Every team has a name for camaraderie: unity, family, togetherness; for the Slippery Rock University football team, it goes by a simple name, brotherhood.
There is not a single human on earth that has a better understanding of what the brotherhood is than legendary SRU football coach Dr. George Mihalik.
“It’s guys who come together from all different backgrounds, all different cultures and all different areas. They come in and they buy into the family atmosphere of The Rock and it just becomes contagious,” Mihalik said. “Once you get it, it’s with you forever. Once you wear the Green and White, you’re always part of the Green and White.”
The brotherhood is what has kept so many players coming back to the program, because they never want to leave.
“I didn’t even want to leave when I graduated,” said defensive line assistant and three-time all-PSAC selection Joe Phillips. “I took one semester off in the summer and came back, it felt like I was back at home really. I missed everybody here, coaching staff, players, [equipment manager] Mr. Steele.”
Phillips is one of five SRU graduates on staff. Defensive coordinator Domenick Razzano, linebacker’s assistant Mike Grata, strength and conditioning coach Terry Grossetti and graduate assistant Don King III all played in the Green and White. Head coach Shawn Lutz also received his Masters from SRU, and wide receivers coach Frank Bongivengo Jr. completed his teaching certificate at Slippery Rock, meaning seven of the 12 Slippery Rock staff members obtained a degree from the university.
“Everybody has a lot of pride in this university,” Razzano said. “I’ve been to a couple other places as both a coach and a player. None of the other places I was at had the tradition or the passion from their fanbase.”
Every school can claim to have a ‘family atmosphere’ all they want, but The Rock backs it up. Compared to rival schools like Indiana (Pa.) and California (Pa.), The Rock retains their coaches at a much higher rate. IUP’s staff consists of only three school graduates, and California’s only two.
“Honestly, it’s not just talk,” Grata said, who recorded 110 tackles over his SRU career. “It’s a special place, It was something that I’ve never felt before, in high school I didn’t feel the camaraderie or as close with the coaches. Not only are players close and coaches close, but the players are close with the coaches.”
The Green and White don’t only attract their former players though, as Bongivengo served 24 years as a high school football coach before coming to the Rock in 2012.
“After the first year I just knew that this was a place I felt very comfortable,” Bongivengo said. “With the people that are here, coaches and players, there is a real close-knit relationship and to me, that is very important for a team aspect.”
While Bongivengo received his teaching certificate from SRU, there are coaches that have bought in that never set foot in a Slippery Rock classroom. Clyde Conti, a 2004 inductee to the Pennsylvania Scholastic Coaches Association Hall of Fame, is in his fourth year as a Slippery Rock football staff member and his first as Academic coordinator.
“This is my 45th consecutive year coaching football, I’ve never seen so much team chemistry and young people who care for each other,” Conti said, who has 188 wins as a high school head coach. “It’s not just lip service up here when they talk about that.”
The thing that makes the brotherhood mantra so strong is that no Rock coach or alum will give the same answer, it’s not a generic saying to bring people together, it’s a feeling.
“Brotherhood means sticking together. Through adversity, through good times,” Bongivengo said. “The kids stick together whether things are good or bad.”
“It means commitment to each other, during your years of playing and far beyond those years. At most places, when you’re finished playing, that’s probably it for your relationships with your teammates,” Razzano said. “Here at Slippery Rock, those relationships stay strong for years beyond football.”
“Always having somebody who has your back and you have theirs,” Phillips said. “If you know anybody who you played with or coached with here, you know that they would be willing to take you anywhere.”
The one common thread that ties all of the definitions of brotherhood together is one of selflessness and dedication.
“When you can feel the euphoria that normally happens when something goes well for yourself when it’s something happens for someone else, you know you really have togetherness,” Conti said.