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On and Off Field at Juniata: The Buck Stars Here

Written by: on Friday, October 31st, 2014. Follow Don Leypoldt on Twitter.

 

On October 15th, 2011, Juniata freshman quarterback Ward Udinski scampered 13 yards for a touchdown. It gave his Eagles a 7-0 first quarter lead at conference foe Ursinus.

You have to appreciate the significance of that touchdown…the only one Juniata would register as they fell 21-7 to the Bears.

You have to appreciate how that touchdown started the culture change that transformed Juniata from “football disaster” into a competitive program with the Centennial Conference.

You have to appreciate how Udinski was well on his way to re-writing many of Juniata’s records.

And most importantly, you have to appreciate how many fans back in Udinski’s hometown of Doylestown were following the former CB West star. That is a testimony to the countless- but it a number with four digits- of volunteer hours that Udinski has put into youth sports, coaching and mentorship.

Udinski received a huge validation of his volunteer work when Allstate named him to their Good Works team this Fall. He was one of just 11 students in all of Division II, Division III and the NAIA so recognized. Allstate joins the American Football Coaches Association to acknowledge “a select group of student-athletes committed to making a difference in their communities,” reads their press release. “These players have been honored for their countless “good works” and remarkable stories of service to others, and represent the sports’ finest in terms of character and leadership, in addition to maintaining good academic standing.”

People ask me how I still find time for the kids and the programs that I’m involved with but that is how it has always been,” explained Udinski. “I have been doing this stuff for so long that it is second nature now. It would almost be weird not to do it.”

Udinski started volunteering for the Lenape Valley Youth Organization at the wizened age of 10. “I was really inspired by my parents. They were very involved in the community and gave their time to different non-profit organizations,” Udinski said.

A young Ward Udinski started doing “little jobs” for Lenape Valley and their many sports leagues when he was still in grade school. “We were always there to get involved,” Udinski recalled, “and you keep getting more involved because you build relationships with the other people who help out and you want to go back. I helped out at the snack bar, to refereeing football games, to handing out equipment to helping out at registration. Every sort of miscellaneous job that they needed, I was probably involved with at one point or another.”

Udinski has spent numerous hours helping and befriending special needs students. He has spent as many hours helping to organize and support CB West’s football camp. Udinski leads a Bible Study back at Juniata. And Udinski’s academics have not suffered. The Math and Management major made the Centennial Conference Honor Roll for having better than a 3.40 GPA.

It’s a stunning resume, but if all Udinski did off the field was play video games, he would still be newsworthy.

A four time Centennial Conference Player of the Week, Udinski already holds Juniata’s career completion record. He shattered their career total offense record, where he could be the first Eagle to go over 10,000 yards. Barring injury, he will shortly break Juniata’s career passing yardage mark.

The Juniata spread offense is an excellent fit for Udinski- a 6’3” drop back passer with great speed. He came from a pro-style offense at CB West.

“The spread wasn’t completely new because I had been in the shotgun before and we had run some five wide sets (at West),” Udinski noted, “but we didn’t do it all of the time. It was definitely new for me to not be under center every play. When I first came in, it was just getting as many reps as I could, watching as much film as I could and learning as much as I could. It was not, by any means, any easy transition.

“There were a lot of growing pains and a lot of coaching with getting my mechanics fixed, making sure I knew all of the reads and checking into the right plays. It was definitely a big adjustment. But I really wanted to play and contribute to the team. There were a lot of late nights staying after practice on the field and watching extra film. It started rough,” he concluded, “but it eventually segued into what it is now.”

Udinski additionally has a chance to lead Juniata in rushing in all four of his years. Amazingly, he will graduate as one of the Eagles’ top six or seven all time rushers.

