Bulldogs, and their basketball team, tend to get the most attention in the college-sports world of Indianapolis. But don’t forget about the Greyhounds and their continued football success on the south side of town. The University of Indianapolis (UIndy), a private college with a Division II football program, completed a historic undefeated regular season last weekend with an 11-0 record, defeating Notre Dame College (Ohio) 42-27, and will host the Harding Bisons (Searcy, Arkansas) in an NCAA playoff game at 1 p.m. this Saturday at Key Stadium.
Head football coach Bob Bartolomeo, the 2017 Great Lakes Valley Conference (GLVC) Coach of the Year better known as “Coach Bart,” guided the program to its first undefeated slate since 1953, and leads the Greyhounds into the playoffs with a 15-game winning streak, the longest active streak in Division II. “It really hasn’t hit home yet, because as a coach you’re just on to the next one, because you’ve got to be,” Bartolomeo says, considering the quick turnaround for the playoffs. “My wife keeps asking me, ‘Are you having fun yet?’ and I say, ‘Not really; it’s still the season.’”
Though he’s bracing for a Harding team that runs an option-style offense he hasn’t coached against in approximately a decade, Bartolomeo eventually relented and admitted to being able to soak it in just a little bit after last week’s win. “Walking off the field last week was pretty special,” he says. “Knowing we went 11-0 and how hard it is, both for the kids and the staff. That’s pretty cool.”
Those kids include the largest UIndy senior class Bartolomeo has ever had—17 student-athletes who have worked incredibly hard to come back from a lackluster 6-5 season in 2016 to earn the program’s fourth playoff berth in the last six years. Aeneas White, a senior safety and a defensive captain, wanted to ensure his final season would end with a different story than the previous year’s disappointment. “We had all been here through the ups of the program, winning four [consecutive] titles, and then last year it kind of dropped off and it left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth,” White says, referencing the attitude by the rising senior class. “From the day after the final game of the season and our final meeting, we all met and talked about how we had to take this team under our wing. It wasn’t on the coaches; it was on us to do everything the right way.”
Jake Purichia, UIndy’s starting quarterback and the 2017 GLVC Offensive Player of the Year, recognizes what a great job his more experienced teammates have done since that meeting. “Having the group of 17 seniors is awesome,” says Purichia. “A majority of them have a big impact on the team on and off the field.” The local product from Cardinal Ritter High School put an exclamation mark on the field in the regular season finale, throwing for a career-high 348 passing yards and adding five touchdowns, the most for a UIndy passer since 2003. He also knows that on-field success is built through relationships with teammates. “I think you create those off the field and it plays a big part on the field,” Purichia says. “Playing for one another and having that passion to play for each other, we definitely have that.”
For Bartolomeo, the relationship-nurturing among players is critical, but the most important work is away from the weight room and the field. His program strives for victory in sport, but personal growth and academic success for the student-athletes is a must. “Every day we’re pounding, ‘Get your degree,’ from day one,” the eighth-year UIndy coach says. “Only two haven’t graduated in eight years. You stay at it, we’ll help you. We’ll help you help yourself.” That tone is set from the top with University President Robert Manuel and the unwavering support Bartolomeo says he receives from Athletic Director and Vice President for Intercollegiate Athletics, Suzanne Willey, and then works its way through the entire community. “UIndy itself is all about people,” Bartolomeo says. “I think there are great relationships with our professors to start with. We have three goals, and the first goal is to get a degree, so we make sure the kids are going to class and doing the right things on that end of the campus.”
As for personal growth, White talked about how much he has grown as a person and communicator by playing with such a diverse roster made up of student-athletes from big cities and small towns; from urban and rural settings. “It opens you up and it broadened my horizons to different people and how to deal with different people,” the two-time all conference defensive back says. “It’s a good thing for me because it will definitely help me out once I’m done with football and go out into the ‘Big Boy World,’ as everyone likes to say.”
But in the meantime, White and his teammates have at least one more game to play—or five total if the Greyhounds want to punch their ticket to the NCAA DII Championship in Kansas City on December 16.
The Greyhounds’ quarterback is certainly among those looking to keep playing beyond this weekend’s matchup against Harding.
“We’re hopefully not done,” Purichia says. “We definitely want to make a run.”