ROME, Ga. — A year ago, with each snap of the football, each point scored and each big play, Berry added another first to the program’s brief history.
Now, with the pomp and circumstance of the program’s inaugural season in the past, the focus of Coach Tony Kunczewski, his coaches and the student-athletes has transitioned to building a program of significance.
“A lot of people around here know about Berry,” Kunczewski said in a recent interview. “It’s getting the Berry Football name out there. Our current players will always be our greatest ambassadors in recruiting.”
The program returned 66 players from last year — in line with coaches’ expectations — and added an additional 42 more through recruiting. This year’s process was made easier by a full complement of coaches who hit the trail; last year, Berry recruited with just three coaches.
The program’s sweet spot for recruiting falls primarily within a three-hour radius from Berry’s northwest Georgia campus: Alabama, Tennessee and northern Florida in addition to The Peach State. And, while Kunczewski admits recruiting is never an easy task, it helped having a class of players already on campus to serve as advocates for the school and the program.
“It’s just huge to have guys already here,” Kunczewski said. “The guys you already have in your program are the ambassadors for the next guy who comes in.”
The Vikings open their sophomore season with a challenge on Saturday when they travel to Maryville. The Scots are projected to repeat as USA South Conference champions and played the role of spoiler last year during Berry’s first-ever football game.
Berry finished its inaugural season of play with a 1-9 record, but Kunczewski said he is pleased with progress the team made during spring practice. The Vikings are scheduled to play its 2014 home games at Barron Stadium in downtown Rome, a few miles from campus.
A new on-campus stadium is set to open for the 2015 season, but following the high turnout last season, administrators are looking at increasing capacity at the to-be-built stadium.
While Kunczewski acknowledges on-field success has been slow to matriculate, he subscribes to the notion that football plays a larger role in the development of students. Channeling former Indianapolis Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy, Kunczewski wants players to be “significant.”
“He talks about success vs. significance,” Kunczewski said. I think success for all of us is pretty easy to define out on the field in terms of wins and losses. But, hopefully your main focus is on being significant.
“I think significance for us is making an impact off the field as well,” Kunczewski added. “I believe with our community service efforts and our integration into campus, I believe we’ve made huge strides in becoming significant towards the institution. I think when you focus on significance, success will follow.”
For Berry, a school of about 2,200 students, the key to success was building a program that added to the allure of a school much beloved by alums.
“We’re selling the institution — and, football — the experience you’re going to get here, and that’s what I’ve been most proud of out of year one,” Kunczewski said. “We’ve got a long way to go on the field, but I think we brought in guys that were the right fit for Berry. And, that’s important when you’re talking about a school that’s been around for over 110 years and has never had football.”