Adopting a College Football Team

Football is upon us! The NFL kick off is less than a week away, but the college ranks have already stumbled to the stadium from their tailgating efforts ready to cheer on their favorite squad.

In our close knit Ducking Group, there are more than a couple college football fans. ( The Duckers ) Of the seven, only ONE of them actually claim their alma mater as their go to squad. JJ reps FSU, even though he’s likely never even stepped foot on their campus. Slim Mex reps the Arizona Wildcats in spite of having played D3 ball at Lewis & Clark. Ski Ski Ski is like a college football chameleon, jumping on whichever bandwagon has the hottest girls. For a while it was Oregon until Chip Kelly bounced for Philly, now its seemingly Ohio State due to his bromance with The Dude, almost like being a Buckeye fan is an STD that penicillin won’t take care of. Uncle Gio, The Dude, and Ice… all Ohio State fans, even thought zero of them attended Ohio State, and Ice even attended a D1 school that plays football in the MAC. Twink, usually the lone voice of reason (besides yours truly), reps UCLA, BUT he actually went to UCLA, a novelty unheard of in these parts.

To that end, I’ve never been a big college football guy. Never associated myself and said, yeah, that’s my squad, I’m a ride or die chick with them (not to go all Ja Rule on you). I liked the Charlie Ward led FSU squad back in the day. I can appreciate the greatness of the Nick Saban Alabama teams. I’ll often see a player I like and follow his team while he’s there. The last guy I did that with was Melvin Ingram at South Carolina. I absolutely loved his game in college.

But now that I’ve grown, I’ve matured, I’ve sewn my wild oats, its time to settle down. Pick out a nice college team, and grow old with them at my side. So do I go with a classic powerhouse school, USC, Alabama, Ohio State? Do I go with a school that produces hot girls, Texas, Florida, Arizona? A school from back home, Boston College, UConn, or UMass? Jump on the UNLV bandwagon now before the program actually develops with the new football facilities coming to Vegas?

I looked, I thought. I went on long car rides in the country by myself, listening to Allanis Morrisette and just having deep introspective thoughts. It was a dark time in my life, a tougher decision I had never been presented with.

Then it hit me, Army, Navy, Air Force… these are service academies. Teams full of players I can get behind. Their ethics, their ethos. But I was also still looking for that personal connection. That’s when it hit me…. my new college football team, the official team of the Top Ducker himself…. The Norwich University Cadets!

Norwich Cadets

Norwich University is a small school of about 2300 students located in Northfield Vermont. About halfway between Boston and Montreal. What drew me in though wasn’t being tucked away in the Green Mountains of Vermont, nor their easy access to Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, it was their long history of service.

The oldest of the Senior Military Colleges (Senior Military colleges offer a combination of higher education with military instruction. SMC’s include such schools as Texas A&M, VMI, Virginia Tech, and The Citadel, amongst others). It is actually the birthplace of the ROTC (Reserve Officer Trainer Corps) program.

The cadets are not only student athletes in the truest sense of the phrase, but are outstanding young men regardless of their athletic prowess. I reached out to their coaching staff to learn more about their school, their program, and the young men stepping out onto the gridiron.

The team is led by Head Coach Mark Murnyack, who is entering his sixth season leading the Cadets. Last year saw the squad finish with a .500 record overall and a 5-2 record in the Eastern Collegiate Football Conference (ECFC), its last year in the league.

I asked Associate Head Coach and Special Teams Coordinator Bill Russell about the change to their new conference, the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference (NEWMAC). A conference with some schools you may have heard of such as the Coast Guard Academy, or that little place called MIT.

Specifically I asked, with the jump to the newly formed NEWMAC football conference, what are some goals you hope to accomplish this season, and what new challenges do you feel the league poses?

Bill: The NEWMAC is a step up for us in terms of week to week competition. We were proud of our time as a member of the ECFC, and achieved a lot of success during that time. For us, the move to the NEWMAC was a chance to step up our game, as well as align ourselves with a number of similar institutions – both philosophically and academically. We’ll be competing against the Coast Guard Academy, which is a huge traditional rival of ours, for the first time since 2005. We’ll also be playing Merchant Marine and Maine Maritime, who both have a military-like component. Additionally, it’s a return to old Freedom Football Conference which included Norwich, Springfield, WPI, Merchant Marine, and Coast Guard. So, we’ll be rekindling a lot of old rivalries.
Our goal has been the same since I arrived at Norwich in 2008. We expect to win a conference championship every season. As a member of the ECFC from 2009-2016, we won or shared 4 league titles. While the challenges may be steeper in the NEWMAC, our goal and mission remains the same. We are very excited to take this next step in our program’s development. 

I was also curious, I had done a bit of research to decipher what the difference was between attending an institution such as the Naval Academy, vs. spending your collegiate years in Vermont. So to seek further clarification I asked: What would you say is the difference, if any, between a Norwich student and one at a traditional service academy, such as Annapolis, or West Point?

Bill: The most obvious difference is that the students at the academies are attending for free; the Department of Defense is paying for their education. Norwich students, with the exception of those on an ROTC scholarship, are paying their own way. They go through the financial aid process like every other college student. Outside of that, for our Corps students, there isn’t a huge difference. They are held to virtually the same standards, and codes of conduct, as the kids at West Point, etc. Additionally, one major difference is that our Corps students are attending along with civilian students, which doesn’t happen at the academies. History shows that Norwich officers more than hold their own in the military world, and we’ve had a significant number of graduates achieve ranks of General, Admiral, etc. 

That’s a very interesting dynamic. When you’re a student at one of the service academies, everyone there has a singular goal, or at the very least a singular tract with which they move forward. At Norwich you have a blend of a military service being tossed in with a traditional New England small college. While it offers the ability to grow as a person, it also offers the same temptations that may not present itself on a daily basis at Annapolis.

