PUGH, FATH EARN FOOTBALL RIDES
Article to run in the 11/26 Bucks County Herald
High School Senior Night brings the bittersweet reality that most players being honored will be competing in their final home game.
For at least two area senior standouts however, their football careers will continue at major colleges.
Council Rock South’s Justin Pugh and Quakertown’s Eric Fath have both earned scholarships to Division 1 programs. Pugh will attend Syracuse next season; Fath takes his cleats to Liberty, currently ranked in the Division 1-AA Top 25.
Pugh gets rewarded for a season in which one area publication called him the best defensive lineman in suburban Philadelphia.
“Justin has been an absolute pleasure to coach and he is going to be sorely missed,” said CR South head coach Vince Bedesem. “Justin gives great guidance and leadership on and off the field, while maintaining a high academic work load in the classroom.”
Syracuse’s scholarship offer came early in the recruiting process, at the end of Pugh’s junior season. The timing brought advantages. “Since I had already committed, I went into this season without having any worries even if I got injured. They were still going to honor their commitment,” notes Pugh.
“I’ve talked to a lot of other Suburban One guys during the season and they haven’t committed yet or they are waiting for other offers. It just seems like there is so much stress.”
He adds, “My parents were a big influence during this process and they wanted to make sure that I was getting the best education possible. I wasn’t really worried about location. Since I was going to be spending the next 4 or 5 years there, I wanted to make sure that the feel was right. Everything felt right about Syracuse.”
Contrary to popular opinion, there is no such thing as a “four year free ride.” Scholarships are renewed on an annual basis.
But that fact in no way diminishes the accomplishment.
His size- Pugh stands 6’5”, 275 pounds- and skills placed him on the college recruiting scene at the end of his sophomore year when he was a third team All-Conference selection. He improved to earn first team all-SOL National honors as a junior.
Pugh felt an instant connection with the Orange. “Syracuse was my first choice,” he remembers. “They were the first Division 1 school to really offer me anything to any extent. The first school that comes after you and gives you attention, obviously you’re going to have good feelings towards them.”
The positive vibes toward Syracuse persist despite a 2008 Orange squad that has struggled at times. He recalls his official visit to this year’s Penn State game:
“Syracuse got beat pretty badly but on the first play of the game, Penn State fumbled the kickoff and Syracuse recovered. The Carrier Dome holds 60,000 people and they started going crazy. The sound has nowhere to go. I was taken aback by how loud it was and how amazing it felt…and I was wishing I was on the field right at that point.
“When I’m playing there, it will happen to me too and I’m looking forward to that happening.”
Syracuse plans to redshirt the versatile Pugh, who plays both offensive line and defensive tackle. His college position will be determined by how Pugh physically fills out and by Syracuse’s needs.
“Obviously I’d love to play. If I do get redshirted next year, I’d like to get time on the field my sophomore year. I think I’ll be able to put on weight, get stronger and maybe see some time on special teams or something,” says Pugh. “I want to be able to contribute to the team.
“My junior year, we’re going to be playing USC and we know that all of those guys are going to the pros. I just want to be able to play against teams like them, Boston College, and a Big East which is getting better each year.”
Bedesem comments, “I believe Justin has only hit the tip of the iceberg with his future success. One of many outstanding qualities Justin portrays is his fierce competitive nature on the field. In practice and in games, he stays consistent.”
Rumors constantly swirl around the job security of Syracuse coach Greg Robinson; Pugh is not immune from those.
“Everyone has heard the rumors in the newspapers. When a new coach comes in the old coaches’ recruits sometimes take a back seat and I don’t want that to happen. I want to make sure that – if a new coach even comes in- I’d be one of his guys and he’d feel comfortable with me,” says Pugh.
(Note: Greg Robinson was fired after this interview took place.)
But he is excited to join the Orange’s great tradition, recently highlighted by the movie The Express, which documents the life of Syracuse Heisman Trophy winner Ernie Davis.
