By MIKE POPOVICH Repository sports writer
CANTON TWP. -- Jim Dennison loves to talk about The Game
No, the director of athletics and head football coach at Walsh University did not talk about his most memorable game during his appearance at the Pro Football Hall of Fame Luncheon Club on Monday. The Game, in Dennison's eyes, is football. And he says football teaches you about the game of life.
"No matter how much you play, you can look into a mirror and respect yourself if you practice and go through the entire year," Dennison said. "It's a work sport. Nothing is handed to you.
"It's a sport where you will have setbacks, just like we have setbacks in our everyday living. But you have to react. What do you do when you lose or when things go bad? You don't mope, sulk or pout. You get back up and come back again."
Dennison's passion for football and the players who play the game is why he remains on the sidelines. He was the head coach at the University of Akron for 13 seasons and the school's athletic director for six years before retiring in June 1993.
But Dennison came out of retirement later that month to become the athletic director at Walsh. Eight months later, the university announced it would institute football as a varsity sport in the fall of 1995 and named Dennison as head coach.
"Many people ask me why would a person come out of retirement and get into the 12 to 14 hour days and recruiting wars," Dennison said. "My answer is very simple. I got back into this thing because I love to work with young people. And I love to teach. By coming to a place like Walsh, I could administer (the athletic department), get back into the sport I love and do a little teaching along with it."
Dennison started from scratch at Walsh. His first recruits committed to the school a year early when the football program did not have helmets, jerseys, shoulder pads or even a locker room.
The Cavaliers have faced several challenges and, under Dennison's leadership, have won many battles. Walsh has posted four straight winning seasons, including 6-5 last year.
The 1999 season will mark a new beginning for the Cavs. The football program lost its first full senior class (23 seniors), so recruiting was important during the off-season. The 30 recruits signed by the Cavs include four first-team All-Ohioans and three skill players from Florida. Three NCAA Division I transfers also will be coming to Walsh.
The Cavs will have a lot of new players this year. Dennison has already told them a story about how Walsh can maintain its level of success.
"It was a story about the redwood trees in California," Dennison said. "They grow 300 feet high, the length of a football field. And a redwood has a very, very shallow root system. Wind should knock a redwood over. But it doesn't. The reason it doesn't is because redwoods grow in clusters. Their roots grasp on to each other.
"That's the same thing that makes a successful football team. When a group of people cluster, grasp on to one another and depend on each other, you trust and get a lot of respect."