Alumni and Friends of VMI:
VMI Portal Site: For those of you who have listened to VMI football games webcasts you've run across a VMI portal site at www.VMIKeydets.com. I understand that VMI basketball games can also be heard through this site. The site is run by George Inge '91. If you haven't done so, I encourage all to visit this site as it contains links to the VMI Cadet newspaper, etc., etc.
A Jaunt in the Woods Lands Many Rats a Number One: OK, OK here's what I understand about this story. Seems the cadre was going to send the Rats on a forced march one Saturday morning a number of weeks ago. Unknown to the cadre and in an effort to show Rat mass unity, a bunch of the Rats decided to get up at 2:00 AM and go hide out in the woods (I believe somewhere behind Patchin Field). When the cadre went to roust the Rats at 4:30 that morning about 160 of the Rats were nowhere to be found. So....the Commandant runs a CCQ status check. Lo and behold the 160 Rats have to bone themselves. End result...a 160 Number Ones which is 4 months confinement, 60 penalty tours and 15 demerits. Guess they'll have plenty of time to establish that unity during the next several months. Whew!
Foreign exchange / Former Keydet has starring role
in CFL, Montreal
Sunday, October 17, 1999
BY MIKE HARRIS
Times-Dispatch Staff Writer
From the balcony of his 19th-floor apartment, Thomas Haskins has a view of virtually the entire city.
He likes to sit out there when it's warm. He looks one way and can see the expensive mansions even higher up the hill than his building. Off in another direction is Olympic Stadium. Downtown's high rises are straight ahead. Just down the hill is Molson Stadium, home of Haskins' employers -- the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League.
It's appropriate that Haskins lives where he can see most of Montreal. It's a town that he's well on the way to making his own.
Three years removed from his record-setting career at Virginia Military Institute, Haskins is getting a chance in the CFL and making it count. The "Als" put Haskins, a graduate of Highland Springs High, on the field regularly when star running back Mike Pringle was injured. Now they can't take him off.
Haskins rushed for 262 yards and two touchdowns in the two games he started for Pringle.
When Pringle came back, Haskins moved to slotback. In his first two starts there, Haskins had 221 receiving yards and scored three touchdowns. Through 14 games of an 18-game season, Haskins was second in the CFL in kickoff returns and third in total yardage.
"Thomas is really something special," said Jacques Dussault, Montreal's assistant head coach. "I wish I had 12 Thomases on the field. He came up here and made himself a good punt returner. Then he made himself a good kick returner. Then he made himself a good rusher, a good receiver.
"Whatever you ask of Thomas he'll do it, and whatever he does, he'll do it well. He's amazing. It's that simple."
OK, so it isn't the NFL. Despite rushing for a then-Division I-AA record 5,349 yards at VMI, Haskins didn't get a chance at the NFL. He's never been to an NFL camp. He's over that, somewhat. It still gnaws at him a little, though nowhere near as much as it once did.
He has a job, a good one, even if the money isn't the same as it is in the NFL.
He lives in a magnificent city and has a growing following. More and more people are recognizing him as he strolls along Rue Sainte-Catherine. There are places in town where his money's no good, where management is just happy to have in the house the player some are starting to call the most exciting in the CFL. Twice on a recent national CFL broadcast, commentators called Haskins exactly that.
"Things are definitely sweet right now," Haskins said. "I was talking to one of the coaches for the British Columbia Lions after we played them. He said he enjoyed watching me play, said I was probably the hottest guy in the CFL right now.
"This league so far has been awfully good to me."
The CFL and Haskins fit each other. The field is wider and longer, there are 12 players on each side of the ball and motion on offense is legal. At full speed when he gets the ball and with extra room to maneuver, Haskins is a dangerous man. Montreal quarterback Anthony Calvillo calls Haskins "future dog." Before long, he said, Haskins will be universally recognized as a marquee player.
"Thomas is one of the greatest athletes I've ever played with," Calvillo said. "He makes plays. He can turn a 5-yard catch into a 90-yard touchdown. People are getting the idea now of what he can do."
The big question with Haskins is what is he doing in Montreal in the first place? People at VMI, in Virginia and in the Southern Conference have known for a while what Haskins can do. There's a perfectly good league in his own country.
Surely, what he did at VMI merited someone taking a good look at him.
