William Penn may not be looked at as a university that develops professional athletes year after year. However, this does not mean there are not athletes who make it to the next level.
The Statesmen basketball program has seen an impressive sixteen athletes take their talents across the sea and join professional teams in various countries. Currently the Statesmen have four alumni playing professionally, James Deloach, Jonathan Pope, Keith Steffeck, and Brandon Beasley. Also, the Statesmen have a current senior, Oliver Wells, who has been offered a contract to play in Greece.
Beasley and Steffeck are both currently playing basketball oversees in Luxembourg Germany for Sparta Bartreng.
Beasley has been playing oversees for the last two seasons, but he has not forgotten who helped him get to where he is today. “With basketball they helped develop me into the man and player I am today which enabled me to help my team and school get national recognition, which further helped me get international attention.”
Beasley played at Penn for two seasons he along with Steffeck led the Statesmen to an improbable national tournament run in which they fell just short and lost in the national title game. Steffeck, like Beasley, said he will never forget the two years he spent at William Penn, “William Penn gave me a platform to develop and showcase my talents in a competitive environment,” Steffeck said.
Head Statesmen basketball coach John Henry knows just how important winning is to allow players to continue their careers professionally, “We’ve been fortunate enough to win at a high level, and our kids that have gone oversees have been successful,” Henry said.
Steffeck said the coaching staff at Penn was instrumental in getting a contract overseas, “The coaching staff were very helpful after the season as far as putting together highlight clips and making connections with the right people overseas.”
These two former Statesmen are living the dream of many young athletes all over the world, getting paid to play a game you love. What could be better? “Being a professional athlete is a dream come true for me,” Steffeck said.
Beasley echoed Steffeck’s message, “It’s great because whatever country you go to play in you’re going to play against the best in their country, which is like their NBA so kids and fans look up to you as an American and its like you’re a superstar.” Beasley said.
Beasley saw a tremendous amount of success this year averaging nearly eighteen points and nine rebounds a game. He was also named to the all-star team in Luxembourg and was invited to participate in the dunk contest.
However, like Beasley, Steffeck has also had his amount of fame when he played the 2013-2014 season in the Czech Republic where he averaged eleven points and six rebounds a game. Steffeck was part of an advertisement, which had his picture on billboards and buses in the Czech Republic.
The players are not the only ones who get to experience surreal events, coaches do as well. Henry said that coaching players with enough talent to compete on a professional level is “awesome while they’re scoring buckets for you.” Henry also said that watching them play professionally and learning from their experiences to help future athletes is something he enjoys. He mentioned that having a player attempt to play professionally does add to his workload but that is not always a bad thing. “It is a fun workload because it is a culmination of their whole life in sports,” Henry said.
While both Beasley and Steffeck are enjoying their time as a professional athlete oversees both have said how hard it can be. “Sometimes it gets difficult being on the other side of the world for eight to nine months at a time away from my family, my son and fiancé. But at the end of the day it’s all being done to provide a great life for them,” Beasley said.
Despite this both said they were going to continue their dreams of playing professionally for the foreseeable future. “It’s a completely different world over there but getting to know the people and the culture is an unforgettable experience. The season can definitely start to drag around January, you’ve been away for 5 months and the playoffs are still a ways away. Overall though I love it! I can’t see myself doing anything else for quite some time,” Steffeck said.
While William Penn’s basketball team has seen athletes play at the highest level in other countries there has never been a player make it in the NBA. Henry said that he believes this may never happen, “We have never had anybody make it to the NBA and I doubt we ever will. The levels of basketball are so much different,” Henry said.
William Penn’s football program, on the other hand, has seen athletes have success at the highest possible level. Damon Harrison is currently playing for the New York Jets, Nik Dimarco played for the Baltimore Ravens during the 2014 pre-season, Andy Stokes was Mr. Irrelevant in the 2005 draft, and Wilbur Young, who perhaps paved the way for all William Penn football players when he was drafted in 1971.
Harrison played four seasons at William Penn highlighted by an outstanding senior season with 60 tackles, including a team high 8.5 tackles for loss. His 2012 season was capped of when Beyond Sports College Network named Harrison an NAIA All-American.
The Statesmen standout went undrafted after the 2012 draft though he later signed as and undrafted free agent with the New York Jets. Harrison appeared in five games with the Jets in 2012, which earned him a starting position on the defensive line in 2013. The 2013 and 2014 seasons saw Harrison start all sixteen games where he collected 121 tackles.
Nik Dimarco, who played four seasons at William Penn, appeared in three pre-season games with the Baltimore Ravens in the 2014 season. Dimarco was named an NAIA All-American in 2013 when he was selected to the third team defense.
Athletic Director Greg Hafner said that one of the reasons athletes have had success from William Penn is because of the strength and conditioning program, this was Dimarco’s major. Dimarco also knew how important the strength and conditioning program was, “The most important part of my success was the strength and conditioning program, along with on field performance,” Dimarco said.
While Dimarco was cut by the Ravens after three pre-season games he was still side by side with some of the biggest names in football, “It was very surreal being in the locker room with players like Terrell Suggs and Steve Smith since I grew up watching them,” Dimarco said.
After the 2014 pre-season was over Dimarco was cut by the Ravens with an offer to return to training camp the next year, Dimarco declined. He now works at the University of Iowa as a strength and conditioning coach calling it his “dream job”.
Andy Stokes, a Penn football standout who graduated in 2004, also experienced the NFL when he was selected as the last pick in the 2005 NFL draft. In 31 total games with the Statesmen Stokes hauled in 104 passes racking up nearly 1600 yards and registering ten touchdowns.
Stokes earned the title Mr. Irrelevant because he was drafted with the last pick of the draft by the New England Patriots. Unfortunately Stokes was cut by the Patriots after training camp, he would then sign with the Arizona Cardinals where he was again cut in 2006.
While Stokes did not make it in the NFL he did play one full season with the Rhein Fire, a former football team in the NFL Europe league. Stokes played one season with the Fire collecting seven catches for 55 yards.
Perhaps the biggest name the Statesmen have ever had at the next level was Wilbur Young. While at William Penn Young was named an NAIA All-American not once but twice in 1969 and 1970.
Young graduated from William Penn in 1971 and entered the NFL draft. Incredibly, the Kansas City Chiefs selected young in the second round with the 39 pick. No other Statesmen football player has ever been drafted that high again.
Young would play with the Chiefs until 1977 when he was traded to the San Diego Chargers. Young would play three years with the Chargers highlighted by an All-pro selection in the 1979 season. Young briefly left the chargers for the 1981 when he played for the Washington Redskins.
In 1982, Young’s last season in the NFL, he would return to the Chargers. In 1985 young was selected to be a member of the William Penn hall of fame. After the NFL Young helped coach high school basketball and track in Virginia. In the 2013-2014 season Young returned to his old stomping grounds and was an assistant coach with the Statesmen football team.
Wilber Young passed away in July of 2015 but the impact he had and the doors he opened for future William Penn athletes will never be forgotten.
William Penn may not produce the number one overall draft pick year after year, but that does not mean that athletes do not see success. The Statesmen have done well at preparing their athletes to compete at the next level, and they will continue to do so. The only question is. Who’s Next?