Other, Sports

Terrier football is back

One-by-one, they filed through the gate and onto Sartori Stadium's artificial turf field. The sounds of their click-clacking cleats stood out amid the faint hum of nearby highway traffic and the even fainter echoes of rain drops falling on the track surface surrounding the field.

The group arrived just as a pee-wee football team was wrapping up its practice at midfield. Some of the kids were still being instructed by their coaches &-&- mostly parents &-&- near midfield.

The rest, having already been excused for the night, migrated toward the incoming procession, abuzz with curiosity and excitement.

"Dad, dad!" one child said, tugging on the arm of the man standing next to him. "That's a college football team! And they're practicing on our field!"

The father shot a puzzled look at his son before turning to see the incoming group of athletes. The look of confusion turned to one of pure bewilderment, especially as he noticed the scarlet "BOSTON" across the jerseys some of them were already wearing.

The man responded to his son with only a distracted, "Huh," then, seeking to solve his confusion, approached the line of athletes to make sure he was really seeing what he thought he saw.

He picked out one of the athletes sporting a "BOSTON" jersey. The student, carrying his helmet &-&- plain red with a white facemask &-&- at his hip, with his shoulder pads draped over the headwear, turned as he saw the man approach.

"Excuse me," the father said, "I'm just wondering, who do you guys play football for?"

"Us?" said the athlete. "We play for Boston University."


It's been nearly 13 years since much-maligned former BU Chancellor John Silber pulled the plug on the school's Division I-AA (now FCS) football program.

The move shouldn't have been much of a shock, really. Silber &-&- once referred to by Sports Illustrated writer Gerry Callahan as, "An arrogant little despot who can't handle the fact that Howard Stern is BU's most accomplished alumnus," had long despised the program.

The team's declining attendance numbers and 2-18 record over the previous two seasons were simply the final straws Silber needed to break BU football's back.

Still, the BU football community responded with predictable and understandable outrage.

Football had long been a tradition at BU. Harry Agganis's alma mater had been playing the sport for 91 years, and just four years prior, had beaten the University of Northern Iowa and its quarterback &-&- some fellow by the name of Kurt Warner &-&- in the first round of the D I-AA playoffs.

Moving as their argument was, the program still folded as scheduled at the end of the season. Over 3,000 people came to the team's last game &-&- a 33-8 blowout of the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

Football hasn't been played on this end of Commonwealth Avenue ever since.

BU athletics have thrived in many ways in the wake of the dismantling. Women's athletics have flourished and in many sports, the Terriers are competitive on a national level as they have never been before.

Plus, the construction of Agganis Arena, the Fitness and Recreation Center and the Track and Tennis Center have all served as major boosts to the BU athletic experience and may have never been possible if the school had continued funding the hemorrhaging football program.

Still, cries for the pigskin's return to BU have been, at the least, very audible ever since the program was cut in 1997.

Programs such as the Boston Terriers United for Football have attempted to bring football back to BU, but none have really even come close to succeeding.

That is, until this year.

Yes, you heard correctly.

Football is back at BU.

Well, sort of.

The football will definitely be real. Full pads, full contact, real opponents &-&- the whole nine yards. The team will play a six-game schedule in the Yankee Collegiate Athletic Conference &-&- made up primarily of other club-level college teams.

What won't be real is the team's affiliation with BU. The school will not officially recognize the club team and doesn't plan on doing so in the future.

The club &-&- which calls itself the Boston Terriers &-&- is the brain-child of football lifer Anthony Morgante, who graduated from BU in 1987.

Though Morgante didn't play football at BU, he has been one of the strongest supporters in the fight to bring football back to this end of Comm. Ave.

Morgante has been around the game nearly his entire life, thanks mostly to his father, Al, who serves as defensive coordinator of the Terriers under his son, who is the head coach.

The younger Morgante has been coaching football for more than a decade in the New England Football league &-&- a semi-pro minor football league with more than 40 teams spread across the region.

For about half a decade now, the University of Maine and the University of Vermont have fielded club teams in the NEFL, a development that didn't go unnoticed by Morgante.

"I thought, "Wouldn't that be more the fit for BU students?' " Morgante said. "The varsity thing isn't going to happen, but that might be a nice opportunity to have a little football for the student body and alumni to be interested in."

Morgante &-&- knowing the undertaking would be more than he could handle alone &-&- placed an ad in The Daily Free Press seeking student help with a football team he was trying to start up.

Not long after placing the ad, Morgante received a call from Nikki Bruner &-&- then a freshman in the School of Hospitality Administration.

Bruner, who grew up in the heart of Pittsburgh Steeler country in Butler, Pa., is seeking a career in sports management and saw the team as a good opportunity to get an early start to her career. Her passion and enthusiasm made her an easy choice for Morgante, who tabbed her as the president of his operation.

"I wish I had a conglomerate of my own to hire her for because she knows how to get things done," Morgante said. "She's a hustler at a ridiculous level and attends to many, many details very well. She's quite organized, and she recruited some people for the cause and really did some work in creating this thing."

With the proposal and budget Morgante had already put together, Bruner went to the University's club sports program last October seeking help putting the team together.

Club sports officials refused to meet with her, however, telling her it was unrealistic for BU to support a football program of any kind, and that was that.

Bruner pressed on, and in March, after receiving encouragement from Dean of Students Kenneth Elmore, she finally arranged a meeting with the club sports department that explained to her that field availability and cost concerns would make it nearly impossible for club sports to support the team.

Yet, Bruner and Morgante were determined to have a team ready by the fall. Discussions were well underway for the NEFL to launch a new sub-league devoted to collegiate club football teams, and Morgante wanted BU to be a part of that league.

