“The ultimate goal is graduation day,” said Shawn Lutz, wearing a gray Adidas zip-up hoodie, balling and presenting his left fist. “A diploma in this hand and a bunch of rings on the other.”
Even with reduced openings on his team’s depth chart, sixth-year Slippery Rock University head football coach Lutz made the most of an abridged recruiting class.
“Number one and most importantly, it’s all about taking care of your current team,” Lutz said.
The raincloud that is COVID-19 hung over a Division II football season, but the pandemic has allowed each college athlete to be granted an additional campaign of competition. Lutz remains loyal to the players that have helped made the program what it is, and with an experienced group, he needed to figure out which seniors would be returning.
“I was surprised that basically all of our guys are going to come back and either finish up their remaining degree or get a master’s degree to further their education,” Lutz said. “I think they realize, in their life, they have a short time frame to play this game.”
With approximately 15-17 seniors slated to delay their post-college lives, Lutz and his staff had less room to work with for a recruiting class.
“I still think, [with] high school guys, it would’ve been tough to be a senior this year,” said Lutz. “A lot of [college coaches] don’t have a lot of room because their seniors can come back […] There’s not a lot of spots. We’re going to honor every senior that wants to come back.”
Because of COVID-19, coaches were unable to mingle with prospects at their high schools or in their homes. Lutz and his staff found themselves operating much like any school classroom: building relationships with recruits through a laptop screen.
Lutz gives credit to Director of Athletic Communication Jon Holtz, who he says does a great job promoting SRU’s athletics as a whole, even going as far as to create a virtual campus visit for each sport.
Despite the virus, the team was also permitted to bring prospects onto campus for individual visits. No longer allowed on Saturdays or in large groups, high school players have been stopping through Slippery Rock during the weekdays.
While on those visits, potential future players were shown to Lutz’ ring case. While the head coach recognizes that there are no guarantees that his program will make as deep of a playoff run as it did in 2019, he stresses that his teams strive to compete for a national title.
“I show them every ring we’ve gotten here and ask them if they want to be a part of that,” Lutz said. “They [have] a chance to be winning a championship, getting to the national playoffs […] They want that ring on their finger.”
While having pulled three transfers in this class from different universities, Lutz has taken note of the exodus of student-athletes from other programs due to a lack of instant playing time.
“I don’t like to see where [the transfer portal] is going,” Lutz said. “You see a lot of kids leaving Division I programs to go to other programs because they’re not [going] through the grind [and] the adversity that you need to. Sometimes I think it’s an easy way just to say, ‘I’m not playing that first year, let’s go somewhere else [and] try something different.’”
In total, Lutz signed 15 incoming players, a dozen of which being high schoolers. There was a focus on the offensive side of the ball, with ten recruits bolstering the unit.
“They were all of our top guys,” Lutz said. “If we were wrong on evaluating, that’s on us. But, we didn’t lose a recruit. Not one that visited our school.”
The health of student-athletes willing, the team plans on holding 15 practices this spring, with an intrasquad scrimmage tentatively planned for April 23.