I wondered what kind of service commitment do the Cadets make?

Bill: Norwich is a very unique institution. Our students can follow three different paths. We are the oldest of the six Senior Military Colleges, and the birthplace of the ROTC program. Option 1, which is what we’re known for worldwide, is the track where a student pursues a commission into the United States military. Those students will graduate, and be commissioned as an officer into their chosen branch. We have Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force. These students will come out at the same rank as the students commissioning from the Academies. Option 2, which is also popular, is being a member of our Corps of Cadets without pursuing a commission. These students live the military lifestyle 24/7, wear the uniforms, and adhere to all the standards for four years. Upon graduation, they venture out into the civilian world with no military commitment. It’s ideal for a student seeking a more challenging and disciplined college experience. Option 3 is the traditional, civilian college experience. These students attend classes, and play on athletic teams, with our Corps students. Beyond that, they have no military interaction at all; it’s like going to a traditional college anywhere else. In my opinion, this unique blend prepares our students for success, regardless of post-college plans, in ways that other schools cannot.

Every student at Norwich lives by an Honor Code. The honor code states “A student will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do”. I think its fairly safe to say that the majority players in Tuscaloosa, Columbus, and Tallahassee wouldn’t get those words out of their mouths, let alone live up to them.

Per the website, the honor code isn’t simply a student handbook slogan, written down and forgotten as soon as the page is turned. Its a way of life, inside, and outside the confines of the school’s walls.

The Student Honor Code states that a cadet will not lie, cheat, steal or tolerate those who do. To violate the Honor Code, the accused student must have lied, cheated, stolen, attempted to do so, or tolerated such action on the part of another student. The honor offenses of lying, cheating and stealing involve acts accompanied by a specific intent to achieve a particular wrongful purpose as defined for each offense.
The Code is a minimum standard of ethical behavior for students, and is to be embraced by each student — an internal self-enforcement mechanism. Therefore, the Code is not constrained by any geographical boundaries — it travels with the student wherever he or she goes. Students are expected to live by the Code’s standard both at and away from Norwich, in their professional, military and personal lives.
Honor, as it should be understood by all Norwich students, is a fundamental attribute of character. Honor is a virtue which impels loyalty and courage, truthfulness and self respect, justice and generosity. Its underlying principle is truth. It is not a complicated system of ethics, but merely honest dealing and clean thinking. If a student is true in thought, word and deed, there is no question about his or her meeting the standards of the Corps. On the other hand, quibbling, evasive statements or the use of technicalities to conceal guilt cannot be tolerated under an Honor System at Norwich.
Students who commit an Honor Code Violation off campus may be charged with Bringing Discredit Upon the University. In addition, a student who is caught attempting to violate the Honor Code but does not actually commit the violation, will be charged with the violation.

As a former D3 basketball coach who attempted to recruit hundreds of student athletes at a traditional small liberal arts school, I wondered what the difference was between the types of kids I had recruited, versus the type of kid that could thrive at a special place like Norwich.

I asked Bill what would he say is the difference between the type of student athlete he’s looking to recruit at D3 Norich versus his previous D3 jobs?

It’s interesting, because Norwich is a serious place – and I don’t mean that in a bad way at all. Norwich students have fun like any other college-aged kid, but they also seem to be much more focused on their futures. Even our students who don’t plan to make the military a career are much more focused on their future, whether it be as an engineer, architect, law enforcement officer, etc. I make sure one of my first conversations with any prospect touches on that; if you’re serious about achieving success, Norwich can provide the path and the blueprint.

We also have to recruit character. Obviously, that’s important in all athletic recruiting, but it’s critical here. Every student has to adhere to an Honor Code, and it’s taken seriously. Violating it could result in expulsion. Therefore, it’s very important that we’re recruiting good people. It’s something the entire University takes a lot of pride in

The Cadets open their season today. They traveled to upstate New York to take on the Morrisville State Mustangs in a non-conference games prior to returning home to Haynes Family Stadium next week for another non-conference game against St. Lawrence. It won’t be until the 4th game of the season before they kick off their slate of games in conference. Team captains, defensive back Austin Roberts and offensive lineman Peter Lalime will look to open the season up right. They’ll be joined by 10 other members of a 12 man senior class.

A team that relied a lot on the ground game in 2016, the Cadets will look to establish their identity and footprint early in the new NEWMAC. And here are we’ll be watching, cheering, and thanking these young men for their future and current service, while simultaneously reveling in their on the field exploits.

If you don’t have a college football allegiance, or even if you do, feel free to jump on the bandwagon. This is a team of young men you’ll be proud to say you support.

Bill’s answer to my last and most pointed question really says it all. Overall, what would you say best describes your experiences at Norwich, and in particular, the young men you’ve coached?

Bill: I take a tremendous amount of pride in coaching at Norwich. Not only am I coaching young men to be good football players, in many cases I am playing a role in developing leaders who will soon be commanding and leading troops who volunteer to defend our freedoms. That is not something I take lightly. At the most simple level, I never had the courage to sign up for that, and I am truly awed by the young men and women I’m around every day here. The history and traditions of Norwich are incredible. The more I learn about Norwich and her role in history, the more I am blown away. The school will be celebrating her 200th birthday coming up in 2019, and the fact that I get to be a tiny part of that 200 years of excellence is something I will be proud of for the rest of my life.

In a time where the newspapers (or online news anyways) are littered with stories of unethical to outright criminal behavior surrounding college athletic departments and programs. Embrace the good, and take solace in the knowledge that our leaders of the future are still being developed, even tucked away in the Green Mountains of Vermont.


  • Jason Sullivan
  • Find me on Twitter at @TopDucker or follow us on Facebook at You’re Ducking Right



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