Program will make history
Last Thursday morning Castleton football head coach Richard Alercio was yelling. It wasn’t because he was mad or a player was performing poorly. Instead he was trying to be heard over the jackhammer working just a few yards away from the football complex at Castleton State College.
It is just one of the obstacles the first-year head coach has had to surmount as he prepares his team to meet the Anna Maria Amcats Sept. 5 for the first-ever football game for both schools.
Alercio (pronounced Al-er-ce-oh) was announced in February 2008 as first football head coach in Castleton history following an extensive search. The school announced plans to establish a program in 2007.
Alercio said what attracted him from an established program to a start-up job at Castleton were the possibilities.
“Just that the excitement of getting to do everything from designing the logo on this helmet here in front of me to picking the players to designing the offices and how the locker rooms will look to choosing the game-day traditions that we’ll create with the players – having a say in literally every aspect of the program; it’s very exciting,” Alercio said.
In other head coaching jobs the person in charge can dictate changes in an offensive scheme or a defensive system but they can’t have input on all of the physical details of building a program from the ground up, he said.
Alercio comes to Castleton following a successful run at the College of New Jersey as the offensive coordinator for 15 seasons following stops at West Chester University and East Stroudsburg University.
The season cannot help but be one of firsts and milestones.
Looking forward to such a season is exciting for the coach.
“It’s a neat thing,” Alercio said. He already had a long list of firsts from the team’s picture being taken, to the players’ first time seeing their home jerseys, the first practice, the first walk through … and the list goes on and on.
In addition to the team milestones there have been many physical milestones from the installation of the turf to the completion of state-of-the-art Spartan Stadium. In fact, the noise Alercio had to shout over during practice comes from the construction of a new baseball field immediately adjacent to the football field.
“Every day is a new gift. It’s like in Hanukah or something where every day you get a gift, there’s something new here every day. You go home and come back and something new gets done each day; the training room gets finished, the weights are going to go into the weight room, flooring is going down – every single day we show up it’s like another present,” Alercio said.
In a season full of firsts, the major first for the coach is no surprise.
“It’s really that first game,” Alercio said. The team will play an inter-squad scrimmage, another first, and go up to the University of Vermont (yup, another first) for a scrimmage, but Alercio said the first big milestone for him is without question that first game.
“That first game … that first kick off,” he said, sounding as if he could at that moment picture the scene from his office.
Alercio said everything was coming together for the program but there was still a great deal to do before the home, and program, opener on Sept. 5.
Not a coach who gets nervous before games, Alercio said he only feels anxiety and butterflies when he feels unprepared for a contest or is concerned about a matchup.
“I’m relaxed on game day as long as we do everything we can do to be ready,” Alercio said.
Alercio said his level of anxiety corresponds more to how the preceding week of practice went or how he feels his team stacks up against its opponent.
Good matchups and good practice sessions go a long way toward squashing those butterflies.
A good staff helps to make it all happen helps as well. “The coaching staff has done an outstanding job,” he said.
As a longtime offensive coordinator, Alercio said, he’ll play a much larger role in the offensive planning for a game, leaving the defensive end of things to defensive coordinator Marc Klatt.
“I’ve got the utmost faith in him,” Alercio said. Alercio said he is thrilled with every member of his staff and how they have gelled together already after knowing one another for just a few weeks.
Although he’s a coach who specializes in offense and wants to see every aspect of the team excel, Alercio said, an outstanding defense would make the team hard to beat.
“I hope we’re better on ‘D’ than anything else because if you don’t allow them to score and you get better field position all the time, you’re going to win some games,” Alercio said.
Alercio said one of the things he has had to do in preparing for the season was to simplify the offensive playbook because there simply was not time to teach the entire thing before the first game. “Locking” plays means a shorter learning curve for players, which will gradually expand as time passes and players’ experience grows, he said.
Alercio said he sees good signs when he looks around at the team.
“One of the neatest things is how well the new kids are doing,” he said. Every player has embraced the team and the system because they realize as the first ones, ever, there is no upper classman with the position they want to play simply by virtue of arriving first. Because of the unusual situation with no returning starters freshmen will get immediate playing time.
“They realize they’re not going to beat out, realize they’re going to be starter,” he said.
Alercio said overall preparations had been going well.
The coaching staff has worked together well to begin building the program and get as much practice time as possible before the team takes the field. “The players are picking it up at a very fast pace,” he said.
Key to that has been the support for the college. “It’s been great; the administration’s support has just been outstanding,” he said.
The big challenge has been getting the campus geared up for football.
“One of the things is that there’s not a lot of football people on campus so there are people not knowing this is how this is done — not everyone knows everything because they’re not used to having football yet so it’s an educational process,” he said.
The support Alercio said the team has gotten from the community has been beyond words.
Alercio said he had some concern when he initially took the job that fans would be hard to come by in an area known more for skiing and snowboarding than kickoffs and completions, but that quickly faded away when he arrived.
In addition to a local cable access television show, local media have been enthusiastically covering the story. More importantly local people have been approaching him wherever he goes. “The excitement has been building,” Alercio said.
“People start to know who we are. I got stopped the other day by a middle-aged man – all types of people stop me – and they all ask: ‘Hey coach how’s the team doing?’” he said.
“It’s been outstanding. I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said.
Reserve tickets for the first of what will be four home games, Castleton’s debut, sold out in less than an hour.
“You can still get in but you’re not getting your butt on a seat,” he said. Alercio said he had not seen anything like it when coaching at the three other colleges previously, even with teams that went to the playoffs and won championships.
“Fans come to practices. … It’s neat,” he said.
Against Anna Maria in the school’s first-ever football game what is believed to be a milestone will be set.
Alercio said he had heard, but
was not sure about, this mark.
Reportedly no Division III football program has ever debuted with a win.
The coach said the mark might also be “finished their first season with a winning record,” but he was not sure.
Both programs will be taking to the field for the first time, so if the reports are true? “Someone’s making history; that’s for sure,” Alercio said.
Alercio said he had no predictions for the program’s first season and could not yet get a sense how his squad would stack up against a brand new league with new teams in it.
“If we’re going to play much better team, then our goal is to play them as best we can,” Alercio said. Should the team face competition where it ends up on the short end of a major mismatch, Alercio said, it would be a victory in his book as long as the entire team gives maximum effort.
“Nope, not at all. I have no final mark in mind,” he said.
Alercio said his big goal for the season was to get the program going in the right direction with players and coaches pulling together as one entity.
With maximum effort from everyone it will remain difficult to predict how the team will fare. However, all eyes are focused on the first game and the program’s first win.
“We’ll see if we play well enough to have it happen,” Alercio said.
“Everything is great. The way the program is run is the same as any premier program in the country all the way from the laundry service to administration and training – everything,” Alercio said.
Someone coming to the school and seeing the program without knowing they were at a Division III school would have trouble telling between this program and any in Division I, he said. “This is big-time college football at a small college,” he said.