Manfroni: ‘we’ll get people behind us’

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Manfroni: ‘we’ll get people behind us’

OU Coach Al Manfroni is pleased with the talent level of the program and stresses that execution will determine how far the team can go.

OU Coach Al Manfroni is pleased with the talent level of the program and stresses that execution will determine how far the team can go.

OU Coach Al Manfroni is pleased with the talent level of the program and stresses that execution will determine how far the team can go.

OU Coach Al Manfroni is pleased with the talent level of the program and stresses that execution will determine how far the team can go.

Jake Alsko

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Oakland University is less than a week away from its first football game in school history against University of Michigan-Flint. I chatted with OU football club head coach Al Manfroni on the challenges the program has endured as it begins its first season, as well as what we can expect from the team this year.

How goes the process of bringing along the new program?

The only drawback is just working around everybody’s school schedules, work schedules. Those are the difficult times. But the fact is, none of these are scholarship players, so they’re all here on their own volition and they have to pay for their education, and that’s priority. You have to let them do what’s important … so it kind of (makes it) a little edgy when it comes to trying to get enough practice time in. Right now we’re at three days a week. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays …obviously Sunday is probably the best day of the week because everybody can come. Saturday is a big work day for guys that work so (we) really try not to have practice on Saturday … We’re actually practicing on a private piece of property, it’s actually owned by an OU student … it’s a great practice facility, I just wish it were closer to the university. I’m sure anybody else would be envious to have what we have. But to have that, we have to be willing to drive into Rochester. For those guys that are coming from different places, it’s a commute, it’s a haul.

I’ve heard that the program is eventually aiming to be Division II, whether it’s club or varsity.

Would that be the ultimate thing for the club to be turned into a varsity sport here? Sure … I’m sure that in the back of everybody’s mind they would love to see that happen. But being in this for as long as I’ve been in it, I also understand the practicality … it’s a process, you don’t hurry the process. There’s concerns because when you look at doing something like that, obviously it’s a major commitment on the part of the university. It’s not just “oh let’s do this.” There’s a lot of thought process that has to go through. I just look at what I’ve had to do this year, along with (club advisor Nic Bongers and club president David Brosky), just getting us to where we are right now. It’s been a monumental task. It’s just like any company; you have to build a structure that’s not there … you have to build support staff, and then on top of all that, everybody has to be a volunteer … there are logistics … travel involved, going out of state, hotels, all these things have to be accommodated for.

What is your prior coaching experience?

32 years of being a little bit everywhere. I’ve mostly been high school but I did some college coaching many years ago back in the early 80s, and back when I was still a student at Kent State. I’ve just done a variety of different positions. Everything from defensive coordinators to offensive line coaches to assistant offensive line coaches … about four years ago I got an invitation to interview with Tony Dungy from the Indianapolis Colts as an assistant offensive line coach. I was going to take my son with me, I mean he was all geeked for all of this. I sat down with my wife and we talked … it means a lot of time on the road, it means a lot of time away from home and she didn’t want to move so I’d be commuting … if I was maybe 10-15 years younger, I probably would’ve jumped at the whole thing.

What is the experience like across the roster?

Almost all the guys have played before. We have one kid that was an all-state player in high school and we’ve got others who were very accomplished in high school. Every team gets a certain amount of talent, the nice thing about us is we have a certain amount of talent in every position. I’m two and three-deep in some positions which is a really nice thing to have. And the talent, the skill level, makes it so that … I can shift someone in there and I’m not really missing anything. From a coaching standpoint, that really makes it nice.

How many players are on the team?

Right now we’re at about 36. I was hoping we’d reach at about 40 but it just didn’t seem to happen. I think one of the big issues is the cost. I mean come on, these are college kids, their priority is to go to school. It’s $200 club fee and then $650 for your equipment. And I mean don’t get me wrong, for $650 they’re getting a lot of equipment and it’s top-of-the-line stuff. It can tend to be a little crippling because you may push away a potentially really great player because he just can’t swing the money … my goal is to try to have a fund set up for some of those students  that really, really, really want to play and just can’t swing the money. I’d hate for someone not to play just because of the cost … some other clubs out there, their kids pay like $25 to play. I could get half the university for $25 to play. But that just tells me the kids that we have on this team, the guys that are there, because of the cost, it tells me that they really want to be there, at any cost.

What kind of style or scheme can we expect from the offense?

We’re running a west coast offense, we’re running a spread. We’re running a spread offense, we have the talent pool for it. Got a lot of speed, a lot of good receiving capabilities and we got a great quarterback … We can go multiple sets out of that spread formation, so it gives the ability to change things up if we have to. We do no-huddle. Everything’s called from the sideline, everybody has a wrist coach. That allows us to control the speed of the game. We can control how fast or how slow, depending upon what’s happening, depending upon how tired the defense is getting. If we see the defense getting tired, we speed it up and we make them drag their tongue along with them down the field …everything’s out of the gun. This particular offense is set up to be very simple … you’ve got major colleges running it across the country, you’ve got a plethora of high schools running it across the country. It’s a system that’s set up to be very simple line blocking-wise. It makes it so that you don’t have to overthink it and get all bent out of shape and then you miss the block … it takes that all out of it. From a skill player standpoint, everybody has very simplistic routes and it’s repetitive, but we have the ability to manipulate, switch it, change it as we need to … We could do quite a bit from what we have, but the concept is extremely simple.

And defensively?

Our base defense is a 4-3, we’re also running some 5-2, multiple stunts out of both defenses. We’ve got great linebackers, some tremendous linebackers actually. And we have one hell of a safety. I’ve got two great defensive ends, I mean my one defensive end is six-foot-six, like 360 pounds. And my other defensive end is like six-foot-four, six-foot-five like 290 lbs., and they’re not slow amazingly enough. They both shock me sometimes at how quickly they can move …we’ve got some size on this team and we’ve got some talent on this team. It’s just a case of making sure everybody’s in the right place.

What can we expect against UM-Flint?

… We’re just going to go in and play our game, and that is dominating, hopefully as mistake-free as we can be, but (dominating) football. We’re basically going in to put it out there. And that’s the way I coach, I’m old style, which is “I’m going to push it right down your throat” type football … I don’t make predictions and I don’t sit here and say how it’s going to shake out. What I do say is, is that (when we take the field Saturday), these guys will be prepared to play ball … They will have all the tools they need to be successful. But at the end of the day—I tell them almost daily—at the end of the day, I can’t play the game for you. I can teach you everything you need to know, I can give you all the tools, but at the end of the day, you have to execute.

Manfroni on the challenges of building a fan base

And we’re trying to build a fan base out in the community, so I think we’ve come a long way to that too. We’re trying to do community outreach with the team going to different community events, that kind of thing, to raise awareness that we have football at Oakland University and we’d like people to come out and watch us. I mean, if you really think about it, the only place they can go and watch a college football game, the closest place is (East Lansing) or they can go downtown to Detroit and watch Wayne State. That’s pretty much it, those are your options … We should do well, I think we’ll get people behind us. I think we already do.

Oakland University plays its historic first football game this Saturday at 4 p.m. against UM-Flint at Atherton High School in Burton, MI.