A decade after building the Arcanum Trojans into a perennial champion contender, their former coach finds himself in the position of present coach…trying to build the Trojans into a perennial champion contender again.
They say you can’t come home, or at least Thomas Wolfe did in a 1940 novel – for reasons of emotional conflict and the natural evolution of things. The only thing constant in life, you know…is change!
But Jason Schondelmyer, aka ‘Schondo’, took it upon himself last March to prove Wolfe and any skeptics wrong – that you can come home again; and that you can pick things up the second time around in a place you once left for greener pastures. And, if it means rebuilding what you’ve already built once to be successful, so be it.
For you see it was Schondelmyer who came to Arcanum in 1999 and built the Trojan football program into a winning tradition, better than 50 wins from ’99 through 2006, and a playoff appearance in 2002, before he left to replace the retiring Al Hetrick at Versailles in 2007.
He learned some things.
One, it’s always better to be the man who replaced the man who replaced …”the man”. The iconic Hetrick left huge shoes to fill, yes, but he didn’t leave any Jason Turners, Kyle Gehles, or Ryan McNeilans.
And two, he learned that the legacy he left behind, of winning football, can erode quickly in the absence of the “it” factor, whatever that is. For you see, Schondelmyer never had the kind of athletes at Arcanum that Covington had. But whatever “it” was…he got the very best out of a lot of kids like Ty Cates, ironically, now the head coach at Covington.
Back in 1999 he inherited a program where the ranks were so thin he personally had to put on pads and a helmet in order to practice. There were only 19 kids. But in terms of the intangibles that make average football teams good, and good football teams better, coming back to Arcanum had some very familiar overtones.
“Well, we’re a long way from where we need to be to compete for a Cross County Conference championship,” said Schondelmyer this week.
“In terms of intensity, speed, and awareness, we have a lot of work to do. The kids are great. Their effort has been great. They’ve worked hard to get stronger in the weight room. But until you face adversity – until you face 4th and three with the game on the line – that’s what we don’t know yet.”
His path back to Arcanum took a circuitous route, with assistant coaching stops at the University of Dayton, for Rick Chamberlain, and at Kettering Alter, where he worked under his old coaching mentor Ed Domsitz. For the past two seasons he was hired to get a fledgling football program off the ground and running at Tri-Village High School. And the one constant that presented itself with each of those stops was the need for leadership. He spent week one of training camp…looking for some leaders. He’ll spend week two of training camp, and beyond, doing the same.
“I do think we have some great candidates to be leaders,” he said of the youthful Trojans, who finished 4-6 last season under T.J. Powers. “But again, you need adverse situations to determine leadership and we haven’t had that yet. We’ve haven’t had to get that crucial yard, or make a big play in a big moment. I like what I see so far, but it’s just too soon to know who the leaders are going to be.”
But he does know the record. And he knows the tangibles that led to last year’s 4-6 mark under Powers. The Trojans did win four of their final six games, but those wins came against the likes of Twin Valley South, Ansonia, Mississinawa, and National Trail. Between the four they had seven wins, collectively (7-33).
He also knows that in their first four games of last season the Trojans gave up 138 points against Riverside, Covington, Tri-County North and Miami East.
And yet, he knows in four of his team’s six losses, they played the eventual winner to within a touchdown or less.
“So, I have a positive first impression of what I’ve seen this week,” says Schondelmyer. “Look, I’m familiar with this community and I know the makeup of the town and the kids. They respect hard work here, plus I’m now coaching some cousins of kids who played for me before, so they know what to expect. There’ll be some high expectations, but the biggest expectation is about how hard we work.”
Some things haven’t changed. And unlike some coaches who come in with a new broom that sweeps clean, ‘Schondo’ has different priorities. The familiar winged helmets (like Michigan wears) were there when he left…and they’re still there now that he’s back.
“You pick your battles, I guess,” he laughs. “People who know me know that I’m a die-hard Ohio State fan. But I won’t fight the helmets at this point because there are people in the community who like ‘em and the tradition they represent. What I’m worried about is how fast the wings on those helmets are moving once we get on the field.
And then there’s Covington, the perennial champion, where his former protege’, Cates, led the Buccaneers to a perfect league record and a 11-1 mark, overall, in his first year as coach.
“I know Ty says some very complimentary things about me,” he says. “He was a special player, a great leader, and we share a special bond. But what’s most special to me is that he’s chosen to go on and be a coach. That’s the ultimate compliment.”
So, whether the cynics are right about coming home remains to be seen. Jason Schondelmyer is looking for intensity, response to adversity, and from the combination of the two, the leadership necessary to build (or rebuild) the Trojans into championship caliber.
“But I won’t be putting on the pads and a helmet to practice,” he adds. “My body won’t put up with that anymore.”
“But I don’t know, maybe, in the fire of the moment,” he said, reconsidering his words.
Consider again, Jason. Ten years hence, macho ain’t so easy…the second time around!