JOHN KOVACH | Colleges Chaney grad Drake continues to lead Thiel in tackling
GREENVILLE, Pa. -- Robert Drake, a Chaney High graduate, was the leading tackler on the Thiel College football team last season as a freshman.
And this year, the sophomore linebacker picked up where he left off by leading the Tomcats in tackles in their season-opening 13-9 loss to Malone College two weeks ago.
But although Drake, a 5-foot-8, 180-pound outside linebacker, knows how to mow down opposing ball carriers on the football field, he also knows how to put his sports, academics and life in the proper perspective.
And that makes him a good role model for younger players coming up the ranks.
"I don't have to play football. It's just something that I like to do. It's not my main focus. I'm here to get an education," said Drake, who had 86 tackles last year, including 32 unassisted, and started this year with 14 stops against Malone, including 11 solo hits.
"It's Division III and the competition level is not that great, so basically I'm just going out there having fun." He also is doing well in the classroom with close to a 3.0 grade-point average for his first year with a double major in business and psychology.
"I don't have a football scholarship because Division III is not allowed to give football scholarships, but they gave me a pretty good financial-aid package," Drake said. "But if I didn't play football, I'd still get the package."
Recruited by Morgan
Drake was recruited to Thiel by another Chaney graduate, Clyde Morgan, a former Thiel player who coaches the Tomcats' running backs.
"I wanted to play football out of high school. [But] I am undersized at 5-8 180. It was either Muskingum or Thiel College," recalled Drake. "I was close to going to Muskingum, but it was a little far. But the recruiter at Thiel was from Chaney, Clyde Morgan. He was someone I could talk to.
Drake said Morgan told him that "the [financial-aid] package he [Morgan] got at Thiel was pretty good, and he told me he could probably get me a good one."
Drake also is having more fun on the football field because he is playing outside linebacker, after being switched from inside linebacker last year.
Likes to roam
He likes playing the outside because "I am better able to utilize my speed, and I'm not the biggest guy in the world and playing inside I had to go against bigger players."
Drake now has a better chance to "run across and make tackles from far away" and "to go for an interception."
He said he is making just as many tackles from the outside as he did at inside, "but it put me in a better position to do what I want to do -- to run around a little more."
Drake has found another home at Thiel and a lot of reinforcement and encouragement.
"It's not too big. It's not far from home. And basically in the classroom you can talk to the professors. The main thing is I am comfortable here," said Drake, who also likes the low student-teacher ratio and the small classes. "There are not a lot of students in classes.
"The coaches help you to get tutors. The coaches are familiar with the advisers and they can steer you in the right direction for tutoring."
Bowell is roommate
Drake's roommate, Dominic Bowell, also is from Chaney and, like Drake, is a sophomore outside linebacker for the Tomcats.
"He [Bowell] went to [Youngstown State] his first year and then transferred to Thiel," Drake said.
Also important to Drake is that his mother, Jerolyn Dawson of Youngstown, doesn't have far to travel to visit him at Thiel and watch him play.
"My mother has had a special effect on me. She comes up to see the games. It's kind of nice for her having me [here]. It's not a long way for her to have to come," said Drake, who was coached at Chaney by Ron Berdis.
Thiel's coach is Jack Leipheimer, a native of Sharon in his second year at the helm after guiding the Tomcats to a 2-8 record in his debut, including 1-3 in the Presidents' Athletic Conference.