It began inspiring and intense, invigorating and incredible. The result was not as intended, but that was inconsequential. The Oct. 21 football game against Marquette University was more than just a game. It was a piece of history. It marked the day football returned to campus for the first time in 33 years and when students were, at last, able to spend their fall Saturdays cheering on their own team rather than sitting in front of a television rooting for someone else.
And many did.
The Family Weekend game brought together a crowd of nearly 3,000. And while what they witnessed was a far cry from the glory days of Xavier football when Corcoran Field was packed, future NFL players roamed the sidelines and winning mattered, everyone was OK with that. Bringing back the days of old wasn’t the intent of bringing back football. And it never has been. The students who pushed for football’s return and the administrators who granted its approval never want to give an impression that football at Xavier is now or will be anything more than a club sport. Its purpose, says head coach Tom Powers, is much more broad, philosophical and altruistic.
“Our goal is to bring football back right and to be successful,” he says. “Yes, we want to win, but that’s not our main focus. We want to have a good reputation on and off the football field. We want to make sure we do not lose sight of why these students are on campus, and that’s to get an education. Football is part of that education, but it cannot be allowed to consume it. We want them to feel they are a part of a team. And, at the end of the day, if the students like it, if the players enjoy it, if we have a decent fan base and everybody has a good feeling, we’ll consider it a success.”
Despite the disappointment of the opener—a 16-6 loss—the team seems to be on its way to achieving such a goal. While the club rugby team has filled a portion of the students’ desire for a full-contact sport since the football program’s demise, the whole notion of having football as a sport back on campus has been widely and wildly accepted from the start. Last fall, three students running for student government positions—Steve Bentley, Joe Moorman and Willie Byrd—made the idea of bringing back football one of their main platform items, and they rode their agenda to an election victory.
Once in office, they pushed it through and then collected 105 signatures from students interested in playing. They collected contributions—both in-kind and financial—from a number of alumni, including, perhaps most notably, former varsity football player and former chairman of the board of trustees Mike Conaton. He attended a few practices, as did University President Michael J. Graham, S.J., who huddled the team together one afternoon and offered encouragement.
As a whole, though, the University’s involvement in the football program is minimal—a small financial contribution from the club sports council. The students run the program and willingly support it by holding fundraisers, selling T-shirts and agreeing to meet the required $200-per-player price tag.
Being a club sport, anyone affiliated with the University was eligible to play—even faculty, staff and grad students—and those who made the commitment varied widely in their talents and skills. Two played on state champion teams in high school. Others, such as Moorman, had no experience at all. Players range in size from Mike Sullivan at 5-foot-9, 150 pounds, to Jon Baker at 6-foot-6, 375 pounds. Victor Wallace is a 35-year-old father of two who is in grad school. Brian Siegel is a 6-foot-7, 260-pound grad student who works at Procter & Gamble during the day. Sean Cook is a former Marine who served in Iraq.
Even Powers, the coach, is a grad student, studying to become a biology teacher. A former football player at Villanova, he spent 12 years as a dentist before deciding to pursue a career in teaching and coaching. Now he finds himself at the helm of history.
“This first year is an experiment,” he says. “We’re not looking beyond the first year. At the end of the season we’ll see how things go, what needs to be improved upon and reevaluate matters. What we don’t want to do is be a one-hit wonder; we want to be a successful club football team. It’s not like the old Xavier football, but we’ve got to make ourselves successful where we are at.”