His career numbers were spectacular. He had a minimum of 1,509 rushing yards each of his final three years with the Keydets. He's third all-time on the Division I-AA rushing list. He averaged 6 yards per carry. He scored 50 touchdowns. Twice he was the Southern Conference's offensive player of the year, and he's the only VMI player to have his jersey (No. 10) retired. Eight of the top nine rushing games in school history are his. He had 7,405 all-purpose yards, tops in the league. He was first team on six All-America teams. He has 21 school records and shares five others.
Sight unseen, that should have been enough to get him in someone's camp. It never happened. He didn't get much more than a sideways glance. Some workouts and nothing more.
"It still bothers me a little, especially on Sunday nights and Monday nights when I'm watching," Haskins said. "It humbled me more than I was already humbled. To be able to achieve what I did and not even get an opportunity is really puzzling.
"I look back now and can't tell you exactly why I didn't get a look. That's all I ever wanted, just a chance to get into somebody's camp."
Various reasons are trotted out for Haskins being overlooked.
He's not very big. He stands 5-8, weighs 185 pounds. But Virginia Tech's Vaughn Hebron and William and Mary's Robert Green weren't big either. Both were listed at 5-9, 195 pounds in their senior years in college. Both spent some time in the NFL in the 1990s.
Scouts questioned his speed. Haskins said he ran once after his junior season for someone who claimed to represent a scouting service. Haskins ran a 4.6 for the 40-yard dash on what he called a bad day. His actual time is 4.4.
"I believe that 4.6 got spread around the NFL," Haskins said.
Could he catch? He caught plenty of pitches but not many passes at VMI. Haskins had 27 receptions for 179 yards in his career at VMI. That yardage total is a good game for him now. Catching, he said, is what he does best and what he likes to do most.
It can't be his character. Haskins is a VMI graduate. They're not all saints -- a couple of VMI guys held up a Brinks truck not that long ago -- but Haskins is one of the bright lights.
"Thomas is a terrific young man," is a phrase you'll hear often in Montreal, in English and in French.
"They don't come any better," said Danny Maciocia, the Alouettes' running backs coach.
So what gives?
Bill Baker, a former University of Richmond defensive coordinator, is a scout with the Seattle Seahawks. Baker, still a Richmond resident, was scouting for the Atlanta Falcons when Haskins was at VMI.
"It kind of surprised me that he didn't get in [a camp] anywhere," Baker said. "I had him as a free-agent possibility and I think that's what most teams had. I had hoped somebody would have given him a chance. It just didn't happen. It works that way sometimes. We weren't looking for that type of back at that time. I don't know about the other teams.
"He is small. That might have hurt him as much as anything. Small player, small college. When that's the case, you really have to have something that stands out. Thomas doesn't have great speed. He did have that outstanding production. I would have thought he'd of gotten into someone's camp."
One person watching Haskins' situation with interest was Jim Popp.
As Haskins wrapped up his junior year at VMI, the Baltimore Stallions were wrapping up their days in the CFL. They were part of a short-lived experiment with the CFL in the United States. When the old Cleveland Browns relocated and became the Baltimore Ravens, the Stallions were sent looking for a home. For a brief time, they looked at Richmond.
They ended up in Montreal, where the previous edition of the Alouettes had been dead for 10 years. Popp was one of the few Stallions' employees who made the move. He's now the team's general manager.
He invited Haskins to a tryout camp near Charlotte, N.C., in the spring after Haskins' final season as a Keydet.
"Thomas was a lot faster than what everybody kind of had him pinned at, especially the NFL teams," Popp said. "He is short. He's also very strong and stocky. He's a terrific person, too. I always describe our game in the CFL as full-court pressure on a football field. You have to be that kind of athlete. Our rosters are smaller. You have to be versatile. You can't be specialized."
In Haskins' case, he also had to be patient.
His first year in Montreal, Haskins was on injured reserve most of the season. He can't describe his injury because there really wasn't one. Like the NFL, teams in the CFL sometimes try to hide a player they like on injured reserve. He ended up playing two games at the end of the year, rushing 18 times for 134 yards and catching two passes for 15 yards.
Last season, he played a little more. He had 211 rushing yards, 207 receiving yards, 412 kickoff return yards and 267 punt return yards.
This year figured to be more of the same. Pringle, who played with the team in Baltimore, set a league record last year by becoming the first CFL player to have a 2,000-yard rushing season (2,065). He had 13 consecutive games with at least 100 rushing yards, shattering the old record of eight. He was the league's Most Valuable Player.
