Two seasons ago, wide receiver Mike Holley was at the top of coach Bobby Wallace’s
Athletically, he was up for the challenge. Academically, he wasn’t.
With Holley on the sideline, the football team withstood 21 losses and a coaching change over that two-year span.
While change in the won-lost column has yet to come about, the Owls – led by Holley – have transformed their classroom habits.
The hardest hit of all Division I football teams, the Owls lost nine scholarships in February due to their score in the NCAA’s Academic Progress Rate.
Now one of first-year coach Al Golden’s top veterans, Holley and a large contingent of his teammates achieved a 3.02 team grade-point average in Summer Session II.
“One of the things [Golden] said to work on was GPA, and we all worked together to reach that 3.0 mark,” said Holley, a fifth-year senior from Washington, D.C. “I feel blessed to be in the position we’re in, and to have me getting As and Bs.”
With Golden at the helm, all signs indicate that the Owls’ lost scholarships will be reinstated for next year’s recruiting class, Golden said.
“We should be able to get a full class and that says something about the culture of our student-athletes here,” Golden said.
The APR, instituted last year, calculates the success with which a program moves its student-athletes toward graduation. A score of 925 – out of a 1,000-point scale – is the equivalent of a 50-percent graduation rate. The football team managed just an 837 and was penalized accordingly, losing nine scholarships, the most of any D-I football team.
NCAA President Dr. Myles Brand is pleased with how schools with D-I teams have responded.
Brand, unavailable for a Temple-specific comment, expressed in a statement earlier this year his satisfaction with the academic reform of numerous D-I schools.
“The goal of academic reform is to improve academic behaviors and increase graduation [rates], not unnecessarily penalize
teams,” Brand said.
“Our phased-in approach to the APR and the accompanying penalty structure are changing the way the Division I athletics community thinks about student-athlete academic performance,” Brand continued.
Temple’s Athletic Department knows this to be true, having made three academic support hires over the summer. One of them – Jaison Freeman – was assigned to work specifically with the football program.
Freeman had his hands full from his first days on the job. He remembers 12-hour work days during Summer Sessions I and II.
These were both mentally and physically-punishing days that put the players through a steady combination of class work, practice and regimented study sessions.
These were days when Freeman wouldn’t exit Edberg-Olson Hall until well after midnight.
These were also days when Freeman was greeted with the unexpected responses from some of the players.
“A couple of our guys were coming to me and saying, ‘I got a B-plus in this class, but I’m going to call the professor because I think I deserved an A,'” Freeman said. “They’re no longer satisfied with Bs. They all want As.
“…It’s easy to say things have changed around here.”
Holley was involved in those long summer days, all part of a process that led him to believe Temple’s football program is finally on the right path.
“In summer camps we were there with the coaching staff and support staff until 2 in the morning,” Holley said. “It means we’re capable of a lot.”
Aiding the continued efforts is the football team’s newly instituted Owl Honor Roll. Each month, a different football player is recognized for his marked academic improvement.
The Owl Honor Roll, which extends beyond achieving a notable GPA, Freeman said, takes into account betterment in study habits and classroom performance, too.
“They’ll do anything to get their names up on that bulletin board,” Freeman said.
And Tim Brown is one of them.
Like Holley, Brown sat out the 2005 season. But also like Holley, the senior tailback is back on the field after having turned around his academic performance.
“I’ll do anything to get up there, to be one of the academic all stars,” Brown said before the season opener. “It’s kind of like a form of bragging rights. So one of these days, I’ll get up there.”
Holley, in his final year of eligibility, is on his way toward graduating.
The wideout, named a captain for this year’s season opener, said he is grateful to have witnessed the Owls’ transition out of academic instability.
“Our GPA is good, but we can bring it up every year,” Holley said. “And I’m thankful I was able to help start it off.”
Minnesota 62, Temple 0
For a second straight game, the Owls suffered a 62-0 defeat.
On Sept. 9, Louisville was the aggressor. This week Minnesota took the baton and extended the Owls’ losing streak to 15 games with a shutout at the Metrodome.
But the similarities didn’t end on the scoreboard. It also marked the second week in a row the Owls (0-3) surrendered over 400 yards of offense.
Golden Gophers quarterback Bryan Cupito and wide receiver Logan Payne did most of the damage.
Behind benefactor Cupito’s 8-of-12, four-touchdown performance, Payne brought down six passes for 135 yards and all four of Cupito’s touchdown strikes.
On the Owls’ side, true freshman Vaughn Charlton took the majority of the snaps behind center, supplanting sophomore starter Adam DiMichele.
But Charlton had no more success than his predecessor, managing just 70 yards on 13-of-23 passing. DiMichele went 4-of-7 for 26 yards.
As a team, the Owls were again plagued by a lack of offensive production. They notched just seven first downs and turned the ball over three times, which Minnesota (2-1) turned into 21 points.
Through three games, the Owls have yet to score a touchdown. They have just one field goal to their credit.
Christopher A. Vito can be reached at email@example.com.