Following a spring campaign that was more chaotic than a weekend at the in-laws, Bernard Clark and the RMU football program is waiting, yet again, for in-game action to return.
An 0-3 season at the turn of 2021 allowed the Colonials to test themselves against two members of their new conference (Kennesaw State and Charleston Southern), the Big South, and compete against national powerhouse James Madison. Even with subpar results, Clark and his staff are aware of what it will take to win when their full schedule begins on Sept. 4 against Dayton.
“It kind of gives us a barometer of where we sit in the conference and the things we’re going to have to do,” said Clark. “We know, for right now, there’s no doubt about it, this conference is a whole tougher than it was in the NEC. We also know, no doubt about it, we’ve got to get bigger, we’ve got to get stronger and we’ve got to get faster in order to compete in this conference with the teams that we’re playing against.”
RMU is attempting to use the rough string of games from its spring schedule to prepare for the fall season. Clark and his staff are now able to sit down and try to come up with an idea of how to better the team as a whole after seeing what their new competition can offer.
“We’re treating it as a preseason. So we’re treating it as, we’re going to reevaluate some of the things that we’re doing as coaches, we’re going to reevaluate some of the things we’re doing as players and make sure we’re doing things the right way.”
Constant schedule tweaks made preparation more than frustrating for RMU, as the program was paused due to COVID-19 issues. Games were shuffled around like a deck of cards and the coaching staff was tasked with trying to strategize for new opponents time and time again. Clark attributes the lack of preparation that came with the reschedulings as reasons for some of their shortcomings on the field.
“In the period of a month, we went through three different gameplans. So, we’re trying to figure out who we were playing. So, that was probably more frustrating than anything. The fact that we know where we sit right now and the teams that we played and how good those teams are; we’re excited about getting back in the summer.”
Like so many schools, Robert Morris had a fair amount of players looking for a new school to call “home” by entering the transfer portal. Program veterans Garrett Houser, Victor Solarin, Alex Avakian and Devyn Charles were accompanied by a few newcomers to the program in throwing their names into the portal. Clark recognizes that it is part of the game, but credits the players that stayed for staying true to their commitment to his program.
“We lost some key players. We lost some good players. We lost some good people, but, at the same time, you can’t worry about the ones that aren’t here. You can only work hard and be dedicated to the guys that are here.”
While not expressing frustration towards the players that left his team, Clark was unhappy with the number of players entering the portal throughout the entire NCAA. The former Miami Hurricane wants to see more players honor their respective commitments and questions what some players think will change by jumping ship, offering quite the analogy in the process.
“The grass is greener on the other side because someone’s mowing it, someone’s edging it, someone’s taking care of it. That’s why the grass is greener. If you go over there and you’re not taking care of your grass, the grass won’t be any greener.”
After not playing Duquesne in the spring, college football fans from the Pittsburgh area hoped that the rivalry would be renewed come the fall. As RMU’s schedule for later this year was unveiled bit by bit, it soon became clear that a game against the Dukes was unlikely. This was confirmed when the Big South portion of the schedule was released, completing RMU’s fall slate. If Clark had it his way, the two sides would compete annually despite the conference change. The two sides splitting their last two matchups against each other makes sparking the rivalry even more critical from his perspective.
“I’m hoping that it happens, I really am. I think it’s great for the city, it’s great for our guys, that’s a rivalry that needs to be continued. They killed us in 2018, we had a chance to get back on them in 2019. It’s a game that really needs to be played and our guys would love to play it.”
Central Connecticut State is another former NEC team that Clark wants to play somewhere down the line since that is the only team that he has not beaten yet from RMU’s former conference.
Looking towards the upcoming season, RMU is scheduled to play all eight Big South games consecutively with no bye weeks in between. Clark looks forward to adjusting to playing most of the teams for the first time and hopes that his team can be healthy enough to make the challenging stretch a little easier.
“It all depends on how healthy we are during that stretch. If we’re healthy, I think we’ll be fine. It all depends on that.”