David Shaw grew up in San Diego and had no thought what was at all times proper underneath his nostril.
His dad and brother had gone to San Diego State, and he’d heard of the College of California-San Diego. The small, personal College of San Diego? Unknown to him.
In early 2006, Shaw had simply left the Baltimore Ravens and was planning to spend a 12 months out of teaching earlier than attempting to get again into the NFL. However teaching buddy John Morton was on his approach to the New Orleans Saints and instructed Shaw to take a look at USD, the place Morton had simply left. The non-scholarship Soccer Championship Subdivision program was simply coming off an 11-1 season underneath a man named Jim Harbaugh.
“It’s so bizarre as a result of I’d been in that space so many instances,” stated Shaw, now the Stanford head coach. “You’re taking a proper as a substitute of a left and it’s like, oh, that is the campus. … I used to be shocked that I didn’t know that a lot about it.”
The hidden gem program that Harbaugh’s star energy placed on the nationwide map and gave quite a few coaches their break has since grow to be one of the constant winners in faculty soccer. The Toreros have gained eight of the previous 9 Pioneer Soccer League championships, they usually’ve gained 37 consecutive convention video games. It’s the longest lively convention streak in Division I and two away from the FCS report of 39 (Duquesne from 1999-2006). The Toreros’ spring 2021 season kicks off Saturday towards Drake.
They haven’t misplaced a convention sport since 2015 and haven’t misplaced multiple in a season since 2010. If USD wins all six PFL video games this spring, will probably be only one away from Oklahoma’s Division I report of 44 consecutive convention wins from 1952-59. Although present head coach Dale Lindsey doesn’t wish to focus on that half.
“We don’t even discuss it,” Lindsey stated of the streak. “We let all people else take note of it. Hell, I couldn’t let you know who we play after Drake.”
At 78, Lindsey is the oldest coach in Division I. A longtime NFL assistant from the Nineteen Eighties by the mid-2000s, he’s led the Toreros since 2013, when earlier head coach Ron Caragher went to San Jose State. The final two USD head coaches moved as much as Soccer Bowl Subdivision jobs, a uncommon feat for an FCS program.
However what makes USD’s convention profitable streak most notable is the convention itself. The closest PFL crew to San Diego is that this Saturday’s opponent, Drake, which is positioned in Des Moines, Iowa — a 1,700-mile trek from the USD campus. The PFL stretches from New York to Florida, however solely USD is exterior the Japanese or Central time zones, making for heavy journey.
So how did an FCS crew with the oldest D-I coach, positioned 2,000-plus-miles from most of its convention mates, grow to be a springboard for coaches throughout the NFL and the FBS, put a number of gamers within the NFL and produce itself to the precipice of Division I historical past?
The best head coaches, a constant tradition, assist from a faculty and an expertise few others may supply.
“The secret is discovering individuals who care,” Lindsey stated, “they usually’ve received a care about just a little bit extra than simply soccer.”
Shaw spent just one 12 months at USD, however he was very happy to speak concerning the expertise. Even now, 15 years later, he marvels at it. The Princeton Assessment ranked USD’s campus as probably the most stunning within the nation in 2017.
“There are spots on that campus that may rival anywhere in America in magnificence,” Shaw stated. “There are a few good areas the place you overlook the valley and may see the ocean.”
“That campus is the Taj Mahal,” stated BYU assistant Ed Lamb, who was a USD assistant from 2005-07. “The care and concern, the planning, the services — every thing is top-notch.”
That’s the primary promoting level to recruits. One other is lecturers. Though nearly all of the roster is from California, there are gamers from 15 different states, together with a number of from Connecticut and New Jersey. As a result of USD doesn’t award soccer athletic scholarships as a part of PFL guidelines, it largely targets high-academic gamers who can get into the college and may also obtain merit-based or need-based monetary support as regular college students.
Detroit Lions operating again Jamal Agnew had one supply out of highschool in San Diego, which was Cal Poly, one other FCS college. However close by USD favored the potential it noticed in Agnew.
