GERMANTOWN – Jay Niswonger’s playing days as a linebacker at Greenville provided the inspiration for what would become a hall of fame coaching career.
Niswonger, a 1975 Greenville alumnus, was inducted into the Ohio High School Football Coaches Hall of Fame two weeks ago. It’s just the latest in a long list of accolades, which also includes inductions into Greenville’s hall of fame, Valley View’s hall of fame, Wilmington College’s hall of fame and the Miami Valley Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
“It’s pretty awesome,” Niswonger said. “When you get into coaching you don’t expect something like that.”
Niswonger was inspired to get into coaching during his time as a student at Greenville. Junior high school coaches such as Lee Morris, John Suba and Stan Palmer and then high school coaches including Tom Holman, Pete Moore, Rex Radloff and Bob Morgan inspired Niswonger to pursue a career as an educator and coach.
“Learned a lot of life lessons from those guys,” said Niswonger, whose coaching career spanned 37 years. “That’s what I wanted to do.”
Niswonger was a three-year varsity player for Greenville, helping lead the Green Wave to a 27-3 record during his time on the varsity roster.
“We had a great run, and we had a lot of fun playing,” he said.
Following high school, Niswonger had limited opportunities to play college football, which he attributes to his stature.
“Nobody wanted to take a 5 foot 9 (inch) linebacker,” he said.
He ended up choosing between Wilmington College, Ashland University and the University of Findlay. Not wanting to continue in his brother Mark’s footsteps at Findlay, Niswonger went to Wilmington and became a four-year starter and two-time captain.
While he always had played defense, Niswonger credits his time at Wilmington and his film studies with his eventual offensive prowess in the coaching ranks.
After graduating from Wilmington in 1979, Niswonger began his coaching career as an assistant at Watkins Memorial High School. The following year he got his first head coaching job Clinton-Massie.
Niswonger then spent three years as an assistant at Carlisle before getting his big break in 1984 as the head coach of Valley View. At Valley View he implemented the lessons he learned from film studies in college to create some of the most potent offenses in Ohio High School Athletic Association history.
“When I went to it at Valley View we did a lot of things that I didn’t like to see as far as offense because I played on the defensive side of the ball,” Niswonger said.
With a run-n-shoot offense, Niswonger helped lead the Spartans to a 243-78-1 record during his 28 years at Valley View. They won 11 Southwestern Buckeye League championships, made the playoffs 16 times, finished as regional runner up four times, won the regional title seven times and won three state championships in 1994, 1996 and 1997.
Niswonger, who also was Valley View’s athletics director for 17 years, had 14 players go on to play Division I college football and two – Brock Bolen and Shane Hannah – made it all the way to the NFL.
When Hannah went to play for Michigan State, Niswonger had an opportunity to join him and become a graduate assistant. However, he decided to remain a high school coach – a move he doesn’t regret even though some of the Michigan State coaches went on to coach in the NFL.
“High school is where it’s at,” said Niswonger, who was a high school health and physical education teacher. “You have a lot of opportunities to influence kids.”
However, there was a time when Niswonger thought he would pursue a career as a college coach. Prior to coaching high school football, Niswonger interviewed for some graduate assistant jobs with collegiate programs. The job he really wanted went to his brother, which ultimately pushed Niswonger toward his hall of fame high school coaching career.
Niswonger did end up coaching one year of college football at Wilmington after he retired from Valley View in 2011. He started the 2012 season as the Quakers’ offensive coordinator and finished up the year as their interim head coach, guiding the Quakers for seven games and snapping a 32-game losing streak.
Following his foray into college coaching, Niswonger spent the past three seasons as an assistant at Fairmont before retiring from coaching.
“Just trying to adjust to it,” Niswonger said. “This will be about the first time in 47 years that I haven’t had something to do with football as a player or coach.”
Niswonger is trying to stay busy nowadays by working out, visiting his sister in the nursing home and running a farm south of Greenville with his brother. He just was in Darke County on Wednesday, he said, to check on the farm and eat lunch at Maid-Rite.
“Always go back to my roots,” Niswonger said.
Kyle Shaner may be reached at 937-569-4316. Follow me on Twitter @KShanerAdvocate or get updates on Facebook by searching Darke County Sports or Advocate 360. For more features online go to dailyadvocate.com.