FAIRMONT — Mike Lopez insists he’s not a football coach, although that’s the title by his name in the Fairmont State University faculty directory.
“I’m a leader of young men,” he told the Kiwanis, Lions and Rotary Club members who attended the annual civic luncheon Wednesday at the Clarion Inn.
And that’s what he built his address to the three Fairmont service clubs around.
“I went to speak to a service club, and after 30 minutes, I hadn’t said one word about football,” Lopez said.
He explained this.
“When I was about 15 years old, I asked God that if he would allow me to be in football the rest of my life, then I would do anything and do it the right way.”
‘We all struggle’
“There are times when we all struggle, but since that moment, I have played high school, went to Potomac State, and returned to Fairmont State, went to West Virginia, was a GA under Rich (Rodriguez), and I’m truly blessed to be able to do what I do,” Lopez said.
“That is to lead young people. It doesn’t matter where they are from. When we bring them in, we’re inviting them to be a part of our academic family.
“It helps to have a shared philosophy with your athletic director,” he said, noting that he and athletic director Rusty Elliott share many of the same thoughts.
“You mention having the highest graduation rate in the West Virginia Conference; that’s been happening year after year after year. It’s old news now,” he said, noting that’s a team goal each season.
“Football-wise we had two academic All-Americans last year. Only team in the country with two academic All-Americans. Think about that. Dewey McDonald and Frank Keenan. Our goal is 3.0 for freshmen and upperclassmen,” he said. “The elbow grease we put into our academic program is critical.
“We’re not there to win at all costs. It’s not No. 1 for us. Developing our players into men and into better people. That’s No. 1. That focus on the individual is what’s important.”
Some players at some schools may not like that type of structure, he said.
Teams in community
“Last year our team was out in the community 18 times. The greatest feeling you can have is by giving.”
He said every time the team goes out, they will make a difference in a kid’s life or make a mark in whatever the situation might be.
Lopez stressed again that he was not a football coach.
“I’m a leader of young men. We go through ups and downs as a football program. The ball is oblong. You don’t know where it’s going. Those guys who wear the zebra suits — you don’t know what they are thinking that day or how far they have to travel.
“But for what we have been able to control progressively on the football field, we’ve gotten better as well. Last year we were 7-4 and were undefeated in non-conference. We had three all-conference players.”
Falcon graduate Luke Black will be playing for the Cincinnati Bengals Thursday night, Lopez mentioned.
“We had a freshman of the year the last two years,” Lopez said. “Logan Moore two years ago and Daniel Monroe last year.”
He said his team is strong on defense.
“We were in the top seven in rushing defense. We want to run the football on offense and stop the run on defense,” he said.
“We were as good as we could be.”
The toughest part
“There was a game at Glenville that didn’t bounce our way,” he mentioned. “That’s the toughest part. It’s easy to lead when things are going well. But when things are taken from you and you have adversity, that’s when you have to be a thumb pointer. That’s why it’s very important to be level-headed.
“Then we got our quarterback injured against Bowie State, which was our 11th game. Logan Moore suffered a concussion and wasn’t the same after that.”
West Virginia University Tech decided to give up football, so FSU has a 10-game schedule this season.
“Glenville is a game that our kids want circled. We could have been a 9-2 ball club,” he said.
Elliott told the luncheon guests that the best things about the new conference FSU will be joining in 2013 — the Mountain East Conference — is that “we are like-minded institutions playing sports.”
“When we play in Cleveland or Columbus or in Virginia, kids in those regions may decide they would like to come to Fairmont State. So the footprint just got larger,” he said.
Lopez named his coaching staff.
“Josh Brown, an Edinboro graduate, will coach receivers. Jeremy Harmer is our quarterback coach,” Lopez said. “Bryan Fisher is offensive coordinator. Shahram Shafii is defensive coordinator. Ryan Dumont is running backs coach. Josh Gorrell is defensive line coach. Gary Lanham is recruiting coordinator. Richard Iaquinta is special teams mentor, and John Marano, strength and conditioning coach.”
Fairmont State opens its season one week from tonight at Clarion (Pa.).
Email John Veasey at firstname.lastname@example.org.