Bruner began the process of recruiting players during the spring break last year, mostly via a Facebook group that is now nearly 1,700 strong.

Many students showed interest in playing early on, and through the spring semester, Morgante held a series of practices with roughly 25-35 attendees per practice.

Seeing that interest was high enough to field a team, Morgante and Bruner readjusted the budget to work without support from the university and plugged away to make football happen in 2010.

The pair applied for status as a Limited Liability Company &-&- establishing themselves as their own enterprise and essentially protecting Morgante and Bruner from any personal legal liabilities they may encounter.

For the fall the team procured practice times at Sartori Stadium &-&- you may recognize it as the bright green turf field next to Logan Airport &-&- and St. Dominic Savio Preparatory High School.

For its games, the Terriers will travel to Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Henry G. Steinbrenner "27 Stadium &-&- named after the former-national champion in the 220-yard hurdles and father of former New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner.

The team is officially enrolled in the Yankee Collegiate Football Conference, a spin-off of the NEFL made up of seven teams representing BU, Maine, Vermont, Clarkson University, Eastern Connecticut State University, Southwestern Connecticut &-&- a conglomerate of players from community colleges in the area &-&- and a Collegiate Developmental program known as the Bronx Rebels.

The YCFC will adopt many of the strategies that have helped keep the NEFL afloat, including a policy of supplying insurance to all teams.

Financially, the team knows it will at least survive the 2010 season. Bruner estimates the team's costs for the season will come out to about $24,000 &-&- $10,000 of which is covered by $400 team dues to all players, which is down from the initial $700 Bruner had tried to charge.

The remaining $14,000 will fall on the shoulders of Morgante and Bruner &-&- who have both put some of their own money into the program &-&- as well as any donations the team receives.

To this point, fundraising efforts have been slow. The team has been in contact with many alumni and supporters but has run into a fair amount of pessimism.

"Right now, I think it's talk to a lot of people," Morgante said. "I don't think it's real to people until they see a score and can say, "Hey, the Terriers just won, 40-3.' I think at that point, maybe there will be a little more enthusiasm because people will understand &-&- these guys are really playing football."

Bruner and Morgante know the battle to keep the program alive beyond this season is a daunting task. Support from alumni and students will be crucial to the team, which would be much better off with the approval of the school if for no other reason than to save on travel costs by playing and practicing at Nickerson Field.

"I mean, we're self-sufficient this year, and I don't see the difference between being self-sufficient official and self-sufficient unofficial," Bruner said. "I'm just hoping in future seasons they'll see how big our fan base is going to get, and the support of alumni, maybe they'll think, "We should consider this.'"

"All these guys, they want to play football whether it's official or not," junior safety and outside linebacker Alex Lopez said. "So long as we're out here playing, hopefully people will realize we're here. I know a lot of people don't really believe us back on campus. Hopefully we can change that."

BU spokesman Colin Riley said that, while he and BU were wishing the students well in their endeavor, he doesn't believe it's realistic for BU to support a football team and is pessimistic that it ever will.

"We discontinued football a while back, and probably similar reasons would play into this," Riley said. "Football comes with a lot of costs. You have to own the program if you're going to do it, and that's not something the university is interested in doing. I don't believe club sports would reconsider in the future."

Still, the Terriers are set to begin their six-game schedule this Saturday at ECSU and will play their first home game on Sunday, Oct. 3 against Maine.

With less than a month's worth of practices leading up to Saturday's game and a handful of players who are new to the sport, Morgante has simplified the playbook to adjust.

The coach is used to running more basic systems because players in his adult leagues are usually low on availability due to work and family and is encouraged by how quickly the team is picking things up.

As far as expectations for this season go, a league filled with new teams makes it anybody's guess.

"Honestly, I'm not really expecting anything," junior quarterback Patrick Ferrell said. "It could go any way as far as I see it. We have some talented guys on this team, but then again, we're new to the game compared to some of these schools. At the same time, some of these schools are smaller than us, so I don't know. I'm excited to see."

"I think for all of us, we just want to be competitive," junior James Forman said. "We don't want to go out if we're going to half-ass it. I think you see that with the group of people here. It's all out, and that's it. I don't want to play if we're not going to be competitive, and I think everyone agrees."</p>
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  1. Darn I would like they might get hold of their stuff straightened over so I really know there was gonna end up being football this specific season. Truth be told there will end up being several severe conditions of drawback without.

  2. I have seen this team in action. The kids are great. They play sincere, skilled, and enthusiastic football. Coaches Morgante, and Nikki Brunner make dreams live. What they have overcome to play causes me to reconsider my commitment in days gone by. Boston University has every right to applaud their efforts for they are BU Terriers. What BU ought to do is give this group the rewards of effort. What they have achieved on a shoestring is the model resource, aptitude, and challenging the naysayers. I wish other undergrads had the ability to do so much. This is the humanitarian side of the gridiron classic. Go Boston Terriers. Go BU.

  3. Your comment is awaiting moderation.
    October 31, 2011 at 2:58 pm
    I have seen this team in action. The kids are great. They play sincere, skilled, and enthusiastic football. Coaches Morgante, and Nikki Brunner make dreams live. What they have overcome to play causes me to reconsider my commitment in days gone by. Boston University has every right to applaud their efforts for they are BU Terriers. What BU ought to do is give this group the rewards of effort. What they have achieved on a shoestring is the model of resource, aptitude, and challenging the naysayers. I wish other undergrads had the ability to do so much. This is the humanitarian side of the gridiron classic. Go Boston Terriers. Go BU.