By Daniel Jaillet
WORCESTER— Although it may seem effortless when the Worcester State football team trots out onto the field come game day, there is a lot of work done behind the scenes to ensure the team can compete at a high level. One of the more overlooked aspects of how the football team prepares for each season is the recruiting of high school prospects to come play at the collegiate level.
PART I: A VIEW FROM THE COACHES’ OFFICE
One of the more intriguing things about the Worcester State football program is the amount of new talent that comes to the program every year. This means coaches must focus on recruiting each position every season.
Associate head coach Adam Peloquin said, “there is a high amount of roster turnover year to year. Some is traditional (from graduation) and some is not. The likelihood of nontraditional turnover means that all positions have need. In this year’s recruiting cycle the positions of highest need are quarterback, receiver, offensive line, defensive line, and linebacker. However we will pursue student-athletes at every position on the field.”
Because recruiting is so essential, building a relationship with new prospects is very important. Oftentimes, coaches will focus on connecting with a prospect beyond football. For example, coaches ask questions about a player’s family, what he likes to do for fun, what he likes most about football and so on. This helps prospects feel welcomed and a part of the program before they even commit. Building a relationship with a prospect is something that Peloquin finds especially important.
“A successful recruiter is able to connect and build a relationship with prospects,” Peloquin said. “This entails discussing football/athletic points and also learning about their academic backgrounds, family life, and other interests. Not only will this create a stronger bond and interest between a prospect and myself and Worcester State, but it will also help me to identify whether a prospect is worth recruiting. Learning about the non-football side of a prospect can be difficult, but persistence and displaying a genuine interest moves the process along. Having any shared experiences or background also makes the process easier.”
In addition to getting to know the player better, it is important to stress the selling points of the school itself. For Worcester State, the new athletic facility and addition of Sheehan Hall are some of the stronger selling points. As Peloquin notes, that is only the tip of the iceberg.
“Worcester State has several strong selling points for prospective student-athletes,” Peloquin said. “ First and foremost, we offer an affordable degree. At roughly $20,000 (prior to financial aid) for an in-state residential student, Worcester State is 50 percent of the cost of most Division III private institutions. In today’s world of rising college costs, and therefore rising student debt, Worcester State is an increasingly attractive option for student-athletes. WSU also offers strong academics, as the school has been recognized by the Princeton Review for over ten consecutive years as ‘Best in the Northeast.’ Our facilities are among the best in New England, highlighted by the brand new Wellness Center. Worcester is a college city — twelve schools — located not far from Boston or Providence. These are some of the main highlights of Worcester State that help show it is an exciting place to be as a college student.”
According to Peloquin, the biggest drawback for a potential Worcester State football player is the lack of a scholarship. Because Worcester State is a Division III institution, it cannot offer scholarship money like Division I and II schools. They can offer forms of financial assistance however, which Peloquin said all depends on the needs of each individual student.
“As a Division III state institution, the Athletics staff can offer nothing in terms of financial assistance,” Peloquin said. “Worcester State aid packages are need-based according to an individual’s FAFSA. The school’s Financial Aid office processes this information, creates, and distributes aid packages. If a student-athlete has sufficient grades and test scores they may qualify for academic merit money. That money is also controlled by the Financial Aid office.”
But this limitation does not seem to affect the Lancers on the recruiting trail too badly, a trail that has taken them across the country looking for talent. In recent years, the coaching staff has gone as far as Florida in order to fill their needs. This year, they will head down to the Sunshine State, among others, in their search for the next Lancers.
“Worcester State football recruits primarily in the state of Massachusetts,” Peloquin said. “When possible, we expand into Connecticut and Rhode Island. This year we will also be expanding into Florida. Personally, I recruit the majority of [recruits from] Central and Southeastern Massachusetts in addition to out-of-state interests from Rhode Island and Florida. “
Why Florida? Due to a connection with a high school head coach in the state, the Lancers were able to land a kicker and defensive end in 2014. This connection has opened doors for the program to be able to continue to recruit there. This certainly is a welcome change for the team, as most of the players in the program are from New England. Adding players from the south allows the program to make themselves known in different parts of the country.
