Coach Jay Fry (cap and vest) talks to his club football team after practice in preparation for their final regular-season game, a 39-16 win over Ohio State. CONTRIBUTED/BOB RATTERMAN

Undermanned Miami club football team earns spot in league’s title game

Club football started at Miami 11 years ago and they have been conference champions three times and got into the national championship game twice, finishing as national runners-up both times.

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This year’s team, however, is special because the accomplishment of getting into the league title game with such a small roster meant everybody playing a lot of downs.

Head Coach Jay Fry said he enjoys coaching a team which plays for the love of the game without scholarships or pay of any kind.

Make no mistake, though. This is no touch or flag football league. This is college players, in pads, hitting each other hard on a football field. Most are former high school players who did not want to give up the game when they came to college. Some came with the idea of playing NCAA college football but found themselves left out of mix. Some still harbor dreams of being noticed at the club level and being invited to play for the varsity.

Whatever the reason, however, they still go out on the field and play a hard-hitting brand of football, just with a much smaller fan base and far fewer amenities—like showers.

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“An official came to me after a game and asked where he could shower. I told him this is club football, we don’t even have showers,” Fry said with a laugh.

Students are invited to an open house at the beginning of the school year to check out a vast array of club sports and join clubs which suit them. Turnout for football was a bit thin, smaller than past years and Fry was skeptical.

“It’s a lot of fun. After 11 years, I thought ‘Holy Moses, how can we field a team?’ It’s more daggone fun,” Fry said.

The numbers make for an interesting coach-to-player ratio, though with seven coaches having a role.

The staff includes his son Jay Fry Jr., Gerry Meyers, Todd Triplett, Hooper Hurst, Nate Jackson and Joe Jackson.

“We have all head coaches,” Fry said. “We have six head coaches, seven counting myself.”

Later, standing on the sideline at practice on the artificial turf of Miami’s Dauch Indoor Sports Center as several of those coaches put players through their repetitions of plays, he laughed and said, “I’m doing what I’m supposed to do, watch practice.”

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Meanwhile, the players were out on the artificial turf running through some new plays they would use against their next opponent, Ohio State. Having already beaten the Buckeyes’ club team Oct. 21 by a score of 19-18, the RedHawks hosted them Nov. 4 for a rematch and topped them again, this time by an even wider margin, 39-16.

The difference in that first game was a PAT kick with 20 seconds remaining after Miami scored to tie the game and freshman George Brophy came in to kick.

“At the beginning of the game, I did not get a kick off,” Brophy said of a failed kick attempt, which came to his mind as he got ready for the game winner. “When I originally kicked it, I thought it was blocked.”

Brophy came to Miami from Grosse Point, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. He said he had offers from smaller schools but came to Miami because a parent went to Miami.

He learned of the club team at the Mega Fair, where he talked to one of the team captains and came out for the club team.

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For a roster of 18 players, the Miami club football team is rich in kickers. In addition to Brophy, they also have a junior placekicker who was with the team when they went to the national championship game in 2015. Michael Christy came here hoping to get a spot on the varsity team and still harbors hopes of that, pointing out that he was one of two from Miami to earn first-team national recognition two years ago on special teams from the National Club Football Association. He comes from a high school with a rich football tradition, Chicago St. Ignatius, where his 43-yard field goal is still a school record.

The other NCFA special teams first-team honoree from that 2015 squad is punter Jack Hannan, a standout punter from St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati. He said he averaged 40 yards a punt in high school with a long of 65 yards. He also came to Miami with varsity dreams.

“I wanted to walk-on but it did not work out. I saw a flyer (about club football) and I’ve been punting for them ever since,” Hannan said. The national championship game was memorable for him. “Being in the national championship game was better than I had imagined. It came down to the final minute. That was cool. I did not know it was a thing. I had no idea there was a national championship.”

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Fry credited Hannan with getting the ball inside their opponents’ 5-yard line many times this season, giving a boost to their defense on subsequent possessions.

This year’s team started with a 20-0 loss to Wright State University, having not had a practice and, after a bye week, beat Pittsburgh by a 36-0 score. That was followed by a forfeit win over UW-Milwaukee. Following that, they ran four straight on-field wins beginning with a 22-3 win in the rematch with Wright State, the 19-18 win over Ohio State, a 25-0 win over Pittsburgh and last week’s regular-season finale 29-16 win over Ohio State at home.

“We beat Ohio State (in the first game) when they were number 3 in the country,” Fry said. “We’ve played Ohio State (11) times and lost one time in ten years.”

The 6-0 record earned the RedHawks the West championship of the Mid-Atlantic Conference and the right to play Coppin State Saturday for the league title and a spot in the NCFA semifinals.