Franklin College football coach Mike Leonard doesn’t use it as a recruiting tool. Nor does he take any particular credit for it.
But in the past six years, an inordinate number of his former players have continued their careers professionally overseas, including five since 2013.
Leonard couldn’t be happier for each.
Not because they get to keep playing football, but because football has provided a unique opportunity to explore the world.
“To me, it just blends perfectly with the (NCAA) Division III philosophy of a student-athlete,” said Leonard, who’s in his 13th season with the Grizzlies. “Being able to study abroad is incredible, just to learn a different culture and see that, hey, they do things totally differently than we do here in America.
“And some of it’s good, and some of it’s not so good. It opens their eyes to a different way of doing things; and to me it’s more about education than the (football) contract.”
Leonard understands that as well as anyone.
Prior to being hired at Franklin, he spent four years coaching football in Japan. He didn’t know the language, knew little about the culture and was wholly unfamiliar with the Japanese approach to football.
By the time he returned to America, he was well-versed in all of the above and regards the experience one of the most valuable of his life — which is why encourages his players to take advantage of overseas opportunities if they’re presented.
“They’re not going to get rich, but they’re going to get taken care of,” Leonard said. “The American players have living expenses pretty much all paid for, and then (get) a little bit of spending cash on top of it where they can travel Europe.
“It’s not it’s 100 percent football all the time over there. They’re given so free time.”
On July 8, running back Joey Pasquale, a 2015 graduate, became the sixth former Franklin player to play overseas since 2009, when quarterback Chad Rupp blazed the path by joining the Schwabisch Hall Unicorns in Germany.
In 2014, quarterback Jonny West signed with the Turku Trojans in Finland. The same year, wide receiver Kyle Linville joined the Schwabisch Hall Unicorns.
This spring, West and Linville signed with the Franken Knights in Germany, as did former Franklin teammate Colin Gallagher, an offensive lineman. West suffered a broken leg and is serving as an assistant quarterbacks coach at the college.
Also this spring, quarterback Grant Welp, a 2014 graduate, signed with the the Erebro Black Knights in Erebro, Sweden.
Leonard can’t explain why so many of his former players are getting overseas offers. But he is delighted his players don’t have to do what most Division III players have to do if they want the experience, and that’s to pay their own way.
A number of Division III teams schedule overseas exhibition games, but they do so at a price.
“They’ll take 40 guys that can afford to come up with $2,000 or $3,000 , and they take the whole team over there,” Leonard said. “I’d like to be able to say, ‘Our guys get paid to go over there.’”
Leonard made the remark in jest, but he is serious about the benefits of an overseas opportunity.
If it comes along, he encourages players to take it.
“They’ll be able to just have great experiences that they’ll be able to relay on to their children and just have a better understanding of the world,” Leonard said. “That’s what we’re all about here at Franklin.”
FRANKLIN COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYERS WHO HAVE PLAYED PROFESSIONALLY IN EUROPE
Chad Rupp;Quarterback;2009;Schwabisch Hall Unicorns, Germany
Jonny West;Quarterback;2014;Turku Trojans, Finlands
Kyle Linville;Wide receiver;2014;Schwabisch Hall Unicorns, Germany
Jonny West;Quarterback;2015;Franken Knights, Germany
Kyle Linville;Wide receiver;2015;Franken Knights;Germany
Colin Gallagher;Offensive lineman;2015;Franken Knights, Germany
Grant Welp;Quarterback;2015;Erebro Black Knights, Sweden
Joey Pasquale;Quarterback;2015;Porvoon Butchers, Finland