 2,000 students.

Enrollment growth will help spread the fixed costs and limit tuition increases. The addition of 120 or so football players is a start.

"Football alone will not get us there," Henberg said.

But it can help add more than just players to the student body. The sport gives the students and alumni a new way to connect with each other and likely will bring unprecedented exposure to the school, particularly outside of the Treasure Valley.

Henberg also hopes the team will allow the College of Idaho to attract some of the talented students who leave the state every year to play for teams like Carroll College in Helena, Mont.

"President Henberg, he knows what football can contribute to a college culture," Moroski said. "And that's what he sold me on, and that's what I'm all about. That's what this level is all about."

The key is to contribute to that culture in the right way.

"One guy could bring down the whole ship here," Moroski said. "Imagine the criticism there would be if some guy comes in and is out of control and does something crazy. It may not be the end of the world, but that would put a different focus on things - a focus I don't want."

College of Idaho doesn't have strict admissions guidelines. Admission decisions are made based on academic ability, leadership, extracurricular activities and future plans. The school offers a Boone Scholars program for underachieving students who make the case that they will succeed.

The school will "take a flier" on a football player with a subpar record, Henberg said, but not if he doesn't possess the other characteristics.

"That admissions profile is broad enough," Henberg said.

Moroski boiled his academic parameters down to three words that guided him as he scoured the Northwest for talent: "capable, willing students."

Then he turned those students over to the faculty.

"That could be sometimes 4.0 kids who are so bright they haven't had to study - they have their own adjustment issue," Moroski said. "But there's also underachieving, 3.0 guys who just need to get going, just need to be motivated. I've talked to a number of professors on the campus, and those are the kids they want in their classes. They want to inspire them."

There were some first-year hiccups.

Five players left the program in the first year for various reasons, including academics, homesickness and finances, Moroski said.

Overall, the grades in the first half of the fall semester were below his expectations. He asked 19 players to meet with their professors and develop improvement plans. Seventeen "completely turned it around," Moroski said.

By the end of the school year, he was pleased with the academic performance.

"We had to tell him, 'They're freshmen. That's the way it is the first semester. They're going to have some issues,' " professor Jasper LiCalzi said. "I was impressed how he really pushed the guys."

Moroski - like former Boise State coach Chris Petersen, a former colleague and valuable resource for him - has a few simple rules for his players that can be applied to a broad set of circumstances:

Treat people well.

Love the college.

Be good guys.

The team motto is "Yote Steel."

"We aren't asking for anything except for an opportunity," Moroski tells his team. "So don't complain. No griping. Yes, it's going to be hard. There are no easy classes here, and we don't want there to be easy classes. We're here to educate you and make you better people and leaders in the community."

The players, in return, hope to leave a mark on the college. Freshman defensive back Malik Whitfield of Mountain Home understands the team's position.

"I feel like we have a lot of pressure on us," he said in March. "I feel like all eyes on campus are on us. They've invested a lot in us time and money wise. But that only makes us want to succeed when we wake up at 6:30 in the morning twice a week to condition until we about puke. You know why you're doing it - to be successful and add to the success of the college."

Chadd Cripe: 377-6398,Twitter: @IDS_BroncoBeat

Idaho Statesman is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service