Selling Geneva: How coaches recruit so many athletes

Geneva College may teach Creation in the classroom, but the athletic department was forced to evolve to recruit athletes.

“We were a scholarship program back in the early 90s and 2000s, so obviously that model has changed. We have a lot of coaches still who were here then so we’ve had to re-teach ourselves the recruiting process,” said Athletic Director Van Zanic.

The post evolution of Geneva athletics takes money out of the equation because as a Division III program, there are no athletic scholarships. Schools around the country at this level have only the facilities, academic programs and athletic tradition to market to prospective student-athletes.

The Golden Tornadoes’ growing sports teams confirm Geneva excels at its new method of drawing recruits. The football team is set to grow by 20 next year to an astounding 150 players on the squad. Soccer and baseball are both poised to boast full rosters of 40 each.

The increased numbers are not a sign of neglected academics — kids stick around. Zanic said the department will soon be able to announce retention rates of over 80 percent, which shows coaches are drawing in high numbers of students who want to invest in Geneva.

Nationally-accredited engineering, business and medical programs are highlights for the school because of high-job placement upon graduation. Geneva’s newest basketball recruits serve as a microcosm of what pulls these practical degrees can have on student-athletes.

Of Geneva’s five new basketball players, each falls into one of the above categories — one biology, one accounting and three engineering majors. Head basketball coach Jeff Santarsiero believes his freshmen came to Geneva because of the quality of education, but also partly due to the college’s relative affordability.

“If you’re an engineering major, there’s the Carnegie Mellons, or the Case Westerns, but those come with a price tag,” Santarsiero said.

The coach said there are a few other points he tells recruits about Geneva, such as the importance of the program’s heritage as the ‘Birthplace of College Basketball’ and the recent updates to school facilities.

But according to Santarsiero, what brings athletes to Geneva is the uniqueness of a Christian liberal arts school with an engineering and business focus. Santarsiero is himself a part-time professor who teaches classes in the physical education and sports management departments.

Geneva knows what to emphasize to bring in student-athletes.

“The trick for a coach is to find a niche. Football in particular has found a really nice niche with engineering. There are very few schools in the country that offer football, Christian and engineering,” Zanic said.

Geneva’s academics help draw in students. Once in the door, many students enjoy the unique atmosphere.

“We’re pushing people to come for a visit. Our yield percentage has been pretty good when we get them here, and it says a lot for the campus,” Zanic said.

This combination of liberal arts education with an accredited engineering program is what brought freshman guard Danny Torok to the Golden Tornadoes’ basketball team.

Torok is an environmental engineering major who grew up within walking distance of rival Grove City College, but after a standout career at Grove City High School, he chose the GTs over his hometown school.

“I was strictly engineering the whole way, looking at a few schools in the area like Penn State Behrend and obviously Geneva. Engineering’s pretty far and few in Western Pennsylvania,” Torok said.

Torok said Geneva tipped the scales when he came for a visit. He met with passionate faculty members and experienced Geneva’s spiritual environment. The school offered the right combination of distance from home coupled with these other elements.

Half way through his first semester and basketball season looming, Torok said he doesn’t regret his decision.

“I enjoy the faculty helping you to find a deeper journey,” Torok said. “They push you to find an interest in something other than just your field.”

Passionate staff and coaches who care and invest in their players is the main goal of Geneva’s academic and athletic staff. When fused with a Christ-centric approach, Geneva found its niche in the post-scholarship recruiting world.

“The diversity of Geneva is really what makes me enjoy my job because I know [when we recruit someone] we have an opportunity to minster to this kid for the next four years,” Zanic said.

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  1. Jimmy Stacks

    The football team will have potentially 150 players???? How many of those players will actually have a shot of playing for Demarco. Over the past few years ive seen alot of sideline cheerleaders.

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