PART II: A VIEW FROM THE LOCKER ROOM
Senior linebacker Stephen Smialek had a very successful year in 2016. Totaling 82 tackles and an interception, he had the best season of his career to date and was able to build off his strong work ethic, something that was evident to many teams while Smialek was in high school, as many offers were extended his way.
“Prior to having applied to any schools, Salve Regina was the one school that most proactively got in contact with me about playing football, and to a lesser extent UMASS Dartmouth was also in contact with me,” Smialek said. “Once I applied to Worcester State and made my intentions to play football known through the application process, my eventual recruiter, Coach Dumont, got in contact with me relatively quickly, and that started my dialogue with Worcester State about potentially playing football there.”
Smialek had a plethora of options, however, there were several things that separated Worcester State from the rest of the schools.
“What really impressed me with Worcester State upon visiting was the investment the school was making in the campus, as well as the direction the football program was taking,” Smialek said. “While at the time the campus may have resembled a bit of a construction site, with both Sheehan Hall and the Wellness Center in the works, the improvements showed that the school administrators were not complacent with the status of the school and were striving to make Worcester State the best experience possible for their students.”
He continued, “In terms of engaging with the football coaches, it was clear that they were trying to reinvent the program for the better, starting with new uniforms and more advanced workouts that upcoming season, as well as through the eventual construction of the Wellness Center. The improvements to both the football program and the campus spoke to the pride of the school, and proved that Worcester State’s best days were ahead of it.“
“My recruiting coach was Coach [Thomas] Dumont, who at the time was one of our defensive back coaches,” Smialek said. “In addition to Coach Dumont, when I came for my visit at Worcester State I was fortunate enough to meet head Coach Cullen, Coach Peloquin, Coach Long, and Coach Johnson. All of them were very welcoming and engaging and did a great job of portraying Worcester State as a university full of great potential.”
Smialek’s parents approved of Worcester State University as well. They were impressed with its reputation as well as its affordability. They also had done their homework, hearing good reviews about the school from family and friends.
Looking back, Smialek has enjoyed his time as a member of the Worcester State football team. Comradery has been one of the biggest things he has enjoyed during his time here and has left a lasting impression on him.
“I would just say that the opportunity to extend my career in a sport that I am very passionate about and have put a lot of work towards is something I will always be very grateful for and never take for granted,” Smialek said. “Football has the unique ability to pull a lot of guys from different backgrounds and of a diverse set of personalities together and bring them close together… So I would say the diverse set of bonds you form with your teammates has easily been the most rewarding aspect of playing football at Worcester State, and something I’m really grateful for.”
Like Smialek, Michael Reed continued to turn heads in the 2016 season after a successful freshman campaign. At the time of his recruitment, football was just something he wanted to do as well as track and field.
“During my recruiting process, I was contacted by many schools about the possibility of attending their universities and participating in athletics,” Reed said. “I was mainly contacted for football but, I was also frequently recruited for track and field because of my accomplishments in the shot put.” Reed narrowed down his options to Stonehill College, Utica College Castleton College, and Worcester State University.
To his credit, Reed did not commit to Worcester State blindly. He knew what he wanted in a college and stuck to his criteria. He had all of his preferences planned out.
“The school must have football and track and field teams, must have my major of criminal justice, must be a comfortable distance away from home. I chose Worcester State because I already knew a few other people who go here.”
Reed had several different recruiting coaches throughout the process. One was former WSU student coach Matthew Popino, who is now an assistant at Rutgers University in the Big 10 Conference.
“My main recruiting coach was Coach Popino, but he took a job at Fitchburg State University as a coach so I was handed over to Coach Adam Peloquin who became my recruiting coach until I made my decision in March of 2015,” Reed said.
When Reed chose Worcester State, his parents were elated.
“Both of my parents loved Worcester State” Reed said. “They liked the compact size and layout of the campus. They were also excited for the price because Worcester State was by far the cheapest school out of my top four.”
Now in his third year, he takes pride in being part of the football team and also being a student-athlete. It is something he values and holds in high regard. He looks to make an even bigger impact this year as he will be one of the many upperclassmen on the team.
“The most rewarding part about being on the Worcester State football team is probably the status of being a college football player,” Reed said. “I believe college athletes are held to a higher standard and there are certain expectations others have on who you are and how you are supposed to carry yourself. College sports has pushed me to constantly be improving myself on the field physically and also inside the classroom mentally.”