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Lack of scholarships fuels USD’s drive
USD defensive end Mario Kurn recalls crossing paths last year with an assistant coach from UC Davis, one of the schools that recruited Kurn out of Santa Fe Christian High.
Kurn, in the midst of a season that would produce a nation-leading 17 sacks, was outside the training room hours before USD and UC Davis were to meet on the field at Torero Stadium.
Said Kurn: “The coach was like, ‘You’re having a pretty good year’ and ‘You should have come to Davis.’ And I’m like, ‘You should have given me a scholarship.’ ”
The Aggies recruited Kurn as a “preferred walk-on,” which is to say they would welcome him with open arms — as long as he foot the bill. Kurn chose to stay close to home and attend USD.
USD, like the other member schools in the Pioneer Football League, is an NCAA Division I FCS program. The Toreros (2-0) like to test themselves in nonconference games against scholarship programs. UC Davis (0-2), which plays host tonight to USD, is the best test. The Aggies have won three of four meetings between the teams over the past five years, the Toreros winning 28-20 in 2008.
“Everyone out here wishes they had a scholarship, so it’s a good time to prove to themselves that they could be playing at that level,” said Kurn. “Beating up on the guy across from you reinforces that mentality that you could have been playing at a bigger school but chose to play here.”
USD head coach Ron Caragher admits not having scholarships puts him at a disadvantage in recruiting.
“Just about everyone wants to have that scholarship,” said Caragher. “To be able to say, ‘I got a full ride.’
“The thing I like to tell young men is, just because it’s scholarship doesn’t mean it’s better. … We’re nonscholarship but our guys leave here with a great experience, on the field and beyond the field.”
That said, Caragher wouldn’t mind it a bit if he had something more to offer players.
“Someday it would be a dream of mine if we could be scholarship and for the reason of rewarding the players,” said Caragher. “They’re out here working hard. It would be just something to reward them.”
Ky Snyder, USD executive director of athletics, said there are no plans for the foreseeable future to offer football scholarships at the school.
For one thing, the cost is prohibitive. Snyder estimates it would cost nearly $9 million.
“The reason it’s so large is it’s not just doing it for football,” said Snyder. “Title IX comes into play, so you’ve got to do scholarships on the women’s side as well. In order to get to that number of scholarships, then you have to have the number of sports available to do that.
“For us, once we crossed the threshold of 42 scholarships, we would then have to start adding women’s sports on top of it.”
So the Toreros’ focus is on winning the PFL and earning a playoff berth. The rub there is that their conference does not receive an automatic berth into the 20-team playoff and at-large berths are difficult to get as well.
Snyder said FCS presidents met last month and are pushing a proposal to expand the playoffs to 24 teams. The proposal also includes giving automatic berths to other conferences, including the PFL.
Until then, USD is left to build its résumé with quality wins. That means scheduling scholarship schools and other quality opponents. Future USD schedules include Ivy League opponents Harvard and Princeton as well as Cal Poly, which opened the season two weeks ago against San Diego State.
By Kirk Kenney, The San Diego Union-Tribune