NCAA

For Penn football coach Ray Priore, it's always been family first

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Penn Athletics

For Penn football coach Ray Priore, it's always been family first

A year before Bob Benson arrived at Penn as the football team’s new defensive coordinator, his brother Tom temporarily lived a couple of blocks from Franklin Field at the old Penn Tower. Frank was very sick with throat cancer, and the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, Bob said, was one of the only places in the world where he could possibly be saved.

As you can imagine, it was an impossibly trying time for the Benson family. But for the four weeks Tom lived at Penn Tower and was treated at HUP, some of their pain was eased by Penn football coach Ray Priore, who went to Tom’s room on the 16th floor often, packed up his dirty laundry, and brought it to the equipment room at Franklin Field to wash.

Tom ended up passing away not long after his arrival at Penn — but Bob Benson will never forget Priore’s heartfelt gesture to a dying man and his family.

“I just think it speaks volumes to Ray’s caring,” Benson said. “He’s a family guy … just a really kind man. When he offered me the job here, I took it in about 30 seconds.”

Few people know Priore as well as Benson, who worked with him on the coaching staff at the University of Albany when both were getting their start in the mid-1980s and rejoined him at Penn in 2015. And in those three decades in between, he’s seen Priore do so many other things that show how important his family and friends are, remarking that, above all else, “he cares about people.”

In many ways, that’s one of the biggest reasons why Priore has remained at Penn for 30 years, rising through the ranks until he eventually took over as head coach ahead of the 2015 season, when he promptly led the Quakers to a share of the Ivy League championship.

“I had opportunities to leave,” Priore said. “But the folks here at Penn, the alumni are phenomenal. And [thinking about] uprooting my family, I always said, ‘Football’s football — why do you need to go somewhere else? You can still chase a dream here.’ And coaching has been great here.”

Family has certainly always been a constant for Priore at Penn. His daughter Jenna, now a junior in the college, has been going to Quaker games since she was seven months old, serving as a water girl when she was younger and, more recently, as a special assistant to her father, bringing him his headset before every game and helping to run the program’s involvement with the Friends of Jaclyn Foundation, which brought them 5-year-old team captain Vhito DeCapira, an inspiring young cancer patient.

And Priore’s older brother, Chuck, served with him on Penn’s staff from 1992 to 1999 with the two siblings commuting to work every day together from their homes in New Jersey and also sharing the joy of winning three Ivy League championships during that stretch.

So when you look at Priore’s decision to remain at Penn for so long through the lens of family, it makes perfect sense.

“Sometimes people change jobs just to change jobs,” said Chuck Priore, now the head coach at Stony Brook University. “He was comfortable, he enjoyed it, he had success and he continued to get better and took advantage of the opportunity right in house.”

For Ray Priore, having a brother who’s also a college football head coach has been a unique and rewarding experience. Every morning at around 5:30 a.m., when he’s driving across the Ben Franklin Bridge on the way to work and Chuck is riding on the elliptical, they have long chats on the phone about their respective programs. 

Of course by now, they’ve been talking about football for more than 40 years — one of the many sports that bound them from childhood into adulthood.

“Most of our family activities revolved around athletics,” Chuck said. “There really wasn’t summer vacations. It was summer baseball, winter hockey, fall football, spring baseball — that’s what we pretty much did as a family.”

Growing up in Long Island, their father was their first football coach in the local Pop Warner league. The two brothers were then part of the same football program at both Maria Regina High School and the University of Albany with Ray a freshman while Chuck was a senior. That made it easier for their dad and younger brother, Frank, to watch them both play. But even as the two eventually went their separate ways, their family members still found a way to go to almost every game. 

Last Saturday, for instance, their brother and father managed to go to Franklin Field to watch Penn beat Central Connecticut State 28-16 in the afternoon before driving down to Maryland to cheer on Stony Brook’s 27-20 win over Towson in the evening.

“You can’t get married in the fall in our family,” Ray said. “These are family events. The falls are very, very special.”

Because he’s so close to his family, leaving the comforts of New York to come to Penn in 1987 wasn’t easy. Priore was very young when he took the job as the Quakers’ assistant linebacker coach, moving to Philly and living next to Franklin Field on the top floor of the Dunning Coaches’ Center. He called it a “whole new world” and he never expected to stay at Penn as long as he did. 

But Priore grew to love the university and remained with the program even as his bosses changed, first working under Ed Zubrow and then Gary Steele and then finally Al Bagnoli, who returns to Franklin Field for the first time as a visiting coach for Saturday's game vs. Columbia (3 p.m.).

And he learned different things from each one — particularly organization from Zubrow, defensive strategy from Steele and how to effectively delegate responsibility from Bagnoli. Of course, when he finally landed his “dream job” as head coach, he put his own spin on the position, using his determination and family focus to galvanize a program that had fallen on hard times in the two previous seasons and win Ivy League Coach of the Year honors.

Through his first eight Ivy League games, he’s already beaten every conference opponent, becoming the third-fastest coach in Ivy League history to complete the sweep. Only Zubrow (7-0 in 1986) and Yale’s Jordan Olivar (7-0) did it quicker.

