Greg Breitbach’s first season as the Millersville head football coach wasn’t the debut the Marauders were hoping for. The team started off on a six-game losing streak, and only came out of the season with one victory, going a 1-10, overall; the offense was eclipsed by their opponents in yards, 4,535-2,659; and the scoreboard didn’t favor the Marauders in the least, as they were outscored 496-120 over the entire season.
Moving forward into the offseason, Breitbach’s top priority wasn’t to reintroduce his players to a football field; rather, Breitbach took them, well, into the streets.
On Saturday, the Millersville football team joined the Lancaster movement called “Into the Streets,” where all sorts of non-profit organizations join hands to “paint a room, fix a fence, beautify a city park, tend a flower garden, visit with elderly residents, [or] play games with disabled children,” as Millersville University’s web page describes. The Marauders took time out of their weekend to clean up Buchanan Park, located near Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster City.
There, “70 guys for about two hours,” according to Breitbach, got their hands dirty and put mulch around the rose bushes throughout the park, as well as picked up the various branches that were victims of the tumultuous winter that had crippled most of the county over the past several months.
“Our guys are involved in a lot of different community service events,” Breitbach said. “You’ve got 70 or 80 kids that are doing great things.”
Besides tending nature’s parks, the Marauders are involved in another community service event, which will be raising money for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation at Annie Bailey’s Irish Pub on Saturday, April 12, at 1 p.m.* At the event, a select few of players and coaches will be getting their heads shaved to benefit the research of childhood cancer. The ones that aren’t the bald-type, however, are still giving to the charity via volunteering as a member of the cleanup crew.
“We’re just trying to do a little bit right now,” Breitbach said about the organization that player Neil Moloney, also a part-time firefighter whose firehouse is involved in the charity, originally introduced him to in late February. “It’s going to be new to me, but I’m looking forward to it.”
How it works is each contributor has their own website, linked to the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, which provides information on the event and where to send donations to. Those proceeds, in turn, will go directly towards the research to try and squelch childhood cancer.
“We’re doing our best to try and raise a little money … We’re not getting any financial benefits out of it, nor do we want any,” Breitbach said. “If it goes off well, you never know, it could be a yearly event.”
After its official founding in 2004, the St. Baldrick’s Foundation sprouted as a massive gateway for the acceleration of childhood cancer research by raising over $5 million through the first year. In 2012, “Shavees” helped surpass that milestone to $100 million.
Even recently, this Wednesday, the foundation attempted to break the Guinness World Records for the amount of heads shaved in one hour live on the TODAY Show. 72 was the number to beat.
By getting involved with community service events like Into the Streets and fundraising for St. Baldrick’s, this has just scratched the surface when it comes to Breitbach improving not only his players’ on-the-field play, but off-the-field character.
“When they leave MU, they’re going to be successful contributors to society,” he said. “That’s what we’re trying to develop, as well as winning games.”
What’s nice about Breitbach’s method is that the players can do these community service projects and “win” at the same time, thanks to a “fun internal competition” that Breitbach translated over from his days as North Dakota’s offensive coordinator. It was coined Marauder Scholar.
And it’s simple, really.
“You get points for doing it right; you get negative points for not doing it right,” Breitbach said.
He explained that the team is divided into 8-12-member smaller groups. Each of these groups competes for the most points for every week. They could accrue their score by attending class, getting good grades in those classes and/or serving the community through volunteering. For instance, for the latter route, a player could get a head start early in the week with five points by volunteering for just one hour.
“It’s very beneficial … because of the competitive elements of it,” Breitbach said. “You get the team coexisting and working together.”
In the end, whoever wins at the end of the seven-day span, each member is rewarded with, say, a free meal, T-shirt, access to unique workouts—plus an extra pat on the back when banquet rolls around.
“We’re shooting for GPAs; we’re shooting for class attendance,” he said, honing in on the team’s objective of a 3.0 cumulative GPA. “All of those things go hand-in-hand to developing the kind of culture we want to create here. I think they enjoy the rewards of doing things right over and over again.”
With this behaviorist approach, Breitbach would have his team excelling without even asking them to strap in their shoulder pads or lace on their cleats. When that time comes, however, Breitbach is optimistic that the current efforts during the offseason are paying off.
“We’re halfway through spring ball,” he said. Hindered by the rain storms of late, the team has been restricted to two practices so far; albeit, Breitbach explained that the team has sufficed for the poor weather conditions by putting in six weeks of lifting, as well as waking up at 6 a.m. for conditioning. “They’re in substantially better shape than they’ve ever been,” decreed the coach.
With only two scrimmages between now and the Black and Gold Spring Game on April 26, the Marauders know that it’s about time to put the pedal to the metal—and, in the meantime, test out the gears of their new recruits.
After National Signing Day earlier in the year, Millersville football welcomed 26 young men to the club. Now, that number has expanded to 34. When recruiting, Breitbach tended to focus on schools within a two-hour time frame from Millersville; however, that hasn’t limited the amount of potential that these student-athletes hold.
“There’s quite a few of them, to be honest, that I’m pretty excited about,” however conceding, “I’m gonna have to wait until they actually step onto the field.”
Off the field, though, the recruits seem to be in good shape.
“The GPA of the kids was 3.05, so we’ve got some pretty competitive student-athletes as well as football players,” he said. Coming full circle to the character-before-player motto, “It all kind of goes hand-in-hand,” he added.
Now, with some long days ahead of them, Millersville’s football program is looking forward to new turf fields being put behind Pucillo Gymnasium in August for a more convenient—and dry—spot to practice, thanks to the approved gesture from the student government.
But first, they need to get through spring.
“They’re hard at it,” Breitbach said about his team’s efforts during spring ball. “We want to be in the mix. We want to be relevant again. And we’re going to do everything we can to make that happen.”
If a possible Cinderella story next season isn’t enticing enough, Breitbach and the team have provided themselves with a constant reminder to let them know where their focuses should lie. As a countdown until the big game in late April, the team has pasted a new number in the locker room each and every day since day 100. It’s now down to less than 20.
“We create a sense of urgency counting down with this calendar,” Breitbach said. “That’s our last chance to have our pads on in a game atmosphere. We want to see some progress made.”
Whether the on- and off-the-field efforts will pay off or not, Millersville will have to wait until the 26th, which should be a highly anticipated event on campus. For Breitbach, on the other hand, twiddling his thumbs until later in the month is the last idea on his mind.
“Time’s running short. We’ve got a lot to cover in a short amount of time,” he said.
“That’s why I’m working on a Sunday.”
*For more information on the St. Baldrick’s Foundation event, please visit http://www.stbaldricks.org/participants/mypage/709363/2014