“I really feel like that’s how quite a lot of guys are at USD, guys which can be ok to play on the FBS stage however had been missed,” Agnew stated.
Agnew, like quite a lot of gamers USD finds, had one thing particular. In Agnew’s case, that was his pace. When Harbaugh first took over in 2004, the Toreros seemed for prototypical traits they may construct round. In the event that they discovered a 6-foot-5 receiver who was sluggish, they may bulk him up and switch him into a good finish. The Toreros have used multiple-tight finish units for years. That technique to determine gamers has stayed constant over time.
“We at all times stated, ‘You may’t make them slower and you may’t make them shorter,’” stated Detroit Lions offensive assistant Tanner Engstrand, who performed and coached at USD from 2003-2017. “Let’s discover guys who’ve measurement or these attributes at that stage.”
That blend of a high-ceiling athletic profile with a excessive educational profile is the candy spot.
“It’s one thing Jim actually tapped into, and each coach has since then, and it’s just like our philosophy at Stanford,” Shaw stated. “Guys we recruit, guys which can be nice athletes and are academically inclined, they’re aggressive. So you’ll be able to stoke that aggressive fireplace. These youngsters will are available in and work arduous. You can provide them scheme and variances as a result of they’re shiny they usually can decide it up. We in all probability did extra (scheme) than anyone we performed, and we did at a excessive stage.”
In 2016 underneath Lindsey, USD beat Cal Poly within the FCS playoffs, the primary time a non-scholarship crew gained a playoff sport. The PFL didn’t have an computerized spot within the playoffs till the FCS bracket expanded in 2013. Earlier than then, it was practically inconceivable to make the playoffs. Harbaugh’s consecutive 11-1 groups from 2005-06 didn’t get a shot. The Toreros adopted up the 2016 win with a 41-10 win towards Northern Arizona within the 2017 FCS playoffs. They subsequently misplaced to powerhouse North Dakota State within the subsequent spherical each instances, but it surely was validation for USD to beat scholarship groups within the postseason.
“We labored fairly some time to get the PFL to have an AQ,” stated vp of operations and former athletic director Ky Snyder. “To go in and win a pair first-round video games, that continued to construct. I’ll at all times keep in mind that sport at Cal Poly. It was simply… that’s a excessive level. That’s a excessive level.”
Harbaugh as soon as created a rivalry flag out of a PVC pipe for a sport towards Dayton, a lot to the shock of the folks at Dayton.
As a result of USD is so removed from everybody else in its convention, there isn’t a pure rivalry. Dayton, which was one other high PFL crew throughout Harbaugh’s time, felt like a superb match to the coach. However the Dayton of us didn’t a lot take care of it, and when the Flyers gained it just a few years later, they ended it. Former Dayton coach Mike Kelly instructed the Dayton Daily News in 2012 that he put the flag in a storage bin in his storage.
That’s life when all your rivals are two time zones away.
Right here is USD’s journey itinerary this week: Fly from San Diego to Denver to Omaha, then a two-hour bus trip from Omaha to Des Moines. Then the identical in reverse after the sport. The Toreros left Thursday and gained’t get again till Sunday afternoon.
“The bus that picks us up is circling baggage whereas 60 to 70 persons are ready for his or her luggage,” athletic director Invoice McGillis stated. “There’s no police escort to the lodge. There’s no police escort to the sport. There’s no tools supervisor touring with us.”
USD soccer moved up from Division III to FCS in 1993. The PFL is certainly one of two non-scholarship FCS conferences, together with the Ivy League. However in contrast to the Ivy League, it’s a football-only convention, a spot based in 1992 for small personal faculties to park a soccer program as a result of their all-sports convention doesn’t sponsor the game. It contains a number of notable basketball faculties like Butler, Dayton, Davidson and Valparaiso, they usually’re all within the Midwest or on the East Coast.