“I think Penn made a great choice with Ray,” Benson said. “It’s very rare someone would stay at an institution or place of employment for 30 years. I think it’s a credit to him and his belief in Penn that he stayed here. That’s the story for me — his belief in the University of Pennsylvania. There’s not much of that around. That’s pretty remarkable in my opinion.”

Benson added that one of Priore’s best attributes, aside from his kindness, is his work ethic and drive, pointing out that winning last year’s Ivy championship only made him want more titles. And Chuck said that his brother’s commitment to Penn might just be what keeps the Quakers on top this year and for many more to come.

“You can really tell recruits, ‘This place is an awesome place, and if it wasn’t, I wouldn’t be here for 30 years,’” Chuck said. “I think he has a great handle of what Penn can do for a student-athlete.”

Priore certainly takes recruiting seriously, doing his best to create special relationships with everyone he brings into the program, from the time they first step foot into campus to long after they leave. According to Benson, Priore is on the phone or computer “every day” talking to many of the alums who passed through the program over the past 30 years — men who learned about football but even more about life.

“The most important part of coaching in my opinion is that we are teachers and motivators,” Priore said. “We work at a kid’s game but so many life lessons can be taught on the field. I think we all as coaches are very blessed to have that opportunity to impact so many kids’ lives.

“When the kids come in, I say to them, ‘I have one daughter but I have 110 sons.’ You want to treat these kids as if they’re your own.”
 

Best of CFB: Mayfield with 3 TDs as No. 5 Sooners top No. 2 Ohio State

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Best of CFB: Mayfield with 3 TDs as No. 5 Sooners top No. 2 Ohio State

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Baker Mayfield threw for 386 yards and three touchdowns as No. 5 Oklahoma pulled ahead in the second half to knock off No. 2 Ohio State 31-16 on Saturday night to give first-year head coach Lincoln Riley an early signature victory.

Mayfield lived up to his billing as a Heisman Trophy candidate in shifting the Sooners (2-0) into overdrive and piling up the yards in the second half as the Buckeyes' offense sputtered. Oklahoma took its first lead of the game near the end of the third quarter and cruised in the fourth (see full recap)

No. 15 Georgia outslugs No. 24 Notre Dame, 20-19
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Georgia got to Dawg Walk out of Notre Dame Stadium with a victory, dozens of its fans forming a line from the locker room to the buses to congratulate the Bulldogs after their first trip to this part of the country in more than 50 years.

Lorenzo Carter and Davin Bellamy led a swarming Georgia defense and the No. 15 Bulldogs got enough plays from an offense starting a freshman quarterback to beat No. 24 Notre Dame 20-19 on Saturday night (see full recap).

The Bryants lead No. 3 Tigers to 14-6 win over No. 13 Auburn
CLEMSON, S.C. -- Clemson's new starting quarterback had an easy way for the third-ranked Tigers to keep winning the next several years - recruit more Bryants.

Kelly Bryant, Clemson's first-year starter, ran for two touchdowns after a scary hit knocked him to the ground and defensive end Austin Bryant had four of the Tigers' 11 sacks in a 14-6 victory over No. 13 Auburn on Saturday night.

"The Bryant guys were pretty good," said Kelly, who's not related to Austin. "We've got to keep it going."

If they do, the defending champion Tigers (2-0) might be playing in their third straight title game (see full recap).

No. 6 USC routs No. 14 Stanford 42-24 for 11th straight win
LOS ANGELES -- Steven Mitchell and Deontay Burnett caught two touchdown passes apiece from Sam Darnold, and No. 6 Southern California extended its winning streak to 11 games with a bruising 42-24 victory over No. 14 Stanford on Saturday night.

Darnold went 21 of 26 with 316 yards passing for the Trojans (2-0, 1-0 Pac-12), who snapped their three-game losing streak in this California private-school rivalry. USC racked up 623 total yards and won the first Pac-12 game of the new season by beating the hard-nosed Cardinal (1-1, 0-1) at their own physical game (see full recap).

Villanova at Temple: The return of the Mayor's Cup

Villanova at Temple: The return of the Mayor's Cup

FCS No. 6 Villanova (1-0, 0-0 CAA) at Temple (0-1, 0-0 AAC)
Lincoln Financial Field
Saturday, 3:30 p.m., ESPN3

The rivalry between Temple and Villanova moves from the hardwood back outside to the gridiron on Saturday afternoon as the Owls and the Wildcats will play for the Mayor’s Cup for the first time in five seasons.

Temple heads into the matchup reeling after a thorough 49-16 defeat at Notre Dame last week in new head coach Geoff Collins’ debut, a game that saw the Owls get handled in every facet by the Fighting Irish.

Villanova, now No. 6 in the FCS rankings, comes into the contest at 1-0 after a hard-fought 38-35 victory at Lehigh in the first game of the post-Andy Talley era.

To get you ready for Saturday’s matchup, CSNPhilly.com reporter Greg Paone and CSNPhilly.com contributor Dave Zeitlin break down all you need to know about the Owls and the Wildcats.

