FORT VALLEY — There is no easy and expedient route from Albany to Fort Valley, so Donald Pittman’s commute — when he makes it — is a little convoluted.
But the new Fort Valley State head football coach would be on assorted back roads these days anyway.
It’s recruiting season.
For seven years, Pittman was making those trips for Albany State as an assistant, and he helped the Rams to winning seasons during his entire stint with the team.
His charge now is to upgrade the talent brought in to FVSU as well as re-recruit the returning players and improve the Wildcats’ fortunes.
“I’ve been going back and forth about four or five times a week,” Pittman said. “I’m starting to cut back on that.”
FVSU entertained nearly three dozen recruits during the weekend, taking them to the basketball doubleheader with Albany State, watched by more than 3,500 fans at the Health and Physical Education Complex.
“The week before, we had about 12 transfer guys in,” Pittman said. “It’s been good.”
Recruiting for NCAA Division II schools is difficult enough, but that’s even more true for historically black colleges, which tend to be leaner with budgets, staff and other tools that aid in the process.
Pittman has a challenge at FVSU, which has a small recruiting budget, like most SIAC schools.
He has one of the smallest recruiting budgets in the SIAC. And he’s trying to build a staff while replacing about 20 seniors, including veterans at running back, offensive line, kicker, secondary and defensive line and a two-year starting quarterback, according to the roster for FVSU’s final home game last season.
There is a nucleus back, but the Wildcats do have some holes to fill. Pittman indicated that the interior defensive line is a priority, but that the cupboard is nowhere near bare.
“I looked at last year’s tape of Fort Valley and met with the guys,” said Pittman, who was hired Dec. 17. “I think we have a good, solid based. We have a very good foundation.”
FVSU roster was in flux for about half of the season as former head coach Deondri Clark awaited word that new players had been approved by the NCAA’s Clearinghouse.
Pittman said Albany State had the problem one year.
“We solved it,” he said. “We pestered guys and made sure they had their transcripts ready and to the clearinghouse. It’s a summer thing, but it’s a year-round thing, too. I expect us to do the same thing here to take care of it.”
And Pittman has a financial battle to fight, as well.
According to the Office of Postsecondary Education’s Equity in Athletics data, Albany State spent almost twice as much on football in 2007 as did FVSU, $1,025,395 to 550,347. Albany State granted $98,000 more in aid for men’s sports than did FVSU, which the site noted spent $3,500 more in recruiting for men’s sports, $17,500 to $13,798.
Overall, Albany State’s athletics budget is more than double FVSU’s, $2,397,497 to $1,179,813. Tuskegee, which has all but dominated the SIAC in recent years, has a recruiting budget of $34,240 for men’s teams and an overall budget of almost $3.5 million.
“There’s a commitment from the alumni and the booster club and the administration to improve the budget so we can be more competitive,” Pittman said. “That’s a big push right now.”
Pittman said he was asked during the interview process about money, staffing and tools necessary for the program to grow. One major area is raising the funds for more scholarships.
“Tuskegee has 36 scholarships, Albany State didn’t,” Pittman said. “I don’t think Fort Valley did, either.”
But Pittman also has a huge selling point: a new $5.5 million stadium in the works.
Wildcat Stadium was demolished not long after the home finale and is currently just a pile of rubble. As Pittman was introduced as the Wildcats’ new head coach, construction workers took a break during the news conference in the parking lot next to the stadium site.
A student amenities center will be built behind the north end zone, opposite the field house, which will also undergo some level of a facelift.
Another benefit in Pittman’s favor is familiarity. Only eight Rams on the roster for the regular-season finale against FVSU aren’t from Georgia, and Albany State had 13 Middle Georgians on that roster.
So the vast majority of players he would see in hopes of luring to Albany are the same ones he’s now selling Fort Valley to. He said FVSU is getting into the living rooms of the players it needs to be in.
“It’s a crazy time,” he said, “but it’s a good crazy. It’s a lot of work, but I like where things are going.”