Earning the right to be a Knight

The football team storms Gannon University Field with intensity to start each home game, accompanied by a crowd of encouraging fans. But do you really understand what it takes to get to that moment?

Being a Gannon Knight doesn’t start on Saturday – it actually begins on the previous Sunday. The coaching staff holds a meeting at 6:30 a.m. where head coach Brad Rzyczycki and his assistants watch film and dissect the game from the day before.

The players arrive at 8:30 a.m. in the Zurn Science Center to learn from their mistakes on film and take the positives away from their performance. The team then moves to the Carnegval Athletic Pavilion at 10:30 a.m. for a brief circuit workout session.

The Knights then head over the Gannon University Field for an 11:30 a.m. run to get the lactic acid out of their muscles.

Justin Caliste, a junior wide receiver and special teams return man, said the run can be tough, but he knows how important it is to get his body moving again.

“After the run we get off our feet, and we have Monday to really get our bodies back together,” Caliste said.

Following the team run, the Knights gather and have a 15-minute walk-through of their upcoming opponent for Saturday. After the Knights get a glimpse of the team they will face Saturday, the players go to the trainers to take care of their bumps and bruises.

For the remainder of the day, the coaching staff is left to watch film and game plan for what they need to accomplish in this upcoming week to be successful on Saturday.

Monday is known as the NCAA off-day for the football players, and the coaches are not allowed to communicate with the players that day.

The coaches meet at 8:30 a.m. for a staff meeting where they finalize game plans and prepare the practice schedule for the following day. The coaches then meet to discuss special teams’ matters, which takes the staff until around 9 p.m. to wrap up.

Tuesday starts with a 7 a.m. meeting where the coaches break the players up into their skill positions to evaluate progress, before student athletes have to attend 8 a.m. classes.

The team comes back together to lift weights at 11 a.m. for a half hour or so. The Knights then attend practice from 3:15 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., and then the coaching staff meets after practice to watch film until 7 p.m.

Rzyczycki said that the practice field is a sacred place where the team works hard to accomplish its goals.

“I’m trying to make practice as hard as I possibly can to make the games easy,” Rzyczycki said.

Wednesday follows the same itinerary as Tuesday, but Rzyczycki understands that it is important for players to get the proper rest.

“I won’t let the coaches hold meetings with the players before 8:30 a.m. Thursday because I want the guys to have a chance to sleep in,” Rzyczycki said.

Thursday continues on with the same workout and practice regimen besides the dismissal of morning meetings, and Rzyczycki attends his radio show that airs at 5:30 p.m.

Friday is an important day because the coaching staff is in at 8 a.m. to look ahead to the next week’s opponent, which allows the staff to give a 15-minute walk-through of that team on Sunday.

All the players are done with classes at 2:50 p.m. and meet together as a team at 3 p.m. to watch film about the team that they will see the following day.

Caliste said the coaches talk about the plays that they ran in practice Tuesday through Thursday, and show how they will call the plays on film.

Caliste mentioned that the most important aspect of the meeting is that Rzyczycki gives the players his play call sheet before the team gets dressed with no padding on besides helmets and jerseys. The team journeys over to Gannon University Field for a final walk-through before the game.

Caliste explained that the final walk-through is an intense way to allow the team to experience all possible scenarios in Saturday’s game.

“Every play that we would do in a game, we do one time, but it has to be perfect because if we make a mistake, the whole practice starts over,” Caliste said.

The coaching staff then spends half of its day Friday focusing on recruiting. The recruiting culminates in coaching staff members attending local high school night games to evaluate talent.

Saturday starts with a team breakfast at 9 a.m. in Gannon’s cafeteria where players sit together in position groups and get fueled up for the game. There is an optional service at the Mary, Seat of Wisdom Chapel for players of faith to come together and pray before the game. Every player must be in the locker room at 10 a.m. so they can get prepared for the 40- minute warm-up on the field, and then the Knights are ready to take the field once again.

The Knights came up short in their goal of claiming the Niagara Cup when they dropped their Thursday contest to Mercyhurst University, 51-21. This came on the heels of one of the team’s biggest wins ever – a 55-14 thrashing of Edinboro on Oct. 12.

Jansen Jones ran for a school-record four touchdowns and 209 yards for the Knights, who gained 611 yards in all. Quarterback Liam Nadler completed 26-of-38 passes for 350 yards and now has seven 300-yard passing games for his career – tied for the most in school history.

In the loss to Mercyhurst, Gannon’s defense allowed 407 yards rushing and 221 yards through the air.

Junior wide receiver Jesstin Hamm corralled four receptions for 171 yards and one touchdown. Freshman defensive back Nick Bengal recorded his second interception of the season and returned it 24 yards.

The Knights are coming off their second and final Thursday game of the season, and hope to use the extra time available to prepare for Saturday’s contest against California University of Pennsylvania, 5-2.

Cal U. is coming off two dominant wins over Clarion University, 35-7, and Seton Hill University, 33-7. Gannon defensive backs need to focus in on Mike Williams, senior wide receiver, who leads the team with 39 receptions for 478 yards.

Nadler, who has completed 158-of-258 passes on the season for 2,206 yards and 13 touchdowns against five interceptions, should be aware of where senior defensive back Dewey McDonald is at all times because he has returned two interceptions for touchdowns.



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