Seton Hill football team facing numerous hurdles
Every autumn, on a number of Saturdays, you’ll find the Seton Hill football team playing its home games at a small high school stadium about two miles away from campus.
Offutt Field in Greensburg is the true home of Greensburg Salem High School, where little in the way of Seton Hill insignia is visible.
The Griffins, who didn’t win a game in 2017, seem to be an afterthought to the locals.
“It would be nice to be playing our games on campus,” Seton Hill coach Isaac Collins said. “But that’s not something we can control.”
Seton Hill’s 0-11 record last year was a step back from the previous season, when the Griffins won five games for the first time since 2008. Forced to replace record-setting quarterback Christian Strong, among others, they are picked to finish last again this year in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Western Division.
“Last year we were kind of blindsided, considering what we had accomplished the year before,” Seton Hill athletic director Chris Snyder said. “It kind of spiraled out of control. We talk during the season, and we sit down afterwards. I don’t know that I can put a number on winning. I know the challenges we have, but I also know the resources we commit to the program.”
Collins, with a five-year record of 12-43, is entering the final year of a six-year contract and said he’s not feeling pressure from the Seton Hill administration while preparing the Griffins for their opener Saturday at Virginia Union.
His job at Seton Hill arguably is the toughest in the PSAC, where schools routinely find their way into the national rankings. IUP opened the year at No. 4 in the Division II preseason poll after losing to West Florida in the 2017 semifinals.
“It’s a tough job because of the league,” Snyder said. “When you look at the three private schools (Gannon and Mercyhurst being the others), we’re fighting an uphill battle based on numbers. Our tuition cost versus the state schools’ makes it tough to win head-to-head battles. It forces us to broaden our recruiting base.”
Seton Hill’s annual tuition, including housing, is approximately $47,000, second highest in the conference to Mercyhurst’s approximate $50,000.
“The undertaking here is a little deeper than I thought when I took the job,” Collins said. “Last season was out of the norm for our building process, but we’re committed to doing things the right way and seeing our players graduate. We can’t win at any cost. We can’t win with renegades.”
It’s been a mantra of sorts for Collins throughout his life.
“Isaac does a lot of programming outside of football,” Snyder said. “He has a commitment of core development to men, and he tries to instill it in his players.”
Following a season in 2016 in which Seton Hill led D-II in passing offense and ranked sixth in total offense, the Griffins were outscored 597-263.
“Like any human, I don’t handle losing very well,” Collins said. “We have to make sure we’re pulling in the same direction.”
Seton Hill played with a roster dominated by underclassmen, one mainly devoid of local talent. While his returning players are a year older, Seton Hill’s incoming recruiting class of 34 includes just three from WPIAL schools, one true freshman and two transfers from other PSAC schools.
“The challenges are the same as at any private in-state school,” Collins said. “We have to spread ourselves out because there are so many schools in this area. We really have to claw and scratch to get the local players to come here.”
Tuition costs at the majority of schools in Western Pennsylvania are a fraction of Seton Hill’s.
“That,” Collins said, “isn’t the only reason we hear. Some say it’s too close to home for them or that we don’t have much tradition. But cost has a lot to do with it.”
Collins attended the University of Rochester, captaining the 1993 team after a year earlier being named co-University Athletic Association Player of the Year as a running back. His coaching resume includes stops as an assistant at other academically renowned schools such as The Citadel, Delaware, Holy Cross, Lehigh, Columbia and Hobart.
He also participated as a coaching intern for one season each with the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles through the NFL Bill Walsh Minority Fellowship Program, which provides opportunities for exposure through training camps and offseason workouts.
In his first head coaching job, Collins led D-III Widener to a three-year record of 25-8, including 11-1 and a No. 8 ranking nationally in his final season.
He has been faced with a much bigger challenge at Seton Hill, which enjoyed moderate success at the NAIA level and early on in the defunct West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference after the school’s transition to the NCAA.
“We understand the challenges here,” said Snyder, who served as the school’s first football coach from 2004-07. “I think in every aspect, we need to show marked improvement. I can’t define that in wins and losses, but I can define it on Saturday afternoons.”