The Dayton Flyers football team, led by head coach Rick Chamberlain, is doing things the right way by succeeding on the field and in the classroom.
On a roster that is filled with talent on the field, Chamberlain’s team has perhaps even more excellence off it. With a fantastic 17 Academic All-Americans during his tenure, Chamberlain has created a culture that promotes the true purpose of college: succeeding in the classroom, learning skills for the future and developing players into the people that will shape the future of our towns, counties, states and even countries around the world.
In 2018 alone, 79 Flyer football players appeared on the Pioneer Football League’s (PFL) Academic Honor Roll at the end of the season, surpassing the next team (Drake) by 16. This incredible academic excellence is something that Chamberlain looks for in his recruits from the beginning.
“We target players that we feel fit the criteria here at Dayton,” Chamberlain said when asked about how he draws recruits to play for the Flyers in the PFL, which shares the rare distinction with the Ivy League as being one of only two conferences in Division I-AA FCS to be a non-scholarship program. “They’ve got to be a good student. We love captains, we love National Honor Society, we love people that are class presidents or the lead in the play, just those individuals that really get involved and show those leadership qualities.”
“…we’ve had guys that were offered scholarships at Division I but decided to come here because of the total package that we give to (them),” Chamberlain said.
Once the players arrive to that total package on campus, the difficulties of the college athletics experience begin to pop up, namely the struggle to find time for classes, studying, football and recovery.
“First of all, we’ve got to make time for those class assignments…class times,” Chamberlain said to address the scheduling conflicts. “If a player has a class conflict with a practice, he misses part of practice.”
At any other Division I program, especially at the FBS-level, football comes first. For the five percent (or less) of players who are at the necessary level to make it to the NFL, this doesn’t pose quite as big of an issue. However, for the 95 percent of players that won’t make it to the NFL, putting football before class often leads to poor grades or “hand-out” classes, in which the athlete can simply show up and receive a passing grade.
“Football is just a part of your college experience, the icing on the cake,” Chamberlain said. “There’s other parts to your college experience here, and I want our players to enjoy those parts. The times with friends, other organizations on campus.”
Chamberlain also referenced the 20-hour restriction enforced by the NCAA, which allows for the team to have the players for only those hours each week. This forces the coaches and athletic department to work together to find the best use of time to continue the excellence for Flyers football players that shows itself on and off the football field.
Redshirt junior safety Tim Simon is an incredible example of this excellence. With 102 tackles in his first two seasons combined, Simon has shown excellence for the Flyers on the football field. However, being named Academic All-PFL twice and PFL Academic Honor Roll three times in his career thus far is an incredible achievement off the field, exemplifying the academic pedigree established in the program.
“The main thing is having a schedule that you’re on,” Simon said in response to how he balances school and football at a high level, displaying excellence in both. Simon also emphasized the importance of sticking to that schedule and studying for the classroom and film to be prepared for whatever comes his way.
Simon “got into the recruiting game late”, prioritizing baseball until he realized the opportunities that he had with football at Dayton.
“When I came here, I saw that the academics were strong,” Simon said. “I was drawn to the academics… playing football here at this high of a level, all the trophies in this room,” he said, motioning to the trophies in the main room of the football office. “I just thought I could get the best of both worlds.”
Fellow redshirt junior Kyle Butz plays as a wide receiver and return specialist and was named the special team’s captain for 2019. He has also seen his fair share of academic excellence as a three-time mainstay on the PFL Academic Honor Roll (2016-18). Butz exemplifies the attitude of putting education first at Dayton. He was also named to the University of Dayton Dean’s List for the fall semester last year while playing well enough to earn an All-PFL Honorable Mention as a return specialist.
“I take a lot of what I do on the field into my classroom,” Butz said. “I’m a very competitive person. On the field you’re always competing, day in and day out, and I take that into the classroom where the kid I’m sitting next to can’t have a better grade than I do. So that pushes me to study harder, do more homework, go to (Supplemental Instruction) sessions. Doing all the little things to push me above the guy that I’m sitting next to.”
“People say all the time ‘there’s not enough hours in the day’,” Butz said when asked how he is able to balance the commitment of both football and classes at a school like Dayton. “That’s so true, we have school…on top of that we have practice (and) meetings, and we have to study film by ourselves.”
The Flyers display excellence in every area, even where they sit. Going back to the days when Mike Kelly was the head coach, the Flyers coaches have imposed the objective that their players sit in the front of the classroom, taking their sought-after leadership qualities into the classroom.
Coach Chamberlain has created a formula for success for players like Simon and Butz that has also been noted by professors around the school, who notice the football players often being the hardest worker in the room and standing out as leaders in their classes.
Football players are often the “first into class” and “are attentive”, as noted by Dr. Annette Taylor, who harkened back to times when Kelly started the academic tradition. However, even a great coach like Kelly drew some criticism from the community for putting academics first.
“There were a few times where people criticized him. Not so much that they didn’t like academics first, but why are you suspending that player when they’re the best player,” Dr. Taylor said.
The attitude begun during Kelly’s career at Dayton has carried over into Chamberlain’s tenure and is shown in players like Simon and Butz. While some other programs put football first and everything else second, the Flyers continue to do things the right way and hope to continue the tremendous history of academic excellence in the heart of the Gem City.
Cover photo courtesy of Atticus Hughes