Lackawanna College churns out OL

SCRANTON, Pa. -- Mark Duda behaves like a man who knows every cog and every moving part in his college. He stands alongside visitors on the sideline and doesn't break eye contact when he senses a drill is over and it's time to blow the whistle.

He greets a never-ending stream of college coaches but can still tell from his peripheral vision when one of his players isn't giving 100 percent. He's the head football coach and the Dean of Students. Operating on two planes has become second nature to the do-everything coach at Lackawanna College, a junior college that started up a football team in 1993 -- 99 years after the school first opened its doors.

In the program’s 20 years, it has become one of the top destinations for offensive linemen in the Northeast. Duda has helped send more than 100 football players to Division I, and he estimates about 30 of those are the big guys up front.

"People send us great linemen so hopefully we don't mess them up too much," Duda said with a laugh. "Everybody's synonymous with something, and we have the offensive linemen."

Lackawanna College has again found the limelight this spring because of -- what else? -- two of its offensive linemen. Jermaine Eluemunor is among the most coveted junior college prospects in the nation, while Jarell Broxton is garnering more attention and already boasts offers from Baylor and Florida Atlantic.

Both are 6-foot-5, 300-plus pounds, and both can play guard and tackle. Neither player had ever heard of Lackawanna College -- but their high school coaches sure knew.

"We kept selling him on the idea that you have this one opportunity, and this is a good program," said Bill Regan, Eluemnor's coach at Denville (N.J.) Morris Knolls. "Lackawanna is structured, and he needs that because he's a young kid. He needed accountability, so I thought it was perfect."

Regan watched one of his other former players, wideout Donald Jones, parlay his time at Lackawanna College into a scholarship at Youngstown State. And, from there, he earned a roster spot with the Buffalo Bills and now the New England Patriots.

Broxton didn't need much convincing. The school was relatively near his hometown of Gaithersburg, Md., and his coaches told him it boasted a healthy reputation for producing linemen.

And, when Duda wanted to switch his forte from defense to offense, Broxton relented after a brief conversation that centered around Lackawanna alum Bryant McKinnie, a first-round NFL draft pick.

"He told me McKinnie played defensive line here and then he moved over and became a pro," Broxton said. "So, after he said that, I was thinking he was probably right."

The beginnings of this football program are as humble as the city that surrounds it. Duda read about the opening in a local newspaper's small classified ad and decided to apply. He figured he'd stay for a few years, gain coaching experience and move on to greener turf elsewhere.

"I didn't even know Lackawanna College existed," Duda said.

But, after one season as the defensive coordinator, he was pegged as the new head coach. His reputation as a defensive tackle for the St. Louis/Phoenix Cardinals preceded him, and high schools began sending him talented linemen who needed to improve their grades.

Little by little, word spread until McKinnie -- the seventh overall pick of the 2002 NFL draft -- found himself on campus. He gained 70 pounds, played two seasons under Duda and then transferred to Miami (Fla.) and won the Outland Trophy. He helped put Lackawanna College on the map, and his framed photo still hangs in Duda's office.

"I didn't realize we would become a national recruiting place," Duda said. "But it just worked out very well. We were fortunate enough to know enough people to get referrals. And Bryant McKinnie really helped get everything rolling."

Duda, a slender man who looks more like a former wideout, has no plans right now to coach elsewhere. He commands his team from inside a local sports complex, just a stone's throw from Mike Munchak Way, a road named after a Hall of Fame offensive lineman. And this is where he met his wife.

Lackawanna College no longer accepts walk-ons because the demand has grown too great these last few years. Duda isn't sure where this program might be in another 20 years -- or even after players like Broxton and Eluemunor matriculate to prestigious FBS schools -- but he's ready for this season.

And so are his offensive linemen.

"We're dominant. We have to improve, but we're dominant," Broxton said "I think you'll see we'll be one of the best lines in the country."