Pringle, at 32, is seven years old than Haskins. Even if Pringle hadn't gotten hurt, the team had plans for Haskins. Pringle can't last forever. When he injured ligaments in his right knee and missed two games, Haskins stepped in and gained 137 yards one game and 125 the next. Moved to slotback after that, Haskins kept up the production. In Monday's 43-7 victory over Saskatchewan, Haskins had 114 receiving yards. One of his catches was good for a 32-yard touchdown.
"Thomas stays ready," said Montreal coach Charlie Taaffe, a former head coach at The Citadel where he had to try to defend Haskins for three seasons.
"What he's been able to do for us is a testament to his character. He feels he's as good a back as anybody he plays against, and he makes a very good argument for himself."
That's what he wanted to do, get a chance and go.
"Thomas has been very patient. The guy in front of him [Pringle] has been an MVP in this league," Popp said. "We told him to keep working hard, that it would all pay off. Now, the truth is he's one of the most outstanding players in the league because of how hard he's worked. Now we're trying any way we can to get the ball in his hands."
Said Haskins, "I've shown I can make plays. That's what it is all about. That's how your money grows. Now my expectations are even higher. I'm doing some good things, some exciting things."
Montreal is 10-4 with a two-game lead in the East Division over the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Six of the CFL's eight teams will make the playoffs. Winning the division means a first-round bye and a home game for a chance to go to the Grey Cup, the CFL's version of the Super Bowl. That game is scheduled for Nov. 28 in Vancouver.
When the season ends, Haskins said he'll take one more look at getting into an NFL camp. He's going into the option year of his contract and league rules allow players in that situation a nine-week window to try to secure an NFL contract. Haskins knows Detroit Lions coach Bobby Ross through their VMI connection. That's a likely starting point.
Baker said NFL teams regularly study CFL talent, and Haskins' production will be noticed. With the NFL ready to expand again, more players are needed.
"Frankly, we're starting to run out of players," Baker said. "I think you'll see more guys who are playing in Canada and in the European league in our league. There's no question Thomas is somebody who will be evaluated.
"His chances might not be great. But there are players who have done it."
Said another NFL scout who didn't want his name used, "He's been productive. He has good speed and good short-area quickness. If he continues to be productive in Canada, he might be someone you look at and consider signing. But you're always going to want bigger. He might be a hell of a player. But he might not be quite what we want."
With things going so well for him in Canada, it might seem strange that Haskins even wants to leave for a no-promises chance at the NFL. He has good reasons, starting with the money. He's not that concerned with the size of a contract. It's the tax thing that hurts U.S. players in Canada. They get hit twice.
The NFL is also the football league of his home country. News of the CFL isn't a big thing back home. At times, he feels cut off from his family. His mother, father, one of two brothers and fiancee Monika Taylor still live in Richmond. Phone calls and e-mail do only so much.
"Guys have gone from this league to the NFL," Haskins said. "Look at Doug Flutie. Guys like him keep the dream alive for a lot of us here."
But he's ready if things don't work out. Haskins has already discussed a long-term deal with Popp that would put him in the $150,000-a-year (Canadian) range. There are other ways to make money. Former William and Mary runner Michael Clemons has become a fixture in Toronto, complete with a fancy nickname ("Pinball") and endorsement deals.
Haskins recently bought a software program for his computer that will help him learn French. You can survive in Montreal without knowing French. But it's much easier if you do know it.
"I took it for four years in high school and never really paid attention," he said with a laugh.
The NFL may never happen. Things could be worse, much worse. Haskins needs only to step onto his balcony and survey the beautiful city below to remind himself of that. He lives in the heart of it all. He can ride the subway to practice at Olympic Stadium, walk to games at Molson Stadium. A couple of blocks from him is a row of restaurants, and Haskins may try all of them. He has a favorite, an Italian place, and it took him several minutes on a recent visit to reach his table because he kept stopping to greet and thank well-wishers.
Montreal may soon become more than a part-time home.
He came to the CFL, he said, thinking it would be a stepping stone. He knows it may be the final step. It wouldn't make him unhappy.
"You can do fine here. Pinball has made himself an icon in Toronto," Haskins said. "It's every football players' dream to make it to the NFL. Not everyone can do it, that's the reality. I wouldn't consider myself a failure if I ended up having a long, productive career here and that's what it may come down to.
"If the NFL happens, it happens. If it doesn't, I've got a home here."
