The Toughest Job at Kenyon
Published: Thursday, September 6, 2012
Updated: Thursday, November 15, 2012 00:11
It’s Chris Monfiletto’s first game as head coach, and he can’t find the stadium. After a two-hour drive northwest through Ohio, the team’s two buses are idling outside of the admissions office on the deserted campus of Bluffton University. Monfiletto has watched hours of film. He has memorized Bluffton’s offensive formations and defensive weaknesses. He has meticulously planned his team’s drives and blocks. But he hasn’t planned for this. He calls an audible.
“Did any of you come on a recruiting trip to Bluffton?” he asks a bus full of morning-dazed players. “Do any of you know where the stadium is?” They shake their heads, but Monfiletto doesn’t panic. Someone spots a mailman. The driver asks him for directions.
Shortly, the team is off the bus and things are back to normal. Mark Teeples, Kenyon’s assistant athletic trainer, has already arrived and set up his wagon of athletic tape and bandages. Players emerge from the locker room. About a dozen or so line up to have their ankles, wrists and arches taped. Others lace up their cleats and walk over to feel the field. “It has a few soggy patches,” they report.
When everyone is taped up, when each player has wrestled his way into his shoulder pads, the team takes the field for warm ups. “Poker Face” is blasting from the stadium’s P.A. system.
“Nothing like a little Lady Gaga to get you going,” Monfiletto quips.
He’s good at keeping the mood light, but an unmistakable tension undercuts the pregame. Can this new coach snap the Lords’ losing streak?
As Monfiletto watches Casey Beaudouin ’16 practice return patterns, this reporter asks him, “How good is Bluffton?”
“You’ve seen the film,” he says. “I don’t know how good we are.”
When they take the field in two neat rows, the Lords look, for the first time, like a team. They clap in unison as Assistant Coach Brian Stroup goads them on. They move through their active stretches like synchronized swimmers.
Bluffton, however, looks like a team too, and a much bigger one at that. The Beavers have 136 players, nearly three times as many as the Lords.
Back in the locker room a few minutes before kickoff, Defensive Coordinator Greg Jones speaks to that.
“There are a lot of similarities and a lot of differences between Bluffton and us,” he says. “[But] we’re tougher. We’ve endured more. You guys understand that?”
The Lords have endured many lows: it’s been two years since their last win, players have quit in frustration and the seniors who have stuck around have only 10 guaranteed starts left.
“Some people aren’t here right now,” Monfiletto says in his pregame pep talk. “Some people didn’t want to do the hard work that it’s going to take for us to be successful and for us to compete in the long run. And the people that remain here … are going to ultimately have the best experience that they’ve ever had in their lives.”
Monfiletto speaks from experience. He earned four letters as a wide receiver at Davidson College. After graduating in 2004, he coached two of the top 10 running backs in Davidson’s history, and as offensive coordinator at Lycoming College he helped lead the Warriors to a 14-6 record over two years.
“There’s three things that we’re about,” Monfiletto tells his team. “Our three core values: relentlessly competing, rigorous self-discipline and embracing accountability. You guys compete on every snap today, because it could be your last.
“I guarantee you that if this team unites around those three core values, there’s going to be one team at the end of the day today that’s pointing fingers and looking for answers. And there’s going to be another team today that’s pretty excited about what they just did, but not satisfied, because we are a little bit hungrier than that, and we got a big-ass chip on our shoulder. The whole country, and the NCAC, and our school — we need to prove to all of them that we need the respect that we deserve.”
The Lords lost 20-0.
Still, there were things to be proud of. Wide receiver Carlo Gagliardo ’14 gained 45 yards on a kickoff return. Running back Brett Williams ’13 carried the ball for 98 yards on the day. Again and again, the defense staved off Bluffton’s drives. In the third quarter, down 17-0, Kolin Sullivan ’14 forced a fumble on Bluffton’s 47. Two plays later, however, the Lords fumbled the ball themselves.
“Keep your heads up,” Assistant Coach Stephen Sorrells told players on the sideline as he scribbled routes and patterns on a whiteboard. “We got a long game. Don’t worry about it.”
Still, the offense struggled. They had only six first downs, dropped five balls and gained just 20 yards on passing. Bluffton’s quarterback threw 24 completions for 255 yards.
“We are going to really simplify things next week,” Monfiletto told his players after the game. “We are going to do things that are very simple, and we have to execute them, because today was bullshit. That was not good enough from an offensive standpoint.”
The loss at Bluffton might seem like a bad omen for the new coach, but Monfiletto took the defeat in stride. Early on Monday morning, he was back in his office surrounded by his staff watching film of this Saturday’s opponent, Earlham College — a team with fewer players than Kenyon and a long losing streak of its own.
“[Monfiletto’s] vision is to have success and to have success for a lotta, lotta years,” Jones said. “But in order to do that, you’ve got to start building the building blocks from the bottom up, and it’s going to take some time. But the one thing that we do have is a vision. We have a strategy of how to get there, and we’re implementing that strategy every single day.”