Growing pains can be a drag and it is no different for what Pioneer football has and will go through in this year’s powerhouse conference, the GLIAC.
With some hits and bruises and having a record of 1-4, the team has merely learned that this year’s football season is all about the Pioneer process.
“This is a transition year of us learning and acclimating to the new conference,” head football coach Eric Hehman said. “The level of competition we are playing on a weekly basis is far greater than what we have played in the past, but I think we are always on a journey to improving ourselves.”
There is no doubt that the word to describe the GLIAC has been brutal, but many people may be wondering how tough these new conference football teams really are.
Out of the last 11 years , a GLIAC football program has played for a national championship title a total of seven times, and the majority of those schools were ranked within the top 20 best football programs in the nation this past year in NCAA Division II.
Hehman, along with other staff members, have studied teams, switched plays, and have readjusted the program’s attitude for its new, stacked division.
“We have never competed against these teams (GLIAC) in the school’s history,” Hehman said.” We have seen film on them and we were able to put together some game plans, but the first and second games were a big unknown.”
Sophomore AT Turner, who has been one of the Pioneer’s pivotal players on and off the field, also shared his intake on his experience so far against his team’s tough opponents.
“The competition at this level is far greater than anything I’ve ever been a part of,” Turner said. “We started out facing three teams that were ranked in the top 25 in the country and we were able to compete with all three.”
Not only looking at the scoreboard and its tough rivals, but Hehman, along with his players, are seeing success in other areas, such as developing attitudes that true quality men of God would have.
Growing into a more unified brotherhood, the team has drastically taken measures on attitude on and off the field.
[pullquote]“Something the team is taking on this year is trying to get out in the community and serve more,” Turner said. “Coach Hehman has a vision to work with some inner city kids and be a big brother to them and do some volunteer work to really be a light in their potentially dark life.”[/pullquote]
“I have been very pleased with our effort and our attitude with how we’re approaching these games,” Hehman said. “We have this theme that we talk about called Pioneer movement, and we talk about moving first, moving strong, and never settling.”
“The team’s atmosphere has drastically changed from a year ago, “Turner said. “And we are starting to see more guys believe in the whole concept of EMAP (Every Man A Pioneer) which is a brotherhood that we as a team honor and apply in our life on and off the field.”
Turner has been one of the many players to step up to this year’s challenge according to Hehman. Sharing faith with his teammates and keeping a positive attitude, Turner, along with many other players have acclimated Pioneer movement.
“I feel like they all have an understanding of things and we are all on the same page as an institution,” Hehman said. “The unified effect allows us to reach for more, and AT is one of the many guys that has a great understanding of what our program means.”
Pioneer movement has been the men’s core purpose to a successful building year. Having goals both on and off the field, not only separates the Pioneers from others, but also brings a light at the end of the challenging tunnel.
“Our purpose of our program goes here and way beyond our boulders to help cultivate a man’s heart,” Hehman said. “ Whether we are in the classroom or on the field, we want to create this personality of excellence, where they give their best and consider others over themselves and that is really what is going to be our secret to our success if we can grow this culture of excellence. “
“I think the goal every year is to build Godly men,” Turner said. “That’s something that we believe correlates to wins and losses. We will not be defined by wins and losses. I believe we will be defined by something for a far greater cause.”
Turner, along with his teammates, has been dramatically making effort and changes in their daily lives this year. Working hard on the field and in school, the men are now looking for other ways to make their Pioneer move.
“Something the team is taking on this year is trying to get out in the community and serve more,” Turner said. “Coach Hehman has a vision to work with some inner city kids and be a big brother to them and do some volunteer work to really be a light in their potentially dark life.”
Light for future
Serving as athletes and men of Christ, Pioneer football has essentially taken on a bigger chapter in its athletic life other than having a rough conference.
Despite the hardships of losing games to top caliber teams, Pioneer football looks forward to what God has in store for them in the future.
“As a team we are looking forward to the challenges of GLIAC,” Turner said. “We are looking to get better every day in every way, so that one day we can win a GLIAC championship, win a national championship, be the premier Christian college football team in the nation and most of all give glory and honor to God.”
“We want to pioneer something in the GLIAC,” Hehman said. “There are very few Christian colleges that play football at the Division II level and we have an unbelievable opportunity for making an impact on sports and Christ. I think what God has in store for Malone is something greater than what we can all imagine.”
Tina Oprean is a sports writer for The Aviso AVW.