Scouting Temple
The Owls still have plenty of questions after last week’s shellacking at Notre Dame, but one huge one was answered in the form of a starting QB as redshirt sophomore Logan Marchi emerged victorious from the summer’s four-horse race for the starting crown. Marchi, who entered the game with only two career completions on six attempts, had some early jitters but settled in as he went 19 for 35 with two TD passes. He’ll look to keep the confidence growing and take another step forward against the Wildcats. Sophomore WR Isaiah Wright is a player to keep an eye on when the Owls’ offense is on the field. A versatile weapon who can line up all over the field, he made an impact last week when the ball was in his hands with four grabs for a team-high 78 yards. Junior tailback Ryquell Armstead toted the rock 19 times for 68 yards. Look for the Owls to feed him and attempt to get him more involved on Saturday.

To call Temple’s rushing defense last week porous would be doing it an injustice. The Owls were gashed for 422 yards on the ground by the Irish, who had three players with over 100 yards on the ground. Tailback Josh Adams had a game-high 161 yards, while fellow RB Dexter Williams had 124 yards and QB Brandon Wimbush had 106 yards of his own. The Irish had five rushing TDs on the day. Temple held Notre Dame’s passing attack in check, though, as the Irish had only 184 yards and a single score through the air. Redshirt junior safety Delvon Randall led the way with 11 total tackles for the Owls. - Paone

Scouting Villanova
As always, the Wildcats will be a power in the Colonial Athletic Association, arguably the best conference in the FCS, as well as on the national FCS scene. The Wildcats ascended to the No. 6 ranking after opening their season with a 38-35 win over Lehigh in Mark Ferrante’s first game as head coach. Ferrante, a longtime Villanova assistant, took over for Talley, who retired after 32 years on the job.

In the win, Villanova was led by quarterback Zach Bednarczyk, who threw for two touchdowns and ran for another as he looks to come into his own in his third year starting under center. Senior running back Matt Gudzak, who shares carries with Aaron Forbes, ran for a career-high 142 yards and two touchdowns, while tight end Ryan Bell and big-play receiver Taurus Phillips combined for 175 receiving yards. Defensively, Villanova is paced by preseason All-American safety Rob Rolle and senior linebacker Ed Shockley, the latter of whom had a career-high 14 tackles (13 solo) in the opener. - Zeitlin

History
The Wildcats hold a 16-15-2 all-time advantage over the Owls in a series that dates back to 1928.

Temple has won the last three meetings, the most recent of which was a 41-10 decision on Aug. 31, 2012. In those last three meetings, the Owls have outscored the ‘Cats by a 114-41 margin.

Villanova’s last victory came in 2009 when the ‘Cats stunned the Owls, 27-24. The Wildcats are 3-18 all time against FCS foes and two of those three wins have come at the expense of the Owls (2003, 2009).

Storylines to watch
Temple: If one’s a coincidence, is two a trend with the rushing defense?

As noted above, the Owls were absolutely gashed by the Fighting Irish last week to the tune of 422 rushing yards, the most Temple has given up to a non-option team in the last nine years. Not pretty at all, obviously, but Notre Dame is a different animal that features some of the best talent in the nation.

Still, defensive coordinator Taver Johnson’s group needs to rebound against the Wildcats before other teams start to get the book on the Owls’ weaknesses. Especially before AAC play begins in two weeks with a trip to conference darling South Florida.

But just because Villanova is an FCS squad doesn’t mean that will be an easy task for Temple as the Wildcats feature a formidable duo at tailback in Gudzak and Forbes. - Paone

Villanova: Defensive litmus test

After surrendering five touchdowns vs. Lehigh, it’s clear the ’Cats have some work to do to try to match the level of their FCS-leading defense from a year ago. But can they pick up the pace against an FBS opponent that has the kind of offensive weapons they’re not used to seeing? One interesting thing to watch will be to see if their two defensive stars and captains — Shockley and Rolle — can show they belong. Both are from South Jersey and know a lot of guys on Temple, and Rolle in particular is motivated by the Owls passing on him during the recruiting process (see story). - Zeitlin

What’s at stake?
Temple: Pressure of the dreaded 0-2 hole

The last thing Collins and the Owls need as they gear up for conference play in a couple weeks is the added pressure that comes with falling in an 0-2 hole. If they lose Saturday to Villanova the questions will come in a fast and furious manner. That can be an issue for a young team and its new head coach, both of which are trying to smooth out the bumps that come with a new starting QB and replacing seven starters on defense. It’s way too early to call this a “must-win” for Temple, but it will be a long week at 10th and Diamond Streets if the Owls drop this one. - Paone

Villanova: FBS spotlight

A loss would do little to damage the Wildcats’ playoff hopes, but a win over the Owls on Saturday afternoon may give them the kind of national attention they don’t usually get at the FCS level. - Zeitlin

Predictions
Paone: Villanova is very good team and the Owls will have egg on their faces if they think any differently just because the ‘Cats play at the FCS level. But a focused Temple team comes to the Linc on Saturday with just too much firepower in hand for Villanova to handle.

Temple 31, Villanova 20

Zeitlin: Villanova may be able to keep it close as it has vs. FCS programs in the past. But, in the end, the talent and depth differences will be too much to overcome.

Temple 35, Villanova 24