In 2011, Fordham football player Carlton Koonce put on his gear and marched onto the field to play for the Rams in all 11 games; he tasted victory only once.
What a difference two years makes.
For the first time in the University’s history, the men’s football team finished the regular season 11-1, a record made even more impressive given that it included victories against Villanova, Lehigh, and Temple Universities.
The latter game, on Sept. 14, was especially thrilling, as the Rams used a touchdown pass and extra point with four seconds left to earn the school’s first ever win over an NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) team, 30-29.
Now the team stands on the precipice of legendary status, having won its first Football Championship Division (FCS) playoff game at home on November 30. And Koonce, a running back from Lumberton, N.J., who came to Fordham his sophomore year after Hofstra University dropped its program, couldn’t be more excited.
“Words can’t describe it. This is what we work for. We come to play hard, and we try to do everything to put ourselves in a position to be great,” he said.
Koonce said the difference between playing for this team and the one that went 1-10 is a palpable sense of discipline among teammates both on and off the field. This can extend to seemingly trivial things, like a requirement to wear the exact same shirts, socks, and shoes on travel days, and taking earrings out during football-related events.
Team Coach Joe Moorhead, FCRH ’96, who was the Rams’ quarterback for three years and who took over as head coach last year, said his goal has always been to make it clear that his players understand that discipline, accountability, and the “little things” play a huge part in what occurs on the field.
“If we can count on a guy to do things correctly off the field, then we can count on that guy to run the right route or block the right person or throw the ball to the correct route,” he said.
That discipline helped turn games that might have been close losses into close wins. It also helped that, four years ago, Fordham began offering scholarships that weren’t strictly need-based. That opened the recruiting field up to more than just students who either demonstrated full need or those who could pay the full tuition.
“If there was a kid in the middle who had to pay $20,000 a year to go to Fordham, or could get a full scholarship to go to another school, the majority of the time, you weren’t going to get that kid,” Moorhead said.
For Moorhead, it’s particularly gratifying since the best the team he played on while at Fordham only made 4-6-1, during his senior year.
Quarterback Mike Nebrich, a junior who, like Moorhead, came to Fordham from UConn last year, said that this season has been a fulfillment of a goal he settled on the moment he decided to trade the Huskies for the Rams.
“I just really wanted a shot to play, and Coach Moorhead gave me that chance,” he said.
“The guys around me have just done an absolutely incredible job helping me out this year. A lot of times it’s the quarterback that gets all the media attention, but it has a lot to do with the offensive line and the receivers helping me out. And obviously the defense has really stepped up when we needed them.”
Frank Sacco, FCRH ’87, a former defensive end and current head of the Fordham Gridiron Club, said that Moorhead’s approach was immediately felt. Last year’s 6-5 record, he noted, belied the fact that, in three of those games, the Rams lost by a combined eight points. Instead of losing the close games again this year, Fordham is winning them.
And while Sacco has been most impressed with the teams’ defense, which forced two turnovers in the fourth quarter of the Villanova game, his favorite moment of the season is still the last drive against Temple.
“We’re winning the whole game, Temple goes ahead, and there’s seconds left in the game. Joe calls a time out. The team comes over to the sidelines,” he said.
“To see the look in these kids’ eyes that they were not just hoping to win, they were expecting that they were going to execute, go downhill and score—that was something that was lacking in previous teams and previous dynasties.”
Koonce said the team is well aware that they’re flying in rarified, “Seven Blocks of Granite” territory these days.
“I definitely respect Vince Lombardi and all that people like him have done for the program, because without them, I wouldn’t be here.
“At the same time, we’re trying to make our own history,” he said.
“We’re always trying to better ourselves. When I graduate, I want the players who come after me to be better than we were, and take the program to the next level.”
VIDEO: Fordham Rams Football 2013 Highlights
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