In the FCS Huddle: Bryant changing the learning curve
By Sean Shapiro, FCS Assistant
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - When Bryant University football first made the move from NCAA Division II to the FCS, there weren't many believers that the program could succeed at a higher level.
It seemed like a valid point. The Bulldogs were good at the lower level, but not great, and making the transition can be a difficult process.
However, those doubters didn't realize that internally Bryant was already operating on a Division I level.
"While we're now playing at the Division I level, we never changed what we did internally," head coach Marty Fine said. "Having coached at Indiana and Iowa State, we did the exact same things as those programs, so when we made the move it wasn't as much of a transition as some people think."
The transition has gone rather smoothly. In its first three years as an FCS program, Bryant has posted a combined 19-14 record, including a .500 record in the Northeast Conference.
For the Bulldogs, building a winning program is even more impressive since the Bulldogs don't often bring in the best natural athletes.
"We're usually slower than the teams we play, and beat, at this level," Fine said. "But, we were also slower than the teams we'd beat at Division II. For us, it's all about the process. ... In our first season, we went a full year without a 15-yard penalty and we work very hard on special teams. At one point, we blocked 13 punts in 18 games (2009-10)."
Last season the trend continued. The Bulldogs blocked six kicks, had a plus-8 turnover ratio and finished third in the conference in scoring defense - the second year in a row Bryant has boasted a top-three defense in the conference.
While it's easy to buy into - hard-working, disciplined football - Fine's system isn't the first thing he's pitching to recruits.
"We're one of the top business colleges in the country, that's what we sell them on," Fine said. "We sell them on the fact we have 100 percent of our seniors graduate with jobs and that the team's GPA is higher than the rest of the student body average.
"We recruit really good kids from good families, and take the time to turn them into good football players."
One of those players who was already a good kid, but is now a good football player, is senior offensive lineman Jonathon Lewis, who is helping younger players understand and embrace the family atmosphere at Bryant.
"Coach Fine has done a good job of making the team first, and helping everyone understand what that means," Lewis said. "And that's pretty much what it's all about. We do a good job of helping the younger guys get used to and acclimated to our team."
On the field this season, Lewis will be responsible for helping pave the way for returning 1,410-yard, 15-touchdown running back Jordan Brown and his counterpart in the backfield, quarterback Mike Croce, who only threw six interceptions last season.
Lewis, Brown and Croce will look to lead the offensive effort, while senior defensive back Samad Wagstaff - who had four interceptions and three defensive touchdowns last season - and linebacker Franck Tebou will anchor a younger defense.
It's a group that will look to finally get over the .500 mark in the NEC, something that's expected after Fine wasn't completely pleased with the team's record last season.
"The fact of the matter is that we went 7-4 last year and we were disgusted with that record," Fine said. "We are appalled that there were some games that we didn't live up to our standard. We've got to fix that and come back even harder this year."
And if the Bulldogs follow their coaches' lead, they'll continue to prove doubters wrong, and perhaps challenge for a Northeast Conference championship in the near future.
07/23 18:38:04 ET