Pioneers of Stetson Football Set to Finish Their Careers
Chris Crawford remembers the precise day his football career began as a Hatter: Aug. 6, 2012. Actually, it was the first day of intercollegiate football at Stetson in 57 years.
Crawford had come from Lauderdale Lakes in South Florida less than 24 hours earlier, staying at the University Inn. He walked around the nearby campus with a new teammate and wondered with excitement. As a wide receiver in high school, he was good, not great, and this was a chance to continue playing football while attending a strong academic school. He had been communicating with some of his teammates but didn’t know many of the faces. He knew even less about what to expect.
“It was a whole new world,” he thought.
Crawford also remembers his new head coach, Roger Hughes, addressing the team with initial words of advice: Enjoy the moment because the years are going to fly by. Crawford didn’t believe him at the time. He does now.
“I stuck it out all five years, and it feels like yesterday I was walking on campus,” he says, days before his final game.
Jonathan Jerozal came all the way from Canyon Country, Calif. He was a quarterback and, like Crawford, sought good academics and just one more chance to play.
“It was kind of a leap of faith. It was an adventure,” he describes.
The ride at Stetson hasn’t always been joyful, Jerozal concedes, pointing to that first year of daily practices without playing any games – “responsibility without reward,” he calls it. No games were scheduled in fall 2012 as the program rebooted.
Yet, there are no complaints. “To see where the program has developed is awesome,” says Jerozal, a sport business major who played wide receiver. “I chose here because I wanted to be part of something special, part of the foundation of what this school and this program can be.
“I wanted to stay true to my commitment. … I am so happy and grateful.”
Crawford and Jerozal are two of Stetson football’s original 13 student-athletes. They are fifth-year seniors who showed up in 2012 among 100-plus others with little more than hope. (A 14th became a student assistant coach this fall.) They arrived from as far away as California, Arizona, Illinois and New York. They had academic plans, for sure, but football was anything but a certainty. They pioneered, persevered and ushered in a new era of vitality at Stetson. And this Saturday, on Senior Night at Spec Martin Memorial Stadium against Drake University, they wave good-bye.
Their impact has been both tangible and indelible. According to Stetson research, for each football player enrolled at the university since 2012, an additional 1.8 new students resulted, simply because they wanted to be at a school that played football. Alumni have another reason to return to campus, which potentially leads to charitable giving. Hatter Nation, in general, has greater reason to cheer.
For the players, meanwhile, there were never guarantees of glory, not even a hint of promise. Football at Stetson is played in the Pioneer Football League, where no athletic scholarships are offered. Only one Hatter has a shot at continuing his career. Donald Payne is regarded as a prospect by the National Football League.
During his final week of football, Davion Belk was intent on savoring every minute.
“This week has been really fun,” he says. “I’ve probably laughed more than I ever have. It’s been fun soaking in all the moments, just embracing every moment, whether good or bad, and just laughing about it. And just know that you’re running out of those.”
Belk was a standout high-school player in Chicago, named “most valuable defensive lineman” in 2010 and 2011. An honor student, he also was named to the all-state academic team. He had other football options until Stetson, with its campus atmosphere and caring people, stole his heart. Nothing has changed. “Exactly what I fell in love with when I visited here is what I got,” says Belk, a marketing major. “The only expectation we didn’t meet was winning a championship. That didn’t happen, so it wasn’t meant to be.”
What did occur, he adds, was growth: “I definitely see an increased vibrancy on campus. On the field, I think the leadership has started to grow and change, even among the younger guys.”
For David Lazear, of Newark, Del., the easy choice of Stetson’s classroom rigor and football potential was tested by uneven success on the field. A leader at linebacker for his entire career, he wishes he and the team could have achieved more. Moments later, he states, “It’s definitely been a growing experience for me. There is nothing I regret. … There’s not much like being with the team every day and your best friends.”
Lazear, an economics major, adds, “We have a good [football] culture now.”
Richard Stanzione can’t identify when or describe quite how such a culture has developed, but he feels it. Stanzione is a freshman from New Jersey, on campus only since August. A National Honor Society scholar-athlete who excelled at running back, quarterback, cornerback and safety in high school, he is emblematic of Stetson’s football future.
“The fifth-year guys carry the young guys. … It’s almost like having an extra coach on the field,” says Stanzione, who is slated to play safety next season. “Not only are they captains on and off the field, they really make sure you have a bond with them, too. And I think that bond is important to not only grow as a player, but grow off the field, as well.”
The road has been paved; the journey is nearly complete. Each of the originals has graduated or is on track to graduate and become Stetson alumni. Just not yet. There is one more game to play.
“It’s bittersweet,” concludes Crawford, a business administration major. “I’m going to be very emotional. I look at this team as being my family. But with those fifth-year guys, it’s a little different.
“This is the last time going out on the field with a Stetson jersey. I always told myself the last day was coming. But I never thought it would come this quick.”
22-Glenn Adesoji, Memphis, Tenn., Integrative Health Science
1-Christopher Atkins, Jacksonville, Fla., Digital Arts
56-Davion Belk, Chicago, Ill., Marketing
4-Christopher Crawford, Lauderdale Lakes, Fla., Business Administration
60-Patrick Fogarty, Savannah, Ga., Sports Business
7-Eric Fogle, Evans, Ga., Sports Business
13-Jonathan Jerozal, Canyon Country, Calif., Marketing
51-David Lazear, Newark, Del., Economics and Chemistry
86-Kegan Moore, Marietta, Ga., Business Administration
7-Donald Payne, Fayetteville, Ga., Finance
67-John Post, Tucson, Ariz., Psychology*
77-Matthew Wawrzyniak, Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., Accounting
58-Dylan Wydronkowski, Glenville, N.Y., Business Administration/MBA
33-Mike Yonker, Cocoa Beach, Fla., Elementary Education
* student assistant coach