Justin “Buck” Buchanan, who is leading Hendrix into its first football season since 1960, got an introduction into the nature of NCAA Division III athletics while a player at Austin College.
The Kangaroos were playing Millsaps. Across the street in Jackson, Miss., Jackson State and Alcorn State were playing at Memorial Stadium and the atmosphere was loud and crazy there.
One of Austin College’s outside linebackers got beat in the flat and the coach chewed him out on the sideline yelling, “Be an athlete!” Buchanan said the player retorted, “Coach, if I was an athlete, I would be playing in THAT stadium (pointing across the street).”
Although Division III athletes are generally undersized and are slower than their counterparts in other divisions, Buchanan said he has some good athletes of his first 55-member Hendrix squad and the Warriors will play against good ones.
“Thre are some really good football players in Division III; they just don’t get money to play,” said the effervescent Buchanan during an appearance before the Conway Kiwanis Club. Several of our players had scholarship offers, but they chose Division III to play and concentrate on academics.”
He noted every one of his players are on some kind of aid, but the scholarships must be available to any student and cannot be given for athletic participation.
Buchanan, who is quick with one-liners and stories, told Kiwanians that potential recruits are immediately told of his “herefor” rule that is the foundation of his philosophy of athletics that combines fun with the primary emphasis on academic achievement.
“I tell them that if you are not here for what we are here for, we’ll be here for a lot longer than you are here for,” he said.
Each of his nine-member (five fulltime) coaching staff has played and coached in Division III and understand the mindset and philosophy.
“That is huge,” he said. “We understand what these players are going through and if they tell us that they can’t do this, we’ll argue with them ... I remember some mornings that I was typing and put the final period on a paper, then rushed off to football practices.”
He also said it’s a misconception that Division III athletes don’t have academic challenges at colleges that place a premium of quality liberal arts education.
“It’s an eye-opener for some,” he said. “Some of these guys have never made a B. A lot of guys have had it easy in high school because they were smart enough they didn’t have to study. They get in the mindset they won’t have to study that much in college. They will find out they are wrong and we have to help them through that.”
He noted five players on his roster have gone on mission trips this summer and the average ACT score on his team is 27.5.
He also noted the challenge of coaching a team of “smart kids.”
“We’re fine as long as they don’t get into philosophical debates about offense and defense,” Buchanan said. “They are conditioned to think critically. They have to turn that switch off on the field. Knowing plays comes a lot easier if they just don’t think about it.”
Twenty of his players on his first team are from Arkansas, including Seth Peters, of Greenbrier, and John Steward, of Vilonia.
When the Warriors begin practice Aug. 15, their new campus stadium will not likely be complete and they may have to dress out of temporary locker rooms. The Warriors will play six home games out of a 10-game schedule, beginning Sept. 7 against Westminster College.
“We are going to have some of the best facilities in Division III,” he said. “But you don’t want to give these players everything right off the bat. They have to work for something, to build something. And I’ve discovered it takes a lot longer to build something than to take something down. We’ll adapt, adjust and overcome.”
He considers himself a players’ coach with relationships a cornerstone.
He quipped, “We want our players to have a fun and fulfilling athletic experience and we want them to have a strong academic experience. Then, we want them to go out in their professions and make a lot of money so they can help us build new facilities.”
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 505-1235 or firstname.lastname@example.org)