The Pioneers football team has a new top dog with a unique perspective on life and football.
The new leader is football head coach Eric Hehman. Hehman was brought in last December following the resignation of four-year head coach Mike Gardner. Gardner left after the 2009 season.
Before arriving at Malone, Hehman was a coach for five years with the NCAA Div. III Greenville (IL) College. In 2009 he led the Greenville Panthers to their first postseason appearance since 2000.
Hehman left Greenville because he believes that at Malone he can do what is most important to him and that is using football to develop men.
“Being at a Christian school you can develop the Christian component of their lives to the fullest, you can develop the character component, which is integrated, the academic component and the athletic component,” said Hehman. “From a professional standpoint, I feel like Malone has given me as good of an opportunity as I could have and the mission of Malone and Charlie Grimes 100% fits my vision.”
Hehman clearly is here to win football games and play championship caliber football, but he wants to make sure the student-athletes learn more than just x’s and o’s. While he wants his team to be the fastest and hardest hitting team out there he realizes it’s not the most important thing he does.
His vision for the program is that he will go beyond just what the football field has to offer, and that he will reach deep into the lives of these young men so that their four years here will be a fundamental transformation of their character.
Hehman views success not by the number of games his teams win during his tenure, but by a much higher standard than just the scoreboard.
He wants to be able to see a change in what type of men his athletes are 20 years from now, when they come back for events such as homecoming. He wants them to be deep in relationship with Christ, to be great fathers and husbands and to be active change agents in their communities and churches.
It has not been easy trying to implement such a dramatic shift in focus to the Pioneers football team and program for Hehman, because what they have grown up with and what they have seen their whole lives is completely different.
“A big challenge is trying to integrate your philosophy which in a lot of ways is a great paradox to what they have learned,” said coach Hehman. “I am telling them that winning isn’t the highest standard but there are much higher standards than that.”
“From little league to junior high to high school and even to college they have been told that nothing matters but winning. I am telling them that is a great goal for us but there is a standard that is so much higher than that to what type of men we are, what type of team we are, how we pursue excellence and reaching our full potential. All of those things are more important than winning and winning is a byproduct of doing those things.”
That message has not been something every player has wanted to hear. This is indicated by the amount of returning players for the Pioneers. At one point, when Hehman first started, there were about 86 returning players. However, for one reason or another, at the start of camp that number dwindled down to 60.
Through this transition there has been a lot of learning overall for players like red-shirt freshman offensive lineman Taylor Guyton. However, he has seen much passion and dedication by Hehman
“On-the-field it is a lot of learning and a lot more of getting in your playbooks because it has been a complete overhaul of this whole team really,” said Guyton. “Off-the-field he is definitely really committed to how he wants things to go and how he wants us to grow. He wants us to become better people and he definitely puts a lot of work into what he does.”
At the end of the day, Hehman hopes to leave his imprint on Pioneers football by glorifying God in everything he does.
Chris Sherwood is the Sports Editor and contributing writer for The Aviso.