‘Coaching is in my blood’

Published 8:00 am Friday, December 29, 2023

Coaching is in Vince Luvara’s blood. So is football. The 34-year-old, who took over the Hampden-Sydney football program on Dec. 7, grew up in a family of football coaches, learning the basics from an early age. 

“My dad is a coach, my uncle is a coach, my cousin is a college football coach,” Luvara said. “I used to go to football clinics when I was in grade school. It’s been a big part of my life.” 

It’s also a sport he’s seen from both sides of the ball, starting out first as a linebacker at Allegheny College (Pennsylvania). After four years suiting up at Allegheny, Luvara switched to the sideline, becoming a coach. And for the most part, he’s stayed on the defensive side of the field coaching at Allegheny, then Misericordia University and finally seven years as the defensive coordinator for Washington and Jefferson College. Luvara said he’s just found the defensive side to be interesting, constantly making moves to counter what your opponent is doing. 

“It’s a little bit more strategic,” Luvara said. “On defense, it’s all about adapting to what you see. Offensively, you have a set scheme and a set structure. Defense adapts even from one play to the next.” 

And that’s exactly what Luvara has done, adapt and shut down teams. At Washington & Jefferson last year, Luvara’s defense gave up just 12.7 points per game. That was good enough for 15th in Division III. The Presidents yielded just one touchdown or less in four games during 2023, including one shutout. Since 2017, a Luvara-led defense has not given up more than 18 points per game. That shutdown mentality, a focus on preventing scores is something not just his own staff, but competitors draw attention to. 

“Anytime we went to prepare for Washington & Jefferson and Vince’s defenses, we knew we would be in for a fight,” said Carnegie Mellon Head Coach Ryan Larsen. “Vince does a great job of presenting lots of looks to opposing offenses, while more importantly maximizing his talent. I know he is a tireless recruiter, and will find great players to play for the Tigers.” 

A WILL TO WIN 

Luvara takes over a Tigers team that finished 6-4 this season, including a 49-10 loss in the latest edition of ‘The Game’ against Randolph-Macon. But beyond that, he also fills the shoes left behind by an icon. When Marty Favret retired at Hampden-Sydney College, he did so as the program’s winningest coach, going 151-90 in 24 years with six appearances in the NCAA Division III Football Playoff. 

Luvara, who acknowledges the weight of the role he’s assuming, says that he chose Hampden-Sydney because everyone connected with the program has one goal: they all want to win. 

“Everyone wants to win here,” Luvara said. “Not too often on the Division III level do you have support from the president, the alumni, the community. It’s almost overwhelming, with people asking ‘hey, how can we help?’ And this is a place you can win at.” 

The difference, Luvara said, comes from saying versus doing. 

“A lot of places say they want to win but they don’t actually do it, there’s no action behind that,” Luvara said. “Here it’s not like that.” 

He gave the example of after accepting the job, going and asking the university if they could hire a strength coach for the program. Less than two weeks later, that’s already moving forward. 

WHAT WILL THE PROGRAM BE? 

Asked to describe his style of play, Luvara summed it up with one word: physical. 

“We’ll play with a ton of effort,” he said. “We’re going to instill effort, discipline, commitment, toughness and accountability.” 

If you need a professional team to use as an example, Luvara describes his style in much the same way as Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell. Both preach toughness and never losing due to a lack of effort. Beyond that, Luvara said he’s not coming in determined to implement a specific scheme. 

“Right now we’re just evaluating the talent here and try to come up with schemes that fit their abilities,” he said. “We’re not going to be married to one scheme, we’re going to adapt. The main thing is we want to be successful on Saturdays.”