The result’s quite a lot of airline miles, round 25,000 miles a 12 months. Solely Hawaii travels greater than the Toreros. Journey turns into a part of the recruiting pitch. It has to.
However USD is touring business, too. For monetary causes, solely about 50 gamers are on the journey roster, they usually take their tools with them, checking in at bag verify.
“That’s as blue-collar because it comes,” Engstrand stated.
Present and former coaches and gamers are grateful the college sends the crew out on Thursdays with an additional lodge evening, which helps them alter to the time distinction. Nonetheless, Lamb may bear in mind some East Coast video games the place USD was an enormous favourite however ended up squeaking out a win. The flip aspect is that though USD’s highway PFL video games are tougher, the benefit is available in residence video games.
Agnew’s greatest reminiscences at USD got here on the highway journeys, as sophisticated as they had been. Everybody was packed at the back of the airplane, and upperclassmen would make the freshmen take the center seats. Within the airport, gamers tried to chop one another in bag verify traces, they usually frequently defined to passersby that they had been San Diego, not San Diego State.
“I’ll always remember these highway journeys,” Agnew stated. “They had been a lot enjoyable.”
Quarterback Josh Johnson grew to become the primary USD participant drafted when he was a fifth-round decide in 2008, and he nonetheless stays in professional soccer. Agnew was the second, a fifth-round decide by the Lions in 2017, sparking elevated curiosity in USD gamers. Tight finish Ross Dwelley signed with the San Francisco 49ers after going undrafted in 2018 and simply signed a brand new contract this week. Quarterback Reid Sinnett is at present with the Miami Dolphins after going undrafted final 12 months.
“I don’t assume Jamal would take credit score for this, however he received scouts to return to his professional day when he was a senior, and that put USD on the map with scouts coming again,” Sinnett stated. “As a result of they noticed Jamal run, however they noticed Ross Dwelley, they noticed (offensive lineman) Daniel Cooney, they noticed (receiver) Michael Bandy. The one cause I received an opportunity was as a result of scouts got here to see Michael Bandy.”
This system’s huge teaching tree additionally helps, as former Toreros assistants are all throughout faculty and professional soccer now. Together with Harbaugh’s and Shaw’s head teaching success, USD’s three offensive line coaches from 2007-12 all coach NFL offensive traces proper now — Todd Washington with the Jaguars, Keith Carter with the Titans and Hank Fraley with Lions. There are others like Engstrand in several NFL roles or these like Lamb with FBS assistant jobs. Lindsey says different PFL faculties have even began to rent USD interns.
The tradition has endured. Although head coaches modified, many assistants carried over between them. Lindsey, like Shaw, didn’t even know the college existed earlier than he joined this system as an assistant in 2007. He returned in 2012. When Ron Caragher moved on, Lindsey was stunned he received the top teaching job, given he was 69 years previous. However he received it as a result of he match this system, and he’s taken it to even better heights, now on the doorstep of historical past.
So how did a small personal college enjoying non-scholarship soccer 2,000 miles away from the remainder of its convention accomplish this? The best folks on the proper time.
“Coming from 9 years within the NFL to that stage, it rejuvenated me,” Shaw stated of his 12 months at USD. “As a result of these guys weren’t enjoying to be on TV. They weren’t on scholarship. They might cease enjoying anytime, however they performed with such ardour. It reinvigorated me for faculty athletics that these guys had been enjoying for the pure love of the sport. A pair had alternatives to go within the NFL, however most of them had been enjoying realizing that they had been finished after their final sport their senior 12 months. Only a glimpse of that for a 12 months, (in comparison with now with) the switch portal and the famous person 16-year-old that by no means calls you again, all this different stuff occurs on this stage.
“However when you will have that for a 12 months or two years and all people you coach simply desires to play arduous, they wish to play with vitality and fervour they usually don’t need something in return, that’s an superior, superior expertise.”
— This text, written by Chris Vannini, appeared in The Athletic on March 12, 2021