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August 14, 2013

Oakland University to field school’s first-ever football team

By Mark Vest
C & G Sports Writer

» click to enlarge «
Oakland University will field the school’s first-ever football team this fall. Pictured, from left, are Nick Taylor, head coach Al Manfroni and Michael Wille.

Over the years, there has been plenty of positive things happening on both the academic and athletic fronts at Oakland University.

But for some, it may have felt like there was one thing missing as part of the experience of being Oakland students or alumni — a football team.

Well, those who have waited for the day they would have the opportunity to see a Golden Grizzlies team take to a football field won’t have to wait much longer, as Oakland is preparing for a new season after receiving initial approval in the fall of 2012.

After a lot of work and preparation by OU Football Club President David Brosky, Advisor Nic Bongers, head coach Al Manfroni, as well as the players, Oakland isn’t far away from competing in its inaugural game, as the Golden Grizzlies are scheduled to take on the University of Michigan-Flint in a road contest at 4 p.m. Sept. 21 at Burton Atherton High School in Burton, Mich.

While it is not known if football will eventually become an NCAA varsity sport at Oakland at some point in the future, for now, Bongers is just pleased to be a part of the University’s charter football team.

“We should be happy we got football now,” said Bongers, who is also a wide receiver on the team. “We’re (going to) try to deliver as much of a premium product as possible. Once the helmets came in — they’re unlike anything I’ve seen before — once it came on and the jersey’s came in, it’s like, ‘This is really happening.’ I’m thrilled.”

Finding players who are willing and able to pay the approximately $850 it costs to be a part of the team (with expenses such as equipment and travel), as well as debunking a myth that there are no contact sports allowed at Oakland, are just a couple of the challenges that Brosky and Bongers faced in their attempt to launch a football program. But now that assembling the Golden Grizzlies’ first-ever football team has become a reality, their coach expressed optimism that football at Oakland may be here to stay.

“Going through the students, alumni and faculty, I believe there’s enough of a positive buzz going around where I believe people are really starting to get excited about it,” Manfroni said. “I think once it starts, they’re not (going to) want it to stop.”

Manfroni’s optimistic viewpoint is one that is shared by Bongers.

“Once the students find out, they’re ecstatic,” he said. “There’s just a really big buzz around the people that know about it. There’s a lot of alumni, too, that are really excited that we finally have football. There’s a lot of interest not only from OU, but the surrounding community.”

How successful Oakland’s football program turns out to be will likely be largely determined by the support it receives from students and alumni. And if there are more reactions like that of junior Laith Victor, the future has the potential to be a bright one for Oakland football.

“Students are always talking about how Oakland’s missing a football team,” he said. “I guess now that they’re bringing it, should be exciting. This makes it kind of like a real university, like right up there with all the other ones with a football team.”

Senior Austin Accettura, who plays for Oakland’s club hockey team, also supported the idea of a football team.

“That would be pretty cool if they had a football team,” he said. “That would be nice. There’s a lot of students here — local students. Local students bring their friends, too, that don’t go to Oakland. I would be interested.”

While just having the chance to suit up for his college team may be enough to provide plenty of excitement for offensive and defensive tackle Brandon Walker, the opportunity to be a part of Oakland University history is also not lost on him.

“It’s nice to know in a couple years, for all we know, we (could) be a D-1 football team,” said Walker, who played for Birmingham Brother Rice. “Be nice to know we were the first guys on the field wearing the uniform. We’re really excited about it. We’re excited we can bring something big to the campus people can look forward to. It’s nice to be able to look forward to a football game on Saturday afternoons.”

Oakland will be competing in the Great Lakes-East Conference of the National Club Football Association (NCFA), which includes club teams such as Ohio State University, UM-Flint, and Miami (Ohio) University. Other teams in the NCFA include George Mason University, the University of South Carolina and the University of Alabama.

And while it may be easy for some to think that a team in its first year of existence won’t have enough talent to effectively compete with opponents, don’t count Bongers as one of them.

“We’ve got some players on our team,” he said. “There’s guys that have played in the NCAA before (and) have transferred here. There’s guys that have been playing all through high school. But there’s also new guys that have never played before, and they’re very coachable. You can tell when you’re practicing like a champion and when you’re practicing not to lose. To me, it feels like we’re practicing to win.”

The public’s first opportunity to see Oakland’s football team in action is 8 p.m. Sept. 7, with the Golden Grizzlies participating in an inter-squad scrimmage. Oakland’s first home game is scheduled for 4 p.m. Oct. 5 at Auburn Hills Civic Center Park  against Columbus State Community College.

Admission to all home games is free.

To learn more about Oakland’s football team, visit facebook.com/OUclubfootball, or email oufootballclub@gmail.com.