Lander students start club football team, hope to grow program

By David Roberts

Lander football: undefeated since 1872.

If a group of Lander students has its way, it might finally be time to put that joke to bed.

Terrance Crawford, a sophomore at Lander, wants to get the Bearcats on the gridiron, and he’s taking the first step by starting a club football team that will compete in the National Club Football Association as soon as this fall.

“To me, you don’t get the full college experience without having a football team,” Crawford said. “Basketball is good, but you don’t really want to see a basketball game for homecoming. You want to see somebody get hit; you want to see football.”

Lander has 10 varsity teams, but athletic director Brian Reese said adding a football team is not on the school’s radar.

Crawford hopes starting a club team will lay the groundwork for Lander to eventually field a varsity football team, but recognizes there are still several hurdles to be cleared before the season.

First, the program needs money. The club football team is beginning as a self-funded team, meaning the players pay $75 each for their helmets and pads. However, Crawford estimates the overall cost of a first-year football program to be near $20,000 to $30,000.

Crawford reached out to Lander for aid, but much of the help went toward the program’s registration with the NCFA and other fees.

“We have a limited budget to help out, but it’s divided over all those clubs as well,” said Matthew Gilstrap, director of campus recreation at Lander. “So, most of that would be to help with some of the registration cost, and that’s how we’ve treated the other club sports that we have on campus, as well. From there, it’s up to them to fundraise and require dues from their members, which Terrance has done, to get that money raised.”

Now, Crawford is looking to local businesses to sponsor the team and help lay the foundation for the program.

Crawford said the team will play its three home games away from Lander’s campus and is looking at potentially playing at a high school or middle school in Greenwood. The team is also still looking for a coach.

Lander has compiled a six-game schedule that begins in September against the University of Florida’s club football team. Like Lander, the Gators will be a first-year team in 2017, but Florida has roughly 50,000 more students to pull from than Lander.

Crawford already has 20 players lined up to play, but admitted it’s a challenge trying to start a program at a small school like Lander where the enrollment is just shy of 3,000.

“It’s very difficult, especially not having a lot of males to choose from,” Crawford said, “and the males that are here are already playing a sport.”

Lander’s club football team isn’t just for male students. Crawford said females are allowed to play, but asked that all players have experience playing football.

Jay Cobb will not play on the team, but she found a sense of belonging at Lander by serving as the vice president of the club football program.

“I just want to see it take off and get bigger, because I know it can,” Cobb said. “Honestly, that’s what’s keeping me here is me being a part of something. Before this, I wasn’t a part of anything and I wasn’t really enjoying myself. So, now I have time to put my work into something and I have something to do.”

The team aims to start practicing next month once the players get their helmets.

Contact staff writer David Roberts at 864-943-2530 or follow on Twitter @IJDavidRoberts