By: Jimmy Gang – Sports Writer
It is a very brisk Tuesday at around one in the afternoon in Dayton, Ohio. The type of day that just makes you want to stay inside and bundle up next to something that’s on fire. But in the office of Dayton football coach Rick Chamberlin, it might as well be summer.
On Feb. 5 it was announced that his football team had a record 76 student athletes named to the Pioneer Football League academic honor roll for achieving a GPA of 3.0 or better during the fall semester. Coach Chamberlin’s gaze beams with the type of radiant pride that only a father could have for his children.
“I was very pleased, we were the only team in the 70s, next closest was in the high 60s I think,” Chamberlin said.
Coach Chamberlin, who just completed his 40th year as a part of the Flyers football program (seventh as head coach), has compiled a record of 55-23 overall with a 41-15 record in the PFL, giving him a career winning percentage better than the likes of Mark Dantonio, Mack Brown and Lou Holtz.
The success on the field is impressive, but what is more impressive is the success his players have had in the classroom.
“When we start the season, we don’t call them goals; we call them our ten declarations,” Chamberlin said. “One of those declarations is to lead the PFL in the honor roll.”
Chamberlin’s reasoning is that a goal is something you aspire to do, while a declaration is something you just do. It’s worked so far, as Flyer football has met that declaration for every year but two of the 22 years of the PFL’s existence, carrying on a tradition that has led the Flyers football program to be able to boast more Academic All-Americans than all but three schools – Notre Dame, Penn State and Nebraska.
This type of sustained success begs the question: How has UD done so well for so long?
“It all starts with recruiting” Chamberlin said. “When we recruit, we are looking for two things: One is success on the field, and the other is success in the classroom. Presidents of their class, National Honor Society, those things are all very important to us when recruiting young men to play for us,” coach Chamberlin said.
The emphasis on academics is especially evident when talking to the players themselves. Cory Stuart, a rising senior pre-physical therapy major, is the leading receiver returning for the 2015 football season with the graduation of fellow honor roll members Ross Smith and Gabe Macis. Stuart will also have two years of eligibility remaining for his Flyer football career going into next season, and he looks to become one of the key leaders on the team going forward. Cory took some time to describe his approach when it came to choosing his collegiate home.
“The most important thing for me was to be at a school where the academics would be top tier,” he said, “so that if anything happened, God forbid, if I got hurt, I would still be getting a great education.”
However, recruiting the best and brightest is not the only reason the Flyers are so successful in the classroom. The staff support for the student athletes at UD is unparalleled, including meetings with advisors to assist with the adjustment to college, study tables and tutoring. According to Stuart, this support system helps to build the work ethic and discipline it takes to succeed both on the field and in the classroom.
“If you are disciplined in your reads and routes that discipline is going to translate to the classroom, and vice versa.” Stuart said. “Being disciplined in order to have success both in the classroom and on the football field are definitely points of pride for us.”
It is this sense of pride that pushes the team to maintain the tradition of academic excellence that is matched by only a handful of other institutions.
Possibly the most critical aspect of the Flyers academic success is the relationship that exists between those in the athletics department and the various academic departments.
“There’s a great relationship between athletics and academics here, lots of communication,” coach Chamberlin said. “They actually help us with recruiting when recruits have questions that we can’t answer about certain majors. If the recruits have questions about, say, sports medicine or accounting departments we’ll have deans from those departments come and talk to them. They take time out of their lives and away from their families to help us.”
This type of relationship between different departments exemplifies the spirit of community at UD, showing that every part of the university is working together to ensure the success of the student athletes.
“That’s what recruits and parents recognize right off the bat,” Chamberlain said. “There’s nothing like the community feel of the Flyer family.”