LHU football honors past while paving way to future at Gridiron Greats induction

(PHOTO PROVIDED) From left to right are Dr. Joe Pascale, Chris Klinger, LHU President Rob Pignatello, Marcus Burkley, Jim Blacksmith, Brian McBryan, and LHU football coach Dave Taynor.

By SAM KUPERMAN

For The Express

As the Lock Haven football team concluded its spring football schedule Saturday, many former Bald Eagles gathered to induct a new class into the Lock Haven University Gridiron Greats Hall of Fame. This year’s class, which was put together by the Gray Eagles Football Club, featured five alums that played for the Haven in three separate decades.

Jim Blacksmith ’67, Marcus Burkley ’00, Chris Klinger ’66, Joe Pascale ’66 and Brian McBryan ’80 were inducted Saturday night in a ceremony held at Haywood’s on the Green in Mill Hall.

The Gray Eagles, a 501(c)(3) organization that aims to aid and expand LHU football’s scholarship funds within NCAA guidelines, used the night as a way to honor the past and look ahead to the future. Lock Haven head coach Dave Taynor has made it a priority in his first four years at the university to connect with the players of past generations. Both Taynor and these former students hope this helps strengthen the program spiritually and financially.

A connection to the past can surely help current Lock Haven players become further aware of who’s footsteps they’re following when they suit up at Hubert Jack Stadium on Saturdays. It ideally also gives the Bald Eagles more funds to help get on a more-even playing field with the rest of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) in terms of available scholarship dollars, as that often is the difference between a player choosing a different PSAC institution over Lock Haven.

That can make all the difference in the world in a conference that boasts extreme depth and has a history of producing NFL talent.

“You take other states, like the Dakotas or Kansas or wherever; there might be only three or four Division II schools in the entire state,” McBryan said. “Look at the number of Division II schools in Pennsylvania. The recruiting’s difficult.”

McBryan was a three-year starter and four-year letterman for LHU. Following his playing career, he made his mark in coaching at both the high school and collegiate levels.

He was an assistant coach at nearby Bloomsburg for 24 years, mostly recently serving as the Offensive Line Coach/Offensive Coordinator before his retirement after the 2016 season, and is heavily involved with the Gray Eagles. Now that he is no longer coaching, he’s committed to helping the program that got his football coaching career started on the right track to where it can compete at the highest level in the conference.

“If it wouldn’t have been for Lock Haven, there’s no way I would’ve been able to have my career,” McBryan said. “I want to see them be successful. I truly do. I want them to have a good program. But now that I’m on the other side I will support them in any way I can.”

The unique nature of an event like the Gridiron Greats induction is that it brings so many former players together with very different experiences at Lock Haven.

Klinger, a three-time All-PSAC 1st Team running back, got to be a part of some teams that did a ton of winning. This includes the 1965 squad that made it to the PSAC Championship Game.

He has very fond memories of his time at Lock Haven.

“It certainly was one of the highlights of my life,” Klinger said. “It was kind of a pleasant surprise to me coming from a small school in central Pennsylvania. When I left school and entered Lock Haven I did not know how that was gonna turn out. I’m really pleased that everything went extremely well for me at Lock Haven with the help of my teammates.”

Burkley, a four-time all-PSAC wide receiver, didn’t play for a team with a winning record. This was not what he was used to, after playing his high school ball for a Pittsburgh powerhouse at Woodland Hills High School.

While he enjoyed his experience at Lock Haven and cherishes the connection he has with his former teammates, he was not used to hearing much about the players that came before him at the university. With the Gray Eagles, he says that is now changing for the better.

“When we were playing at Lock Haven we barely saw old footage or old pictures,” Burkley said. “Just to see the old Facebook pictures (on the Gray Eagles’ Facebook page), you can match up with the names in the record books. It’s awesome.”

While these former Bald Eagles had these different experiences at LHU, one thing is for certain; they all achieved at very high levels.

Blacksmith was also a three-time All-PSAC running back, as well as an All-American wrestler at LHU. He placed sixth at nationals in 1966.

Pascale was a two-time all PSAC End, winning the award in 1963 and 1964. He also lettered in basketball and track at Lock Haven.

As these extraordinary athletes had the chance to receive recognition as Gridiron Greats, they now try to do their part and help the next generation of Bald Eagles succeed. It won’t be easy for Lock Haven to reach the level Taynor and the Gray Eagles members hope for, but Klinger says they’re on the right path.

“It’s been 54 years since I played there (at Lock Haven),” Klinger said. “And I thought for the longest time Lock Haven football was down and out. And then within the past couple of weeks, I spoke with a couple of members of the Gray Eagles Club. I just have to take my hat off to them. I am excited about the fact that within the past few years there is a group of ex players that said ‘no, this is not going to die, and we’re not gonna let it.’ They’re taking the bull by the horns and are trying to revitalize Lock Haven football. And that pleases me immensely.”

Burkley also encourages prospective Lock Haven football recruits to consider the immense opportunity they have to compete in an elite Division II conference and showcase their abilities.

“A lot of these kids need to know that you know you’re playing in the PSAC,” Burkley said. “It’s one of the best Division II conferences in the nation. Don’t be turned off by the record. Be turned on by the opportunity to showcase your talents and make a program better, and that was my main focus.”

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