By Brandon Scalea
Since his arrival last August, University President Gregory Dell’Omo is commonly seen in the stands at Rider athletic events. On Nov. 2, he got a chance to take the field.
At halftime of the men’s soccer game against St. Peter’s, Dell’Omo donned a Rider warm-up shirt, backwards hat and goalkeeper gloves, stepped into the net at Ben Cohen Field and defended penalty kicks from a Rider student.
Dell’Omo said men’s soccer Head Coach Charlie Inverso came up with the idea to try to get more students into the stands for an afternoon, weekday game. Over the course of a year, attendance at the team’s home games has risen dramatically. Men’s soccer averaged nearly 700 fans per home game this season, ranking second in the conference, behind only Marist.
Dell’Omo, a big sports fan and former athlete, said he loved the idea, but thought his performance in goal could’ve been a little better.
“I grew up playing soccer and both of my sons played, so I’ve been around the sport my whole life,” he said. “It’s just that the body doesn’t move as fast as the eyes and the mind do anymore.”
Junior marketing and sports management double major Brandon Ferris was the lucky student chosen out of the crowd of over 700 to participate. He was allowed three kicks, needing two out of three to win a $100 gift card to the university store.
After his first kick went right into the arms of Dell’Omo, Ferris settled in and put his last two shots into the bottom-right of the net, past the sprawling president.
Ferris said he was grateful to be chosen for the opportunity, but admitted it was pretty nerve-racking. He played soccer for many years, but he was a goalie in high school. According to him, kicking wasn’t always his strong suit.
“I was pretty nervous out there,” Ferris said. “When my first shot went right at him and he stopped it, I knew I needed to hit my last two. But, luckily, I was able to place the next shots in a spot he couldn’t dive for and reach. I really appreciate President Dell’Omo doing this. It was a really cool experience for me and I thought it was very interactive for the students.”
While a student at Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School in the early ’70s, Dell’Omo mainly played football and baseball, but decided to switch to soccer his senior year. He was a midfielder.
“This was a time when soccer was first becoming popular at high schools,” he said. “My school had only had it for a year. But I will say that I played soccer like I played football — I was very aggressive.”
Dell’Omo said he’s always willing to help the athletic teams gain fan support. As someone who worked as an administrator at St. Joseph’s University before becoming president at Robert Morris, he knows what athletic success can do for a university.
“We’re fortunate at Rider to have Division I sports,” he said. “In terms of getting name recognition and getting people to know Rider outside of our local area, if you’re fortunate enough to have some success, particularly in men’s basketball, it really elevates the profile of the university.”
With several of Rider’s teams enjoying recent success, particularly men’s and women’s soccer, as well as wrestling, Dell’Omo laid out his goals for the school from an athletic standpoint.
“As an old-time athletic director once told me, sports are the front porch of a university,” he said. “I just want the student-athletes to enjoy that sense of excitement and get the other students and alumni involved. Once people get to know our school through athletics, then hopefully they’ll spend some time getting to know our academics and all the other great things.”