That has happened, according to head coach Kerwin Bell, after last year’s injury-plagued campaign. More than 20 Dolphins underwent some sort of surgery but despite that JU was in the Pioneer Football League hunt until the season’s final game in San Diego.
The injury woes showed Bell where his project needed work.
“To build a championship program is to build a solid foundation that is ready for anything,’’ Bell said. “Last year we had an unusual amount of injuries and came up short, but we still were able to play for a championship. But, as we build this up, we need to build our depth to overcome some of those things. Last year showed where we need to be.’’
Since, the emphasis has been on building depth, building depth and building depth and the team is well on its way to covering up that shortcoming.
Last year’s effort came off the Dolphins’ greatest season ever, a 10-1 record including a perfect 8-0 in the PFL. That, of course, led to lofty expectations in 2011 but the injuries came early and often and before long players were having to play out of position to fill gaps.
“We’re trying to go to the level of total championship program and to do that you have to be all in, committed totally,’’ the native of Mayo and high-powered University of Florida quarterback of the mid-1980s said. “We want to not only win championships but we want to take pride in and take ownership in being a total championship program.’’
Bell says he sets many goals by feel, but knows exactly what his expectation is for a total championship program.
“There’s a difference in being a championship team and being a total championship program and what I mean by that is we do things right not only on the field but also in the classroom,’’ he said. “You are totally committed to being a high-quality championship program. That means you’re winning championships and contending for championships every year and that’s where we’re trying to get to as a program. Not just doing it every once in a while, not just be a team that’s up and down, but be that team that’s consistently at that (top) level.’’
In addition, one of the championship program components is being a leader in the classroom.
“It’s to have good academics,’’ Bell said, “and we set records in the fall and spring in academics.’’
“Last spring was the best we’ve had with a 2.84 grade point average for the varsity and the Academic Progress Rate (APR) has risen each year since 2008,’’ said Director of Student-Athlete Services Chris Johnson. “The coaches have done a good job of emphasizing academics and raising expectations and the students have responded well.’’
Johnson says the academic portion of the football total championship program starts during the recruiting process.
“I think the coaches have done a great job of identifying student-athletes who will be successful and making sure they make progress in the classroom and on the field. We still have room for improvement but have a realistic shot at our goal of a 3.0 GPA.’’
The catalyst for Bell to fine tune his total championship program idea was the stellar record-setting 2010 season recorded by the Dolphins. A second PFL title and a near call to the NCAA playoffs. The most wins for a season in team history. That team had JU’s all-time leading quarterback, Josh McGregor, and all-time leading receiver and rusher, Josh Philpart and Rudell Small and also had the highest GPA in team history with more than 35 players at 3.0 or better.
The continued building of the program, and getting all the pieces in place is a natural progression since Bell entered the scene in the spring of 2007.
His first team went 3-8 but the next year the Dolphins exploded on the national scene going 9-4 and snaring the first conference championship in history. The 2009 team was 12 points away from a 10-1 mark but finished at 7-4, good for a tie for third in the PFL and the understanding JU wasn’t going anywhere.
The 2010 and then the 2011 season reinforced Bell’s idea of the necessity of getting every single piece in place.
“We had to establish what kind of program we wanted and the expectation level and we had to gain that through the players and their commitment level,’’ he said. “We did that and all the sudden we got to that stage and I said ‘let’s look a little bit farther’. I’m never satisfied looking where we’re at, that’s just not the way I operate.’’
While last season’s 7-4 may be ho-hum to some, as indicated it has led to Bell to reevaluate his business and led to his staff digging deep in their recruiting roots to build depth and more depth. Many of those injured last season are coming back and most of those who were forced to play are coming back with quite a bit of experience.
On top of that, Bell believes the incoming class is as good as any that has come to the oak-shrouded campus.
Bell began his revision by implementing a nine-step quarterback rating system for a couple of reasons. First, it makes good sense to have a comprehensive grading system and with his son, Kade, clearly in the mix to replace McGregor, there won’t be any quarterback controversy as the player (Trevious Folston, Steven Hughes and Ryan Walker also are competing) with the best rating will get the starting job.
The remainder of this year’s offense is a testament to getting the “next level’’ of player into the program. Running back, receivers and tight end all are positions with depth and experience and the only question is the offensive line but Bell is confident the group, with transfers Dylan Bostick (Appalachian State) and Trammel Williams (South Carolina) in house playing tackle, it is only a matter of time before the unit plays together as a solid one piece.
Depth on defense lets Bell sleep a little easier at night as the line lost only one starter, Rolando Fines, there are several linebackers coming back from injury and the secondary having several back. The point is, 2011 let the coaching staff see what needed to be done to accomplish a total championship program and the fix is under way.
The future, both short term and long term, indeed looks bright and leads to continued high expectations.
The upward spiral and goals for the program isn’t a surprise for those who have followed Bell’s high-achieving career.
He walked on at quarterback for Florida and eventually was a Southeastern Conference standout and Heisman Trophy candidate. He stepped in as a redshirt freshman in 1984 and rewrote the Florida passing record book. When his Gator career ended, he had become the all-time leader in passing yards in the SEC.
He played in both the NFL and Canadian League and an ACL injury in 1990 put him on the sidelines a year for rehab. It was then he worked at UF under Steve Spurrier as a coaching grad assistant and it is then he got the coaching bug.
When the knee healed, Bell played another year in the NFL (Indianapolis) then went to the CFL. In 2000 he was in Toronto and helped Mike “Pinball’’ Clemons design an offense after a 1-7-1 start. Under Bell’s offense the team won six of its last nine games and missed the playoffs by a game. That experience enhanced his enjoyment of coaching so he retired as a player.
He wound up moving back to Florida and began a program at Trinity Catholic in Ocala that became a state powerhouse and the object is to duplicate that at JU. “This is the best roster we’ve put together in our time here,’’ Bell said. “Talent wins a lot of time, but championships are won by people with talent and character. Young men who have those qualities usually become champions.’’
2011-12 FOOTBALL COACHES