Ed Van Dolsen '80

Ed Van Dolsen '80

The Franklin & Marshall scholar-athlete profile features a Diplomat, past or present, who personifies what it means to be an NCAA student-athlete. The F&M campus has always been filled with dedicated, passionate, and talented student-athletes who have interesting stories to tell – and it's our goal to let those stories be heard. To be featured, an F&M scholar-athlete must demonstrate academic excellence, leadership, and community service, or have a noteworthy story that stretches beyond the realm of athletic competition. 

To view previous scholar-athletes, click here.   

During the summer between his junior and senior years at Franklin & Marshall College, Ed Van Dolsen ’80 took a job at the Lancaster Stockyards. Much like what had happened on the football field during his first two years at F&M, he was instructed in the herding and hustling of bulls by head football coach Tom Gilburg.

Getting most of the cattle in and out of the cages for the auctions wasn’t too bad--down the chutes and into separate pens. The bulls, however, were another story. They had to be directed one at a time, and these animals were in the 1,100-pound range.

“These were alpha males,’’ Van Dolsen said. “They were big and mean. Coach and I were the ones who usually took care of them.’’ 

Van Dolsen was a defensive lineman, so he knew something about onrushing blockers.

“You just got used to it,’’ he said. “We would get behind them, yell and yip and (direct them). If they came at you, you jumped over the fence. I had to do that more than once.’’ 

Van Dolsen isn’t sure if herding bulls had an impact on his play during the next two football seasons, but somehow going up against a double team from Swarthmore or Dickinson didn’t seem so intimidating. 

“I’m not sure if it helped,’’ he said. “But, it was fun.’’

Van Dolsen was part of a strong F&M defense in the late 1970s, directed by defensive coordinator Al Brooks and defensive line coach Bernie Santaniello. He helped the ’76 and ’77 teams to 8-1 marks as a freshman and sophomore, and F&M went 7-2 in both his junior and senior seasons. 

“Football at F&M was different for me,’’ Van Dolsen said. “In high school, we just tried to be bigger and stronger than opponents. At F&M, it was all about movement, speed, and disruption. We were going to outrun and outhit opponents and be really quick. We were a pressure defense.’’ 

Defensive line teammate Ken Pederson said Van Dolsen was a special player, due to his quickness and smarts. But Van Dolsen said he owes his selection to the F&M Athletic Hall of Fame in 2019 to being just one part of a great defense.

“Those two defenses (in ’78 and ’79) were unbelievable,’’ said Van Dolsen, who was a team captain as a senior. “I feel like I represent the front eight of those defenses. Players like Chuck Young, Mike Ciali, and Kenny Pederson were great players, as were two who have passed away, Matt Scott, who died last year, and Kevin Murray.’’

Van Dolsen’s size, around 6-foot-1, 225 pounds, made him slightly bigger than the average Division III player in the ’70s. With that size, he thought about attending Bucknell or the University of Delaware. But he chose F&M. 

“There were three reasons I chose F&M,’’ he said. “One, during my visit, I met some fantastic people there, so I knew I would have a good time. Two, F&M wanted me to play defense, and Bucknell wanted me to play offense. I would rather play defense. Three, my mother said, ‘F&M is a really good school. You should go there.’ ’’ 

Van Dolsen (or maybe his mom?) made a great choice.

“First of all, I met my wife at F&M,’’ he said. “But as far as academics, I was never outmatched academically or intellectually because of the F&M education. There was never a doubt when going into a meeting that you were going to be out-brain-powered by anyone. The education was second to none.’’ 

That education helped Van Dolsen through three decades at TIAA, an individual finances services business that he helped to grow into a trillion-dollar company. He retired as the firm’s President and COO in 2016. 

As an alumnus, Ed served on the Leadership Council from 2010 to 2016. He is currently a member of the Board of Trustees and was part of the Shadek Stadium Campaign Committee. 

“Having been selected to be in the F&M Athletic Hall of Fame is a tribute to the defenses when I was there,’’ said Van Dolsen, who led the Diplomats in tackles with 59 in 1979. 

That season, four of the team’s seven wins were shutouts, to go along with a game against Swarthmore in which F&M held the Garnet to just three points. 

“Coach Brooks was way ahead of his time,’’ Van Dolsen said. “He and Coach Santaniello and Coach Gilburg were great coaches. Many of our opponents couldn’t figure out what we were doing. We had some complicated schemes. We were difficult to double-team, and opponents had to block everyone we had.” 

For those opponents, accounting for the speed and agility, Van Dolsen possessed in addition to his massive frame, provided an equal perspective for the F&M Athletic Hall of Famer and his former foes. 

They both shared in the experience of herding bulls.