Coach Dan Gritti makes academics a priority. For his team, the focus needed to get good grades is key to being a both a great football player and a successful person.
Sometimes it can seem impossible to help his players, but this year he has an ally: CAPP.
Gritti knows that it takes time to adjust to university workload. If you’ve never had expectations to do that, it’s almost impossible to single-handedly gain the skills you need to balance the workload and make it to practice in the morning.
The last thing Gritti wants to do is make his freshman players fight the first-year battle alone. Gritti, as well as his more experienced players, knows the first year is the most difficult one.
“If you talk to any of our players that were here, it was us against the world,” Gritti, who came to Millikin two years ago when the team was failing, said.
This is Gritti’s third year as coach at Millikin. Since then, the football team has had to overcome biases and “dumb jock” stereotypes. The team is slowly but surely raising the bar, but struggles persist.
No matter how much Gritti cares, he can’t guide and mentor each and every one of the players who needs help. Some times all he can do is make them study in the press box.
This is where CAPP comes in.
CAPP just kicked-off the EDGE program, which helps over 100 freshman, many of which came from low-income families and school districts.
EDGE helps more than just athletes. Any students from low-income areas can participate in this college-prep/aid program.
Many of these students drop out after the first year. This could be for a number of reasons, but the overlying issue is they don’t have support. Not from the university, and unfortunately, not from home.
CAPP understands this and is plowing ahead to make a change. In just over a month, the benefits are tangible.
“We love the EDGE program. I wish it was more prevalent,” Gritti said.
Gritti understands what these players are going through. He was their age, in their situation, when he first started college.
“I came from a very working-class, diverse, blue-collar background,” Gritti said. “I got to go as an undergrad to Vanderbilt. So I had that experience because my parents cared and gave me so much structure, not necessarily because the schools I went to were the best. That being said, the first semester there was half the Atlantic Ocean over my head.”
He persevered, and in this game, that’s the hardest task and the most necessary.
“My philosophy is that effort has to be habit, focus has to be habit,” Gritti said. “It’s not a light switch you can flip on and off. So, if our guys aren’t focused in class or doing what’s necessary academically, quite frankly, when adversity strikes on the football field they’re not going to be vigilant there, either. It’s got to be a lifestyle choice.”
All of the hard work is still up to the students, but the EDGE program is helping them get on their feet early so they start making progress as soon as the whistle blows.
The EDGE program could be signaling a greater shift in how we go about giving education to those who tried their hardest just to get here in the first place, but it is certainly consistent with how Gritti wants to run his football team.