Coaches, Players Face Challenging Varsity Football Schedule
Posted: September 21, 2006 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am
By David Driver
Matt Dyson stood near midfield and shouted instructions to about 40 members of Mason’s varsity football team.
“Keep those legs up!” shouted assistant coach Dyson during a recent afternoon practice at Robinson Field.
Dyson, one of six assistants to veteran head coach Joe Pascale, had already put in a full day’s work at his job in the facilities department at Paul VI High School in Fairfax by the time he arrived at practice around 4 p.m.
But then, so had his colleagues. Offensive coordinator Paul Litwinetz works at Annandale High School as a counselor for Fairfax County Public Schools. Defensive coordinator Steve Atkinson also works in the facilities department at Paul VI. Tommy Baskins, the secondary coach, works in Facilities at Mason; and offensive line coach Mike Smalley and running backs/tight ends coach Kevin Moore are local teachers. Pascale has been employed by Fairfax County schools for more than 30 years.
The coaches also are similar in their impressive football pedigrees. Dyson was an All-American at the University of Michigan where he was named defensive Most Valuable Player of the Holiday Bowl in 1994. He was drafted by the Oakland Raiders in the fifth round of the NFL draft in 1995. Now in his fourth season as a Mason coach, he has also coached locally at Falls Church High School.
Smalley played at the University of Pittsburgh. Moore played at Southern University and has coached at several NCAA schools and in the NFL. And Pascale is a former head coach at Catholic University and a former assistant at Georgetown University and the University of Maryland.
With all this coaching expertise, however, this is not an NCAA team. The Mason football team is part of the Seaboard Conference, which includes such institutions as Williamson Tech, Valley Forge Military College and Stevens State Tech.
But this year, the coaches say, Mason’s schedule is the most challenging in the 14-year history of the program, throughout which Pascale has been the head coach.
“It’s football. It’s college football,” says Pascale, who notes that Mason’s next home game will be against Georgetown, a Division I-AA program (Oct. 20 at 7 p.m. at Robinson Field).
Coach Joe Pascale has headed Mason’s football program for all of its 14 years.
Photos by Evan Cantwell
Mason opened the 2006 season with a 43-9 loss to Wesley College, one of the top-ranked teams in Division III. Mason then lost 40-30 in Kentucky to Pikeville College, one of the top programs in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics.
The Patriots fell to 0-3 with a 36-0 loss at home to St. Paul’s University, a Division II program.
Mason won its first home game of the season on Sept. 16 with a 41-14 win over Williamson Tech. The Patriots are now 1-3 going into their next game – Sept. 30 at Valley Forge (Pa.) Military College.
The coaches remain optimistic. “I think overall our numbers (of players) are up. The biggest difference (this season) is the bigger bodies; the linemen we have are larger,” says Atkinson.
The 2006 team has just a few seniors, including starting quarterback B.J. Quigley. A local product from Lake Braddock High School, Quigley played at Division II Edinboro (Pa.) before transferring to Mason. “He is probably one of the better quarterbacks we have had in the program,” says Litwinetz, who has been a coach for 10 seasons at Mason.
Another senior is running back Ryan Neff, who was recruited by Division I Virginia Military Institute. Other seniors are offensive lineman Tom Blaschke and linebacker Jeff Remmick.
“This is a good group of young guys,” says Dyson. “They appreciate the fact they are getting to play” at the college level.
Nearly all of the players on the team are from Virginia, and nearly half are from Northern Virginia. One exception is reserve defensive tackle Jon Hennen, who grew up playing rugby in England. His mother is British and his American father played college football at West Point. Hennen played high school football in Tennessee before coming to Mason.
“I am still more familiar with rugby than football,” says Hennen, who is studying media production at Mason. “The standards are pretty high” with the Mason team, he adds.
Pascale says the football team has benefited from Mason’s men’s basketball appearance in the NCAA Final Four. “That has definitely helped in recruiting,” he says.
Another benefit is the team’s home venue. This season, the Patriots are playing on a new, modern surface – Field Turf – at Robinson Field. “The field is perfect,” says first-year assistant Moore.
Notes: Two members of the Mason team played football at American High School in Mexico City: defensive backs Mike Skelicky and David Wallis. Jim Schwartz, who played for Pascale at Georgetown and is a former Mason assistant, is in his sixth season as the defensive coordinator of the Tennessee Titans of the NFL. Mike Dailey, a former Mason offensive coordinator, is the head coach of the Colorado Crunch in the Arena Football League. For more on the Mason football team, go to www.gmufootball.gmu.edu.