Mon Jul 20th, 2020
Special to the Drum
Bobcat senior selected for end-of-year showcase
Half a century after first fielding any sort of intercollegiate athletic squad, the University of Mary brass certainly began generating appropriate and optimistic buzz about Bismarck, N.D., back in February when announcing Mike Van Diest had been added to Marauder Football’s coaching staff.
And even as an assistant, his acquisition was most notable.
A six-time NAIA National Champion (2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007 and 2010) and two-time Runner-up (2008, 2011) skipper, Van Diest molded Carroll College into a Montana menace, and retired in 2018 after two dominant decades in charge.
Including an intimidating 35-8 postseason record, Van Diest’s Fighting Saints went an amazing 203-54 overall – figures ultimately leading the four-time AFCA NAIA Coach-of-the-Year, whose collegiate coaching career began in 1976 as a graduate assistant for Fiesta Bowl-bound Wyoming, to the NAIA Hall of Fame just last year.
Pretty easy to see why the man was still in demand – whether as an NCAA Division II orchestrator or a high-school instructor/evaluator, and by players either established or emerging, hoping to see and be seen.
Count Ignacio senior Joe Garcia amongst preps nationwide hoping to play for such a gridiron mind, both after graduation, but also sooner than that – as a chosen participant for the 2021 Hawaii Tiki Bowl in Honolulu, the island’s state capital.
“There’s opportunities,” Garcia stated Monday evening, July 13. “There’s going to be a lot of college coaches. Plus I’ve never been to Hawaii, and my family gets to come with me. Quite a bit of my family’s going – cousins and stuff, uncles.”
Factoring in the football, the holidays, and even birthday celebrations during the trip for youngest siblings Marquise and De’vra Richards, and the extensive Dec. 30, 2020-Jan. 4, 2021 excursion should be one the whole family won’t forget.
But despite being somewhat familiar with both the style of event and processes controlling it from his U.S. National Team tryout experience in Texas last summer, Garcia said the Tiki Bowl – plus its associated team-building and sight-seeing activities – was a concept completely alien to him.
“I actually didn’t know anything about it,” he admitted. “But a coach texted me, asking for me … like, ‘Is this Joseph Garcia from Ignacio Football?’ and stuff. I said ‘Yes’ and they sent me all the information and, like, all their flyers, an invite and everything. Then I just showed my mom and we went from there.”
Confirmed as a pick for the invitation-only spectacle, Garcia will be one of potentially 70 senior all-stars (up to 35 on each team) suiting up for the Jan. 3 kickoff inside historic Aloha Stadium – home of the NCAA Div. I Hawaii Rainbow Warriors, former base of the National Football League’s Pro Bowl, and site of the 2020-revived Hula Bowl. A collegiate all-star clash, Van Diest had coached in that contest’s 60th installment back in early 2006.
Each Tiki Bowl side will be coached by two collegiate coaches, and amongst those also previously invited to lead have been NJCAA legend – and former St. Louis Cardinal defensive tackle – Mark Duda of Lackawanna (Pa.) College, and St. Ambrose (Iowa) University’s Mike Magistrelli, whose appearance in the 2020 Tiki Bowl was his seventh to date.
And speaking of the current calendar year, 2020 NAIA HOF inductee Bill Cronin of Georgetown (Ky.) College could also again be shouting from the Tiki Bowl’s sidelines. Still active with a career 204-61 (23-13 postseason) record since his 1997 arrival on campus, he took GC to four straight National Championship rumbles between 1999 and 2002 – when the Tigers fell to Van Diest and Carroll – and won back-to-back crowns in 2000 and ’01.
Of course, all parties involved in the 2021 Tiki Bowl are hoping the global coronavirus pandemic will have finally dissipated enough to permit safe travel to the String of Pearls and even safer game play to properly ring in the New Year.
“They were pretty worried about it,” recalled Garcia. “But they pretty much assured us that, you know, it’s going to happen … and if it doesn’t, we’ll be alright; we’ll get our money back.”
Expected this fall to again be a primary ball-carrier on offense for IHS (3-6 overall, 2-2 1A Southern Peaks in ’19) as well as a vital outside linebacker defensively, Garcia indicated a strong sense of local pride should serve him well out on Oahu Island regardless of the Bobcats’ on-field fortunes.
“I’m a Southern Ute tribal member, and the only member – or even just from Ignacio – that’s ever got to go do this,” said the 2019 First Team All-SPC selection. “I mean, I’m confident and feel pretty good.”
PASSING THE TIME: Attempting to self-isolate as much as possible, save for school-approved preseason training activities, Garcia said he’s been relatively content keeping to himself and family as opposed to excessive outside interactions while doing his part to battle the rampant coronavirus.
“Football every day, pretty much … the last month we’ve been going at it,” he said. “But right now I’ve just been hanging out at home – got my wisdom teeth taken out last Thursday – so … I’m doing pretty good.”
DID YOU KNOW: Going into the 2020 season, should it actually commence amidst COVID-19 safety concerns, Cronin stands tied for 82nd in wins amongst all collegiate head coaches with 200 or more, while Van Diest is tied for 84th.
Amongst the individuals they’ve overtaken are Joe Glenn, former boss of the 1996 and ’97 NCAA D-II National Champion University of Northern Colorado Bears (Glenn’s son Casey, coincidentally, was part of Carroll College’s 2002 NAIA National Championship squad), and Darrell Mudra who led Adams State College (now University) to a 32-4-1 overall (15-1-0 Rocky Mountain Faculty Athletic Conference) mark from 1959-62 during his first collegiate head-coaching stint.