The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

Bill Bowman

October 4, 2011

Susan’s mindset permeates Bison

A week ago, after his team’s dominating win at Princeton, one of Joe Susan’s best friends, who happens to be a longtime assistant for the Tigers, caught up with the Bucknell football coach. Steve Verbit told Susan, now in his second year of rebuilding the Bison, he had one of the toughest football teams Verbit had seen in a long time.

What his college roommate said meant as much, if not more to Susan than anything that has happened to him since he arrived back in Lewisburg two Januarys ago. Susan, an assistant at Bucknell for a decade, said it gave him a similar feeling to someone telling you one of your children is a good kid.

Make no mistake about it, one of the things that has drastically changed over the last season and five games is the team’s toughness. Tim Landis’ teams were tough, but a different kind of tough.

You have to be tough to annually be one of the nation’s best running teams.

I can’t quite put my finger on it, but things just feel different now. It’s not a nasty, hey we’re going to shove you around the field kind of tough, or even an in your face, intimidate you from the moment you get off the bus kind of tough. This team, like the one a couple of miles down the road at Susquehanna, just oozes mental toughness, which translates into physical toughness on Saturdays.

And make no mistake about it, it starts at the top.

Joe Susan was a standout lineman during his days as a player at Delaware and helped the Blue Hens to the national title game, being named the Newark Touchdown Club Offensive Lineman of the Year. That mentality never leaves you, and 16 games into his stint as the Bucknell head coach, it is what is defining Susan’s reclamation project in Lewisburg along with his talented coaching staff.

Susan won’t let his team relax. As much as he’s a football coach trying to win games each Saturday, he’s also a maker of men, a gig he finds more important. That’s why his players can’t show weakness. He doesn’t allow his players to put their hands on their hips when they are tired; they are instructed not to react if something goes wrong on the football field. If they get hurt — not injured, but hurt — they are to get back up as quickly as possible.

Susan walks the walk, too.

On Saturday the 56-year-old got cleaned up on the sideline when a kick returner was tackled in front of the Bison bench and plowed into him.

Susan rolled out of the hit, quickly climbed to his feet, untangled the headset cord from around him and threw the crowd a fist pump with a smile on his face and it was right back to work.

A smile as he acknowledged the crowd? As serious as he is, I never thought I would see the day Joe Susan smiled until the clock showed all zeroes and the Bison were up. Susan showed no weakness, wouldn’t allow it.

From there, his team — one that was getting a little push from Georgetown after dominating the first 29 minutes — responded with a big drive, pushed the lead back and rolled home with their fourth win in five games and three more than all of last year.

Susan’s toughness rubs off on his players. That’s why the Bison, despite being outsized every single week, have one of the nation’s best defenses.

On Saturday, to kickstart his unreal performance against the Hoyas, 6-foot-2, 290- pound Robert De La Rosa exploded on Georgetown guard Don Rhodes, listed at 6-4, 310. Giving away two inches and 20 pounds, De La Rosa literally shoved Rhodes back like he was on roller skates. Eventually Rhodes got shoved right into the quarterback, then De La Rosa shoved him aside, grabbed the QB and threw him to the ground with one hand.

Right there, 10 minutes into the game you knew it was over. Bucknell, smaller again, was too tough, both physically and mentally, for the Hoyas.

And they are only going to be tougher from here, but so will the expectations, and the games. But that’s why the Bison strap it on Saturdays, because they like it that way.

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