When Hofstra decided to discontinue their football program in 2009, it left a big void for college football fans in the area, particularly in Nassau County where followers were able to watch players like Wayne Chrebet, Marques Colston, and Lance Schulters play for the Dutchmen/Pride and then make it to the NFL. Stony Brook has a terrific program out in Suffolk County, but there hasn’t been Division One football in Nassau since Hofstra sentenced itself to the death penalty.
After LIU Brooklyn and LIU Post (formerly CW Post) merged athletic departments, LIU football is now Division One and is set to begin play this season in the NEC starting with their season opener, an out of conference game on Saturday September 7th at South Dakota State.
“It’s exciting because there’s such a newness to it,” said Head Coach Bryan Collins who is entering his 22nd season as Head Coach. “It’s just been a discussion up to this point and now it becomes an action item. It is really exciting for us and now we’re just getting into camp and really zeroing in on what we need to do to be successful.”
Not only is LIU making the jump to Division One football, but the entire athletic department is also undergoing a brand change. LIU Post was the Pioneers while LIU Brooklyn was the Blackbirds but now the entire program will be called the LIU Sharks. Upgrading a program to Division One is a big task in of itself, but adding in a nickname change with new colors and uniforms brings about a really unique situation.
There aren’t that many colleges that have pulled this off but LIU has been busy getting ready and now they’re ready to hit the football field.
“You don’t think of those little things that are happening when it comes to uniforms, helmet decals, ordering new practice gear, new coaching gear so there’s that newness of the rebranding that’s going with it,” said Collins. “I don’t think a lot of institutions have dealt with combining two athletic programs and then rebranding with a new mascot and new colors in addition to your transition to a new conference and a higher level of football.”
When you think about past seasons with LIU Post and CW Post at the Division Two level, you think of a winning tradition. But when a program moves up to Division One, it’s likely going to take some time to become a successful program.
Recruiting players and giving out scholarships is a big part of the process and now the LIU Sharks just have to focus on what they’ve always done well and that is maintaining a quality program and winning football games. At the Division Two level, Collins enjoyed 16 winning seasons and seven conference championships.
“The important thing for us is to prioritize and keep our focus on what is our core and what has been successful for us and what allowed us to be successful,” said Collins. “What we have to keep sight on within our core are the football things, installing our offense, installing our defense and putting people in the right positions.”
As LIU begins the process of building a winner at the Division One level, patience is going to be a big part of the equation and that includes the coaches, players, administration, staff, students and alumni. To take a line from baseball, this is a whole new ballgame and those who are close to the program will have to keep all of this in mind as they watch this football program take off.
Especially the alumni that gave it’s blood, sweat and tears to the football program as the Pioneers.
“Our alumni just wants to make sure that we’re successful,” said Collins. “We have a great tradition here with football. Part of them knows they’re going to miss the green and gold and part of them miss the Post name and some of those things have been such a tradition for them but at the and of the day they want to see us moving forward.”
LIU will be playing in the Northeast Conference, a conference that also includes Bryant, Central Connecticut State, Duquesne, Merrimack, Robert Morris, Sacred Heart, Saint Francis, and Wagner. LIU may be new to the conference, but there is a familiarity factor as they’ve faced some of these schools before.
“We’re very honored and excited about joining this conference,” said Collins. “The NEC has been traditionally getting better. We have played many of these institutions in the past so we’re familiar with a lot of them but they’re not the same opponent that we faced nine years ago or eight years ago. There’s a newness and familiarity to it that is exciting but they also don’t know us as well either. It will be an interesting year for us and an exciting year for us.”
The Sharks (formerly the Pioneers) lost 16 starters after last season, but two key returning players are redshirt junior wide receivers Derick Eugene and redshirt sophomore running back Jonathan Debique. Last season, LIU Post recorded the third unbeaten regular season in program history and while this year figures to be a transition season with the upgrade to Division One, there is still a tradition of excellence that the team will strive to maintain.
“In the past, we knew exactly where we were and our goals and expectations were very high,” said Collins, the sixth head coach in school history. “We’re just not going to say we’re going to lessen our expectations. Obviously for an LIU team, our expectations are to compete for a championship so I won’t say that we’ve changed that at all. With that being said, I’m not going to put a number on it. What I want to see being in a new conference is our team competes. If we compete week in and week out, then I think those results will happen.”
As part of the elevation to Division One, the LIU’s home venue, Bethpage Federal Credit Union Stadium, had to be upgraded to meet Division One requirements. Stands on one side of the field were demolished after last season and are being replaced with stands that will mirror the existing larger side. Construction is still ongoing, but the expectation is that everything will be done in time for the home opener on Saturday September 21st against Sacred Heart at 1pm .
“The stadium itself is still in progress but it looks great,” said Collins. “It’s a very impressive facility. I would say once the stadium is completed it will be the nicest stadium within our conference…no doubt. That’s exciting. It will be ready by the season opener so we’re excited about playing in the new stadium. We have a sights set on upgrading our facilities in the weight room area and locker room area and obviously that comes with going out there and getting support from our alumni in order to complete that project.”
The home opener is one of just three home games for LIU in their first season of Division One. They will also host Saint Francis on Saturday October 19th at 1pm and they’ll entertain Merrimack on Saturday November 23rd at noon.
LIU’s jump to Division One is certainly exciting for the school, but it’s also huge for the football fans on Long Island who now have a second Division One school to follow for the first time since Hofstra’s program was disbanded. And when you think about all of the youth, middle school and high school players on Long Island, there’s now another goal to shoot for.
To be an LIU Shark!