UNION CITY – The Mississinawa Valley high school football coaches turned over control of their first two-a-day practice of the season to the Ohio National Guard on Monday.
Staff Sgt. Jake Stevens based out of Greenville and Sgt. 1st Class Ben Wischmeyer based out of Piqua led the Blackhawks in an Operation Buckeye Guard boot camp to officially kick-off practice for the 2017 season. It was a surprise Mississinawa Valley head coach Mike Griffin kept hidden from the players until they showed up for practice on Monday.
“They had no idea,” Griffin said. “They had no clue.”
The National Guard personnel put the Mississinawa Valley athletes through drills in a boot camp-style atmosphere.
“I think they did good,” Stevens said. “As any team that we’ve done they started out a little sluggish, and that happens in the beginning – a type of intensity that they’re not used to seeing – but then as the camp progresses usually every team tends to kind of come together and start to really put in work in the end. And I thought they did a great job. Great job.”
Mississinawa Valley was one of two stops Stevens and Wischmeyer made this year to lead Operation Buckeye Guard boot camps, a program that is available to teams throughout Ohio. They also led a camp for the Brookville football team.
Stevens approached Griffin about the camp in April during a National Guard recruiting event at Mississinawa Valley, which Griffin embraced as an opportunity to set a standard for the rest of the season.
“Set the expectations that we’re going to work hard and we expect you to respect your physicalness and mental toughness and that’s what it’s going to take to try to win some football games and not only to win football games but just to be a better person in life,” Griffin said.
Stevens drilled the Blackhawks about effort throughout the time working with the team. But most importantly he hopes he got through to them with lessons about life beyond the football field.
“I just hope they get the talks about the drugs and alcohol, the talks about making the right decisions to kind of keep themselves on a straight path,” he said. “Just want them to be able to have a clean slate leaving high school so whatever decision they may make afterwards they don’t have those law violations or any of those adverse actions against them so they can go forward with their professional career whether that be in the civilian world or the military or even collegiate football.”
The talks came between and even during workouts. The messages seemingly got through as the players pushed harder as the practice progressed.
“We started out a little sluggish and Sargent even recognized that as the day went on we got a little better at it,” Griffin said. “I was pretty excited about coming together and kind of pushing each other; that’s what it’s going to take for us to get better.”
During his time at Mississinawa Valley, Stevens said he saw some leaders starting to emerge for the Blackhawks.
“It’s important to motivate each other,” he said. “Somebody is always watching. Somebody is always looking for that motivator, and I think we saw a couple come out today.”
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.