CFL via Virginia
Thomas Haskins (Virginia Military) and Winston October (Richmond) of the Montreal Alouettes are not the lone flag-bearers of state colleges in the Canadian Football League. Others who attended college in Virginia on CFL rosters as of this week are:
Player Pos. College CFL team
Michael Clemons RB W&M Toronto
Kelly Wiltshire DB JMU Toronto
Donald Smith DB Liberty Toronto
Mike Cawley QB JMU Saskatchewan
VMI Success Stories: In a recent update I
opined that VMI needs to do a better job touting its success
stories. I recently received the following and thought I'd share
it with our participants. Oh, and by the way, my first name is
Robert, but I much prefer to go by my better know handle of RB.
Thanks to Alex for sharing his experiences.
Forgive me for not using your first name, but I don't know it, but since you're an Alum of the finest school in the nation, you probably remember how often as cadets we referred to each other by our last names anyway. I saw the bit below and I just thought I would shed a little personal insight on this to you. VMI education, as is often touted, has many advantages besides just teaching academic book smarts. For one thing, its the other lessons from VMI that have gotten me to where I am today. Working under pressure, time management, leadership, seeking and taking responsibility, etc. have gotten me to where I am today. I have a Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of South Carolina (awarded Dec. 98, 4 1/2 years after I graduated from VMI) and I was awarded a very prestigious National Research Council (NRC) Postdoctoral Fellowship at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).
First of all, the NRC postdoc is an award competed for nationally - so I was probably up against high level brainiacs from MIT, CalTech, what have you when I applied for the position. Further, NIST is a premier govt. lab, so working here is also a bit of an achievement. I'm blowing my horn a bit here, but I'm still surprised that I ever got this award. Graduate school, and the classes there, were very very difficult for me when I first go there, but lessons taught at VMI, such as working under pressure and time management, got me through the rough first year of heavy academics.
The other lessons of VMI got me through the rest of my time
there. I graduated with my Ph.D. with a 3.7 (maybe 3.6, I can't
remember) GPA, and I had enoughother accomplishments to land me
here. To go on further, in my graduating class of 1994, among the
6 chemistry majors, 4 of us now have Ph.D.s in chemistry.
Academics at VMI could be improved, but its the other lessons at
VMI that make our graduates succeed at just about anything we do.
Okay, I'm preaching to the choir here, but I thought I might just
tell you how far a VMI education has gotten me. Share with others
if you like.
Alex Morgan, VMI '94
Thursday, October 14, 1999
Keydets look up in S.C. polls
FROM STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS
VMI's basketball team was picked to finish last in its division in a poll of media members at the Southern Conference's preseason press gathering in Greenville, S.C., on Wednesday.
League coaches picked VMI fifth in the six-team North Division in their poll.
VMI went 12-15 overall and tied for third in the division with a 9-7 league mark last year. The Keydets lost in the first round of the league tournament.
Appalachian State was picked to win the North in both polls. The coaches picked Chattanooga to win the South, but the media chose the College of Charleston.
Last season, its first in the league, the College of Charleston went 16-0 in league play and won the conference tournament. The Cougars beat North Carolina and Massachusetts in nonleague play.
The only starter returning from the 28-3 team is center Jody Lumpkin. The Cougars have 11 freshman on the roster. Highly regarded junior James Griffin, who transferred from Wake Forest, won't be eligible until after the fall semester.
""Last year's team was cake to coach,'' Cougars coach John Kresse said. ""This year, I'll have to combine some yelling and screaming, a great deal of patience at times, and all the motivation thoughts and sayings I can produce.''
And it still might not be enough. The Cougars placed a stranglehold on the Trans America Athletic Conference in their five seasons there, but the parity in Southern Conference makes a similar dynasty unlikely, Davidson coach Bob McKillop said.
""Charleston had a number of close calls last year,'' he said. ""That will be experience for every team this year.''
Houston Alumni Activities: Joe Leonard, Jr.
'83, President of the Southeast Texas Chapter Alumni Association
asked me to pass along a couple items:
1) Joe requests that all Houston area alumni contact him at JLeonard83@aol.com with their respective e-mail addresses. They're trying to create a local e-mail list (newsletter?) for area alumni.
2) If anyone is going to be in the Houston area on Nov 13 and would like to attend the annual VMI-Citadel party, contact Joe for details.
That's it for this week.
Yours in the Spirit,
RB Lane '75
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