That Syracuse connection extends to the Delaware Valley. Some Eagles fans may have heard of another successful Syracuse alum- that McNabb fella.
“It gives you goose bumps just to hear (that legacy),” Pugh admits. Syracuse “made a big deal about The Express. It makes me proud to be going there and proud to be playing on the field that they played on.”
“With his drive, dedication and determination Justin will make a great impact in the near future,” Bedesem predicts.
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Like Pugh, Fath wrecks havoc on both sides of the ball. As a tight end this year, Fath scored seven touchdowns, led Quakertown in receptions and yards and averaged a gaudy 21.5 yards per catch. Fath the linebacker registered five sacks, second best on the team.
“Eric’s maturity level is high for a young man his age and that is what allows him to compartmentalize all of the things that he is juggling in his life: school, football, music, and social life,” observes Quakertown head coach John Donnelly.
“Eric has been such an excellent role model to our underclassmen. He is a hard worker and a class act. He does everything with 100% focus.”
Fath stands 6’3” and weighs 235 pounds. Despite his imposing size and impressive statistics, Fath has played just three years of organized football. The stratospheric upside of the still raw two way threat attracted many programs.
Donnelly assembled a DVD of Fath highlights and mailed it out to various Division 1 and 1-AA coaches at the end of the 2007 season. A tight end that had played just two years of football for a 1-11 team otherwise would likely have flown under the radar of most recruiters. But they noticed Donnelly’s protégé.
Liberty- the largest Christian school in the country- was an easy decision for Fath. He plays bass in a Christian rock band named Once Called Saul and is a leader in the Quakertown chapter of Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA).
“One of my main focuses was the academics because that is very to me, just as important as the athletics,” echoes Fath. “I am very excited about the football but I’m not going to college to only play football.”
“Spiritual life on campus is also important to me, such as FCA. It is what got me interested in Liberty in the first place.”
Fath’s intended major complicated his search process. He plans on concentrating in Music Ministry, a specific option not available at every college. “A lot of the big D1 schools have music programs,” he explains. “Temple has an amazing music program (but) that type of music is not exactly what I’m looking for. If I were doing performing, then definitely it’s an awesome place to go.”
Like Pugh, Fath received an early offer- in the summer between his junior and senior year. Unlike Pugh, Fath’s commitment to Liberty is oral and not written, although Fath insists “from me, that is just as good as a letter.”
Nonetheless, college recruiters still make unsolicited contact to the Quakertown Panther to this day in order to confirm his commitment. “I still get calls from a lot of schools to come there,” Fath says. “I guess part of the process for other people isn’t 100% verbal.
“I still have recruiters from Liberty who really want to be sure I am coming. They know there is intent to sign but it is still a free game. I think they see that I definitely want to come. They see I’m very excited about my opportunities there. They know I am serious about football there.”
Fath- who is likely to be a tight end in college- is also happy to have been an early committer.
“I am so glad I got the offer before my senior year,” he says. “I was worried about the senior collapse, being overloaded or injured. It is good to have that worry off of me for the season. I can relax, have fun, go play football, make plays, and show them how good I can be for them.”
Fath’s goal is to start or get as much playing time in 2009 as possible. He has the physical tools to start as a true freshman, but he is aware that certain skills- like his blocking- can be polished.
Donnelly predicts that Liberty will be quite pleased at their other Northern Bucks County standout- Pennridge alumnus Ryan Grieser is Liberty’s starting safety. “(Fath’s) impact on the field this year has been monumental,” says Donnelly. “He still has much growth to achieve, but this was truly a breakout year for him. He is the best tight end I have ever coached.
“Eric is not satisfied with himself or the season just yet, because the biggest game on the schedule is left……Pennridge. I think Eric will have his best game to date on both sides of the ball…..not a bad way to end a great career.”
And start another career. Playing Division 1.
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