Pioneer football has experienced a lot of struggles in the last couple of years with the big transition over to NCAA Division II.
Having a record of 1-9 and 2-7 in the last few years, the football program’s scores have suffered severely from the transitional period.
The team has lost players and gained players throughout the process, which is sometimes needed to become one unified team. Nonetheless, the status change has challenged players, coaches and fans to stay faithful.
“What the division change is, is really the level of competition that we play in,” said Charlie Grimes, director of athletics.
“The GLIAC conference is the strongest football conference in the country,” said head football coach Eric Hehman. “We are playing against schools that have an enrollment of 30,000, and that have had over 72,000 in fans coming to the games.”
The challenges have been difficult due to budgets, talent rate and the other teams having experience over the Pioneers.
“Our games are kind of like little David going up against giant Goliath, but we are doing very well,” Grimes said.
There are other factors that have been difficult for the team, such as not having the equipped facilities that other schools enjoy.
“We do not have a very good practice facility and we’re the only school in our conference, maybe one of the only schools in Ohio, that has a grass turf field,” Hehman said. “When it rains, we cannot practice. This is a big issue for the team because they need all of the practice that they can get.”
Despite the frustration, the football staff has managed to maintain the right perspective.
“Our staff has done a really good job of just focusing on the things that we can control,” Hehman said.
With acclimating to the transition, the staff has changed coaching methods, developed different mentalities for their athletes and focused on developing a unified team.
“There aren’t any easy games anymore, and that’s okay because that’s a very great preparation for life,” Grimes said. “When you are out in the real world you’ve got to execute and you’ve got to try your best, have a good attitude and work hard. That is what Malone football really is about right now. Playing to honor each other and to honor God and to play with joy and enthusiasm no matter what the score is.”
Junior football player, Brandyn Eckhart, also shared a few points on the team’s transformation this year.
“There has been a lot more effort preparing for the next opponent,” Eckhart said. “They (coaches) spend a lot more time within their faith to help us win.”
Although Pioneer football has done an exceptional job transforming its athletes into faithful leaders, many people may view its success based off the scoreboard.
[pullquote]”That is what Malone football really is about right now,” Grimes said. “Playing to honor each other and to honor God and to play with joy and enthusiasm no matter what the score is.”[/pullquote]“We want to pursue excellence,” Hehman said. “But if the scoreboard is our only measure and you haven’t looked at our past, you don’t look at our present and you don’t look at our future, then you have no idea of what is going on.”
Hehman described the program as a work in progress, and believes that the program is on the right track to displaying its change.
“In our culture, it is all about winning,” Hehman said. “I believe wholeheartedly that we’re going to win here and we’re going to win big as a program, but there is a process and the process is when you are developing on the field. A lot of time when you start from scratch you lose ugly, then you lose by a little and then you win ugly and then you win by a lot and so we’re in the process of losing by a little right now.”
Despite its losses, the team has remarkably improved its game scores by ending games close to its opponents. Staff members and athletes faithfully believe that the program’s future is bright, and through perseverance and trust, the program will be successful.
“We are very resilient, and I think something that separates us from years before is we fight to the bitter end no matter what the score may be,” Eckhart said.