Soon, serene autumn Saturday afternoons at Keystone College will be replaced by the smell of smoldering charcoal, the sounds of tailgating and students decked out in orange and blue, eager to support the school’s football team.
The La Plume school is reviving its football program, which was dormant for more than 70 years, it announced Wednesday, Jan. 3.
Expectations are to have the team ready to compete with an independent schedule for the 2019 season, and as part of an NCAA Division III conference by 2020.
“We are so excited to reintroduce football as our next varsity sport,” said Keystone President David L. Coppola, Ph.D in a news release. “This will be a wonderful experience not only for the student-athletes who come here to continue their education and compete on the NCAA Division III level, but for our entire student body and alumni as well.
“We can’t wait to get started and we look forward to the day when we cheer for the Giants as they take the field for the very first time.”
The school competed in football in the 1890s as Keystone Academy before the program ended in 1947 as part of Scranton Keystone Junior College.
In addition to baseball, Hall of Fame pitcher Christy Mathewson was a member of the Keystone football squad from 1895-1897.
Football will be the 22nd varsity sport sponsored at Keystone College.
The college’s most recently added sports include men’s and women’s lacrosse, wrestling, and women’s golf.
Keystone hopes to hire a head coach and staff by March to begin the recruiting process with the idea of bringing in 15 to 25 prospective players for the 2018-19 school year, laying the foundation of the team.
The goal is to have close to 50 players for the 2019 season.
“The No. 1 priority is to hire a coach that is going to have a solid philosophy on developing the student-athlete, who has a commitment to the school’s academic goals and can develop a good program,” Keystone College director of athletics Matthew Grimaldi said. “We would like to land somebody with some ties to the Northeast Pennsylvania community, because this is such a tradition-rich football area and be someone who is committed to our NCAA Division III philosophy.”
Grimaldi, a former football player at St. John’s University and graduate assistant coach at East Stroudsburg University, has experience conducting a search for a head football coach at the collegiate level.
While at Mercyhurst College in Erie, where he served as associate director of athletics, the school turned the football program over to Marty Schaetzle, who recently completed his 16th season leading the Lakers.
Grimaldi also sought advice from Dave Martin, former Misericordia University athletic director, and Chuck Edkins, Misericordia’s current athletic director.
Martin was instrumental in raising a football program at Misericordia in 2011 before taking over as athletic director at the University of Scranton.
“As a start up, we are very excited with the newness of having a football program,” Grimaldi said. “It’s really exciting to branch out and offer prospective student-athletes an opportunity for a first-rate education and one to play a sport they love.”
Initially, the 2019 team will play an independent schedule, Grimaldi said, and that could include games against junior varsity programs.
Grimaldi is exploring options for the program to join a conference for 2020.
Keystone College is a member of the Colonial States Athletic Conference, which does not sponsor football.
The Giants will play at the $3.4 million synthetic all-weather athletic field located near the Eckel Family Pavilion and the entrance to the new Trolley Trail.
There is also a plan for a neighboring fieldhouse, which will be used by the football team and other Keystone athletic programs.
“Once we have a head coach in place, we will map out a plan of attack on how we want to build the program,” Grimaldi said. “Knowing this community, football is a part of the Northeast Pennsylvania culture. It will invigorate our vibrant campus, our faculty and our community.”
The new program will provide an opportunity for local students, and those from other areas, to continue participating in a sport that has such a long history in Northeastern Pennsylvania.
Nationally, the introduction of football programs has expanded as 71 colleges or universities have introduced new programs since 2008, according to the National Football Foundation.