Considering the current team, it's unclear whether the Schnellenberger sales pitch works. The university's miserable record isn't necessarily an indication, Owls coaches insist. Current players would be sitting on the bench at an established football program for two or three years before the starters graduate.
In addition, some current players may lose their scholarships because the Owls must make openings for freshmen. Cornerback Lee Pasick has learned how that may work. Defensive player of the year at his high school in Sarasota, Pasick started every game last year. This year, Schnellenberger has allowed younger players to try out for his spot. "I'm not happy not starting," Pasick says, referring to the fact that he was benched for this year's first two games. "But it's encouraging that guys behind me stepped up."
Florida Atlantic may have looked well-coached after the first half of the game versus Eastern Kentucky, but the second half makes the Owls seem less than prepared for Division I-A. In fact, it makes them appear less than ready for Division I-AA.
Starting at Florida Atlantic's 20-yard line, quarterback Allen throws two passes that fail to find the hands of wide receiver Larry Taylor; one bounces off Taylor's shoulder pad, and the second sails over his head. Eastern Kentucky's new game plan seems to be to double-team Tellis, which leaves Allen with few options. On the third down, coaches take too long to send Allen a play, and the Owls must call a time-out. Then, when the offense finally lines up, a lineman flinches, sending the offense five yards deeper into its own territory. Finally, Allen tries spiraling a pass into the outstretched hands of Tellis, but two Eastern Kentucky players sandwich the short receiver, and the pass falls into the grass.
On fourth and 15, Schnellenberger sends out Andy Rosas, who's still recovering from a concussion he suffered in the first game of the season, to punt from the end zone. A crimson swarm of Eastern Kentucky players surrounds Rosas, blocking the kick. The ball rolls dangerously through the end zone, out of the hands of Eastern Kentucky defenders, then wobbles under the goal post and out of play. Eastern Kentucky gets the ball and two points for a safety.
The game doesn't improve for Florida Atlantic during the rest of the half. Facing a successful double-team defense and a painful groin injury, Tellis catches only one pass for 16 yards. An ineffective running game totals only 25 yards for the day. Allen completes just 11 of his 28 passes, but Schnellenberger sticks with him, leaving Jahn on the sidelines. The team fails to score a touchdown all day, so the offense never collects the backup QB's 11 cents. The final score: Eastern Kentucky 19, Florida Atlantic 6.
Heading to the locker room, Allen continues to compliment his coach. "He just kept telling me, 'We need two drives, just two drives,'" Allen says, his white jersey caught in a shoulder pad, black paint running below his eyes. "'We just need that first one to break the ice,' that's what he kept saying."
In the locker room, Schnellenberger sounds furious. "I want to see you," he yells. Players covered in Kentucky bluegrass stains and streaked with sweat crowd around him. The coach, with hands on hips and looking at the floor, paces once to the left, once to the right, once to the left. "Guys, let's all kneel down," he bellows, and the locker room fills with the sounds of knee pads smacking the tile floor. The hot air, humid from the running showers, smells of Ben Gay, sweat, and grass, the earthy aroma of a football team.
"Everyone listen to what I have to say. If you have something to say, wait until I'm done, because I have some things I have to say," says the coach, his puffy cheeks a livid ruby. "The coaching staff you've got around you is all we got when we get back to Florida because everyone else is going to think we're shit. I don't know what the hell happened in the second half, but I know we're better than this."
Wisps of gray hair on his forehead, the coach doesn't belittle the players after the embarrassing game. He doesn't insult them, although it would be easy to do so after their lackluster performance. He sounds disappointed, maybe let down by the men he relies upon, but not disillusioned or cynical. He looks them in the eye, as he always does, his voice reverberating off the tile walls. "I'm not going to give up, and I hope everyone in this room will not give up. You haven't played very well, but I have confidence in you, and I hope you have confidence in yourself."