Case Western Reserve University is nationally recognized for academics. This year, it’s also excelling in athletics. The football team that’s made up of future doctors, engineers and financiers has made the Division III NCAA tournament for the first time since 2009. The team was 10-0 during the regular season.
WKSU commentator Terry Pluto says many people, including some Case students, are surprised to learn that Case has a football team.
Pluto credits coach Greg Debeljak for putting the team on the map. He has a 101-42 record in 14 seasons. "He came in here and thought, can you actually blend academics and athletics?"
The average Case player scored about 1,400 on the SAT test, 32 on the ACT, and ranked in the top 10 percent of his academic class.
"Coaches would stay a few years and get frustrated and leave," Pluto says. "That's because you're looking at three-to-five percent of all kids playing high school football that could hit that criteria."
Cake majors, future doctors and the accidental quarterback
Pluto says the "cake" major at Case is considered corporate and international finance. "That's what you take to skate by," Pluto jokes.
He says that's because over half of the players on the team are engineering majors and some are pre-med. He says they play for the love of the game and the camaraderie.
Gage Blair of St. Edward's High School is in his senior year of the nursing program and working 8-hour shifts for his clinical at University Hospital. He's an all-conference center.
Quarterback Rob Cuda is from just outside Chicago. He had a 4.0 GPA in high school with plans to attend the University of Chicago. He didn't get accepted. "So he just went online looking at ivy league-caliber schools. Case Western Reserve pops up. His first season [record] was 7-3. Last season 9-1 and this year, 10-0. They call him the accidental quarterback."
A different philosophy
"When I did a book on the '64 championship Browns, almost all of those guys graduated from their different colleges. And they think, 'If I'm lucky to have a pro career, I'll get to do that for three, five or ten years and then I'll go get a real job.' In fact, they were working while they were in the NFL.
It wasn't the mentally now that, 'I have a free education and I'll go to the NFL and they should pay me enough the next three-to-five years so I never have to work again.'"
Case Western Reserve got one of seven at-large bids to the Division III NCAA tournament. They travel to Illinois Wesleyan Saturday at 1 p.m.
If Case and Mount Union University win on Saturday, the two teams will meet in the second round.