The Norfolk State football program is putting together an impressive track record for academic progress.
The Spartans will receive the Football Championship Subdivision Academic Progress Report Award for the second consecutive year after having the best academic progress rate in the MEAC. The award recognizes the school with the highest football APR score in each of the 14 FCS conferences during the 2009-10 school year.
Norfolk State is one of four repeat winners from a year ago.
"This is significant recognition for the institution as well as the athletic program,'' Norfolk State Athletic Director Marty Miller says. "It says a great deal about the football staff and athletes and academic support unit we have working with them.''
NCAA member colleges and universities adopted a comprehensive academic reform package in 2005 designed to improve the academic success and graduation of all student-athletes. The centerpiece of the package is the academic measurement for teams, known as the APR.
The FCA Athletic Directors Association (FCS ADA) instituted the FCS APR Awards last year. This year's recipients will be honored on June 16 in Orlando, Fla., in conjunction with the National Association of College Directors of Athletics (NACDA) Convention.
Teams that fail to achieve an APR score of 925 - equivalent to a 50% graduation rate - may be penalized with the loss of scholarships. Norfolk State's APR was 928 for 2009-10 and 948 for the previous four-year period.
"They've done a good job and the numbers reflect that,'' MEAC Commissioner Dennis Thomas says. "It takes a commitment, a sincere commitment, to academic excellence. Obviously Norfolk State has made that kind of commitment to academics.
"I have to give credit to Dr. Kim Luckes, the interim president, and Marty Miller for providing the leadership and the resources to have a chance to be successful. You have to give (football coach) Pete Adrian and his staff and athletes kudos for actually making it happen. As head coach it starts at the top and filters down to coaches and student-athletes. It shows where their priorities are. Coach Adrian has done a magnificent job emphasizing the academic side to athletes.
Adrian says the Spartans' APR "means we're recruiting the right kids.''
"We're looking to get as good as we can,'' he says.
Adrian says when prospective student-athletes are being recruited one of the first things he and his coaching staff look at is their attendance record.
"If they were only absent one or two times, they're pretty dedicated,'' he says. "If they were absent 20 times, you're going to be constantly trying to get them out of bed to go to class.''
Adrian has certain measures in place to ensure that team members go to class, including requiring that they go breakfast. He doesn't go through the dorm ringing a cow bell at 6 a.m. the way Eddie Robinson, the late Hall of Fame coach used to do at Grambling State, nor does he collect team members' meal cards and give them back when they get to the cafeteria, another of Robinson's tactics.
Adrian has his own methods that work.
"It hits home with them that when they don't do well or don't go to class, they only hurt themselves,'' he says. "Nobody wants to make bad grades.''
Adrian requires the entire team to attend study hall, and he has the coaching staff follow up to ensure that they do their work.
"What I've tried to do is build an environment where you go to school,'' Adrian says.
"You're expected to go to school.''
Team members who skip classes and those who are late for classes must attend 6 a.m. conditioning sessions.
"It doesn't take a lot of sense to make a decision to get up at 6 for exercise or to get up at 8 a.m. to go to class,'' Adrian says.
Adrian has a zero tolerance policy for those who break the rules.
"You have to be consistent,'' he says. "If I give you three chances, you're going to take three chances. All I ask for is communication. If you know you have something important and miss class, I don't have a problem. But if you tell me three weeks in a row that you have a dental appointment, you better show me some bridge work.''
Data for the 2009-10 reporting period shows that HBCUs continue to struggle to meet APR requirements. Thirty-three of the 103 penalties across all sports went to HBCUs. Norfolk State for the second consecutive year had the highest APR among HBCUs.
Miller, who was named acting athletic director in 2004 and elevated to the position permanently a year later, says his No. 1 priority from the start was to strengthen the Spartans' academic support system, which has in turn improved their APR.
Jacqueline Nicholson was hired as Athletics Academic Coordinator and faculty and staff volunteer to serve as tutors.
"It's a collaborative effort from individuals on campus,'' Miller says.