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The Birth of a Program

By Dane Sabarese, Alvernia University

The Birth of a Program

October 5, 2016. Alvernia University creates a cultural watershed as to what it means to be a Golden Wolf. A dominant population of student-athletes was only bound to grow because of this decision. Fans would line the parking lots on Saturday mornings getting ready to cheer on their Golden Wolves. Not only would the stadium need to be renovated, but the locker rooms and gyms would as well. It has led to the creation of the beloved “Plex,” and has given yet another team for the sports fans to root for. It goes without saying that when the Board of Trustees and former President, Thomas F Flynn decided to add football to Alvernia, a university with rich athletic history, it was the start of something great.

During the official press release announcing the birth of the program, President Flynn said, “Our launch of football now is part of a logical evolution for the university at a time when we are well situated to expand athletic and recreational opportunities for our students.” The University has evolved since the announcement back in 2016, the Turf Complex has been renovated in its entirety, the “Flynn Plex” has been created, and the Physical Education Center (PEC) has undergone changes to enhance the athletic experience for student-athletes.

Former President Thomas F Flynn during introductory press conference of the new program. Picture Courtesy of Jon King.

Early Years (2018-2021)

While the announcement came in late 2016, it wasn’t until 2018 that the fans would see the first action from the Golden Wolves football team. In January 2017, the Athletic Department would appoint Ralph Clark to be the program’s first-ever head coach. Clark joined Alvernia from Seton Hill with nineteen years of experience under his belt. In his introductory Press Conference, Clark said, “The plan. Moving forward…We’re going to recruit Alvernia kids.” For those wondering what Clark means by this he goes in-depth saying, “Gotta have character and you have to fit the academic mold.  We’re going to educate.  They’re going to be scholar-athletes.  Scholar comes first.  They are going to fit the academic mold of Alvernia University.” The outlook after the Press Conference looked promising, but as most programs would in their early years, the Golden Wolves struggled. In their inaugural 2018 season, the Golden Wolves would only find themselves with one win. That win not only against Gallaudet University but also the first-ever game in the school’s history.

First MAC Win (2019)

In 2019, there was an improvement. The Golden Wolves would end the season with a record of 2-8, but this time they found themselves winning their first-ever Middle Atlantic Conference (MAC) game. For most who are unaware, conference games are as critical as they come when talking about the importance of games, and in their second year as a program, the Golden Wolves notched Lycoming for their first MAC win. In a game where the Golden Wolves were flagged twenty times, they were still able to get the win. Coach Clark said, “The ability to stay with it and being accountable to one another and challenging adversity.  We did a lot of that today. It didn’t matter what happened. We had four turnovers and were down at halftime and it didn’t matter. Great effort for our kids today.” Adversity is the name of the game and a very common theme throughout the history of this Golden Wolves team.

Coach Clark gets the team administered shower after his first MAC win. Picture Courtesy of Jon King.

Guess Who’s Back (2021)

After a long battle with Covid, the Golden Wolves football team would finally be able to take the field once again in the 2021 season. A “burn the tape” type of season to say the least for the Golden Wolves. The team would go winless after an extended offseason, leading to the firing of the coaching staff and a search would ensue for the predecessor to Clark.

A Change in Management (2022)

On January 24, the Golden Wolves staff would welcome a new face to the pack. The new play-caller and Head Coach of the Golden Wolves, Steve Azzanesi, joined the staff from Deleware State University. During his introductory press conference, Azzanesi said this about his new opportunity, “I look forward to meeting the current team, as well as future Golden Wolves, as we embark on our journey to be the best football team we can be…With Alvernia’s forward thinking administration, the addition of multiple competitive majors, and new facilities that are top-notch both at the small college level all create an excellent environment for student-athletes to be successful in the classroom and on the field.” Needless to say, Coach Azzanesi was ready to hit the ground running, and that showed in his 2022 record.

Making History

With the 2022 season coming to an end, Azzanesi finishes his first tenured year as a record holder for the Golden Wolves program. Azzanesi will find his name inked next to the school win record at least for now. The Golden Wolves ended the season with a 3-7 record, the best in the program’s history. While Azzanesi and the Golden Wolves have a higher goal set for the 2023 season, it is important to build on the little things when building a program. When asked about what it takes to build the program he wants, Azzanesi said, “The first thing started with was the word together. It means that when times are hard and when adversity is faced. Everyone can be a great teammate whether you’re up by 40 or down 40. As a program, we need guys pulling others up instead of down.” It is safe to say that the Golden Wolves did just that in their record-breaking season, and while the team looks to improve in 2023, it is obvious this program is headed in the right direction.

Coach Azzanesi and his team after winning their first MAC game since 2019. Picture Courtesy of Marisa Lombardo.