The Big 10 and the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) do not have a lot of things in common as far as NCAA athletic conferences go. The Big 10 is one of the premier, power-five Division I conferences filled with some of the most talented football players in the country that get drafted into the National Football League on a regular basis. The PSAC is a Division II conference made up exclusively of universities in the state of Pennsylvania; for a player from the PSAC to be drafted into the NFL is a rarity to say the least.
However, one of the biggest differences between the two conferences might be their eligibility rules, as newly-signed Slippery Rock offensive lineman Ian Park realized this past year.
Park, an Upper St. Clair native, spent five years playing football at Northwestern University in Illinois before an unfortunate injury forced him to change his plans. Park redshirted his freshman season and then started off and on for the next three. He missed the entire 2016 season due to a foot injury, which would have been his fifth year as a member of the team. NCAA’s eligibility rules for Division I meant that Park could not play another year at the Division I level, but because Division II eligibility works off of semesters instead of years, he still had the opportunity to play college football.
Park said that he originally thought about trying to play for a Division II school in California, but after talking to his family, he decided to some closer to home.
“Talking with my family, it just seemed like my resources were here,” Park said. “To be even farther away from home than Chicago just didn’t make sense.”
Park initially spoke with the head football coaches at California University (Pa.) and Indiana University (Pa.) through contacts he had with his high school head coach. Park said that eventually a graduate assistant at Northwestern, who had previously been considered for the position of offensive coordinator at Slippery Rock, got him in touch with some of the coaches.
Park said Rock head coach Shawn Lutz and defensive coordinator Dom Razzano were “relentless” in recruiting him, which eventually won him over.
“I was in a movie theater and my phone starts buzzing and it’s a 724 number that said ‘Slippery Rock Pennsylvania,’ and I was like, ‘wow, here we go. It’s probably a coach or something,'” Park said. “Then I got another phone call and another phone call and I think that was the day I learned the meaning of relentless.”
Park said he visited Slippery Rock for the first time shortly after his fall graduation from Northwestern and knew within a week that he wanted to come to Slippery Rock.
Park is expected to be a big boost to a Slippery Rock team that is in desperate need of an offensive lineman with experience. Graduating from The Rock this year was All-American caliber, four-year starting center Joe Loschiavo, who has been an anchor on the offensive line for a long time. Lutz said it was critical to bring someone in that could fill Loschiavo’s role.
“To get a proven guy with collegiate starts is so important for losing a four-year starter in Joey Loschiavo, but another thing is where we’re getting him from,” Lutz said. “He was blocking guys from the Big 10, so we get a guy who’s an NFL prospect. He’s going to bring so much to the table.”
Lutz and Park said that one of the biggest draws for Park to come here was offensive line coach Chris Conrad. Conrad is a former NFL lineman with the Pittsburgh Steelers who is regarded as one of the best offensive line coaches in the area.
“I wanted to go to a school where I could learn from the best,” Park said. “And Coach Conrad was what I was looking for.”
Park said that one of the things he needs to work on to improve his game is controlling his aggression on the field.
“I like to hit people. I’m pretty aggressive, sometimes too aggressive,” Park said. “Sometimes I sacrifice technique over going just 1,000 miles per hour. Something I think I could work on is honing technique and being more controlled, but I like to hit people. Contact is my favorite.”
Park will be part of the Slippery Rock football team during this spring semester for spring workouts and next fall for the 2017 season, at which point his eligibility for Division II will be done.
If everything goes as planned, Park will make his Slippery Rock home debut on Sept. 9 against the West Chester Golden Rams, and while the 10,000-person capacity Mihalik-Thompson Stadium might be dwarfed by Northwestern’s 47,000-person capacity Ryan Field, Park’s mind will be solely on football and the fact that his friends and family will be in the stands.
“I’m familiar with the area, familiar with the culture,” Park said. “It’s good to be back. And to have all my family and friends excited to come to the games, it’s pretty cool.”