NCAA: Home-grown success
10-18-2013 06:32 PM
NEW YORK -- A simple stone monument sitting outside Jack Coffey Field honors Fordham's most famous football players: The Seven Blocks of Granite, an impenetrable line that included Vince Lombardi.
On a warm fall day, the current Rams are practicing fast and furious, spreading the field and forgoing the huddle. If Lombardi, who went on to become maybe the most famous football coach in history, and the rest of the blocks were still around, they might have had a hard time recognizing the game being played by Fordham these days.
There's no doubt, however, they'd love the results.
For the first time since 1930, before even Lombardi played for the Rams, Fordham is 7-0. Two years removed from going 1-10, the Rams are ranked eighth in FCS and one of five undefeated teams in the country heading into Saturday's game at Yale.
| Aug. 29
|| Rhode Island
|| W, 51-26
| Sept. 7
|| W, 27-24
| Sept. 14
|| W, 30-29
| Sept. 21
|| W, 52-7
| Sept. 28
|| St. Francis (Pa.)
|| W, 38-20
| Oct. 5
|| W, 52-34
| Oct. 12
|| W, 34-12
| Oct. 19
|| at Yale
| Nov. 2
|| vs. Holy Cross
| Nov. 9
|| vs. Bucknell
| Nov. 16
|| at Lafayette
| Nov. 23
|| at Colgate
Second-year coach Joe Moorhead has led the turnaround, quickly rebuilding his alma mater with a blend of old-school discipline and cutting-edge game plans.
''When we came in we felt the things we needed to do from a philosophical standpoint were established,'' said Moorhead, who played quarterback for the Rams from 1992-95. ''Discipline, attention to detail, accountability and work ethic are our foundation.''
Moorhead, a Pittsburgh native, first came to the Bronx near the beginning of a long run of losing seasons that started when the Rams returned to Division I football in the early '90s after years in Division III.
It was a long way from the days when Fordham competed with the best in the nation. The Rams lost the 1941 Cotton Bowl 13-12 to Texas A&M. They won the Sugar Bowl the next season, beating Missouri 2-0. Soon after the school shut down its athletic programs because of World War II.
Fordham came back to Division I in the non-scholarship Patriot League and has mostly slogged along. The Rams had a solid three-year run under coach Dave Clawson, now with Bowling Green, that included a I-AA (now known as FCS) playoff appearance in 2002.
There was one more playoff appearance in 2007, but in 2011 the Rams bottomed out.
Moorhead was lured back to the Rose Hill campus, with its stone buildings shaded by an orchard of oaks, elms and maples, by the opportunity to be a head coach for the first time and Fordham's decision to start awarding scholarships (athletic merit aid in Patriot League parlance).
He had spent the previous three seasons at Connecticut -- which happens to be looking for a new coach -- working as quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator.
Upon Moorhead's arrival at Fordham, things changed immediately.
''When coach Moorhead was first introduced, he gave his whole speech, 'Little things this, little things that. We're going to treat everybody around campus with respect. We're going to be good students, as well as great athletes. No accepting mediocrity,''' senior running back Carlton Koonce said.
The Rams went 6-5 last season, with Koonce running for a school-record 1,596 yards. They were just getting started.
This season they have already beaten two ranked FCS teams (Lehigh and Villanova) and FBS Temple, Fordham's first victory against a team that plays at the highest level of college football since 1954.
At the end of an up-tempo, high-intensity practice, the players gather around Moorhead and take a knee. There are no rhetorical questions from the coach.
''Beat Yale, go 1-0. Understand?'' he calls out.
''Yes coach!'' the players bark back.
Among them are a couple of talented UConn transfers.
Quarterback Michael Nebrich, who lost most of last season to a knee injury, has thrown for 2,166 yards and 17 touchdowns, directing a fast-paced, spread offense.
''It's one of those things where me and [Moorhead] connect so well,'' Nebrich said. ''I knew when I talked to him that I was going to come here.''
Nebrich's favorite target is another former Huskie. Tebucky Jones, son of the former Syracuse and NFL defensive back by the same name, has 50 catches for 601 yards.
He said Moorhead has brought a big-time football feel to Fordham, where the Rams' field has a grandstand only on one side (capacity about 7,000) and is also used for soccer and baseball.
''Everything we do here is just like a D-IA program,'' he said.
Koonce said he's enjoying the extra attention around campus.
''People know who you are. They're like, 'I saw the game. Great job.' It's crazy,'' he said.
As for Moorhead, who never played on a team that won more than four games at Fordham, there's a sense of redemption.
''In a lot of ways,'' he said, ''I feel as a coach now I am able to complete the business I wasn't able to complete as a player.''