“If we’re going to run a four or five wide receiver set and they’re going to drop eight guys and cover everyone, then instead of forcing a bad ball I’m going to tuck it down and gain as much as I can,” Udinski offered. “Those turn into options on our pass plays. If they want to sit inside and stop the running back or me, then we’ll throw the ball. That is how the offense is built. There is definitely a good balance of designed runs and then some that are just ad lib where I’ll pull it down and get what I can.”

Last season, the Eagles went 7-4 and appeared in their second ever post-season game. This season, Juniata is a competitive 3-4 and they close the year with three winnable games. The idea of “competitive Juniata” would have been laughable a few years ago. The Eagles went a horrid 6-64 in the seven seasons before Udinski’s arrival.

Their struggles were one of the things that attracted Udinski to the program. Udinski, his class and brand new coach Tim Launtz were all dedicated to re-writing a storyline at Juniata.

“When I committed here, one of my goals- as well as that of the young players in the program- was to help change the culture. We all came here with that vision that we could turn this around with Coach Launtz,” Udinski said. “It’s been a long process and we still struggled early on my career. My freshman and sophomore years weren’t hugely successful seasons but they were important stepping stones into where we wanted to take the program.

“The guys have really gotten it. They believe in the guys next to them and they believe in themselves. They are starting to learn how to win and they are starting to see the work that goes into winning. They appreciate that and they work that much harder to keep winning.”

At the same time that Juniata was in the throes of rampant losing, a once proud CB West program was also struggling. As dominant as West was in the late 1990s when they rattled off four state titles, the Buck program that Udinski inherited was near the bottom of the Suburban One League.

“They were trying to find their own identity. So even going into West, my goal was to bring that program back and change the culture there,” Udinski said. “Taking that same plan to Juniata, I wanted to do the same thing here.”

Home teams went 7-1 in the first round of the 2010 District One AAAA football playoffs. That “1” was Coatesville- who fell to Udinski’s Bucks.

But just like at West, changes at Juniata took time. Udinski opened his Eagle career with five blowout losses. “My first few starts were not pretty. I made a lot of mistakes and it was a big learning curve for me,” Udinski admitted. “I am very fortunate that the program and the coaches really trusted me.”

The 2011 Ursinus game came mid-way through Udinski’s freshman season. The signal caller called it “the turning point.” Ursinus was the defending conference co-champions and although Juniata “didn’t win the game, we were competitive for the first time in my college career,” Udinski recollected. “They scored one of their touchdowns late in the game. It was a close game and we led 7-0 for a long time. That started to get guys moving and from there, it just started to build and build.

On the last drive of their last game of 2011, “the Goal Post Game”, Udinski threw a 39-yard completion to the Susquehanna three yard line. It set up a chip shot field goal on the game’s final play and enabled Juniata to beat Susquehanna 17-16 and end a 21 game losing streak. Since that game, Udinski is .500 as a starter and it is likely he will lead Juniata to their second straight non-losing season.

“The individual accolades that I’ve won are nice,” Udinski responded when asked what he is proudest of, “but they are all team awards. I tell them that all of the time. I don’t know if they ever listen to me!

“But how far the program has come, is definitely what I am the most proud of,” he continued. “From the size of the roster, to the facilities, to the uniforms, to the coaches. You can’t say it did a 180 because it did about ten 180s. When I came in, we had grass. Now we have turf. We had no lights; now we have stadium lights. We used to have two uniforms and now we have four uniforms.”

Udinski still has games left in his college career, and getting “W”s are his focus. “But once I’m really able to sit back and reflect on everything that we’ve accomplished over the last four years, I’m going to think ‘Wow, I can’t believe how far we’ve come from where we’ve started. It’s really, really special,” he said.

The same could be said about Udinski’s individual career on and off the field. From a high school student four years ago to a record book re-writer who has received national accolades for his volunteer work, Udinski will leave Juniata soaring higher than an Eagle.

 

To vote for Ward as captain of the Allstate Good Works team visit:

http://promo.espn.go.com/espn/contests/allstate/2014/phase1/thankyou

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