Eric Schuster, of Laurel, has hardly posted impressive statistics during his career on the football team at Towson University. The school is in the midst of a magical season that will culminate in the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision national title game Saturday in Frisco, Texas, against defending champ North Dakota State.
A graduate of Reservoir High School, Schuster was a tight end early in his college career but was reserve defensive back and linebacker this season as a fourth-year performer. The most notable stats for Schuster, according to his biography on the school website, came when he had two tackles and recovered a fumble in the 2011 Tiger Bowl intrasquad game.
But every winning program needs someone like Schuster, according to Derrick Johnson, the cornerbacks coach for Towson. "He is playing linebacker now," Johnson, also a Laurel resident, said of the two-time all-Colonial Athletic Association academic selection. "He is selfless. He will do whatever we need. ... He is the epitome of a program [first] kid. ... He doesn't have the numbers [but] he embodies what we are as a program."
Towson went nearly 30 football seasons without a playoff win before the Tigers won at home over Fordham on Dec. 7. Then on Dec. 13 the Tigers went on the road and won at Eastern Illinois in the first snow game in program history. Towson then came back to win 35-31 in the closing minutes on Dec. 21 at Eastern Washington in the national semifinals, giving the Tigers their first spot in the title contest.
"The campus has been electric," says Johnson, who grew up in Upper Marlboro and played at Eleanor Roosevelt High and the University of North Carolina. "It is a great feeling to have the whole community behind us."
The Tigers, under head coach and Towson graduate Rob Ambrose, have several other Laurel connections. Sophomore reserve offensive lineman Derek Pittman, of Lanham, is a graduate of St. Vincent Pallotti High School, while James Simms, a Laurel resident and Reservoir High graduate, is a freshman linebacker. A redshirt this season, Johnson said Simms has "a real bright future."
Towson's magical season comes just months after Tim Leonard was named the new athletic director this summer. A native of Idaho, Leonard graduated from football-crazy Boise State and worked in the athletic department of the school early in his career. He made the trip with the Towson team to the game at Eastern Washington, where he planned to meet up with some of his Idaho friends.
"It does remind me of my undergraduate years at Boise State and the excitement of the playoffs," he wrote in an email.
The Tigers have to compete for media attention in the shadows of the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens.
"This university is committed to having a nationally competitive athletics program," Leonard wrote. "Now, we need to engage the community of Towson, the greater Baltimore region, and excite our national alumni base to take pride in their university and invest in the program. If we can do this, then we can achieve unparalleled success on a consistent basis. It's what this University and the phenomenal students here deserve."
David Driver is a former Laurel Leader sports editor.