Just nine months removed from their second state finals appearance in three years, Minster’s Geron Stokes has the Wildcats poised to replace key departees…and compete. And knowing his story, why would you expect anything else?
Minster – Frankly, if you haven’t learned anything else about head coach Geron (pronounced Gair-on, with a hard “G”, not Jair-on) Stokes and the Minster Wildcats over the past three seasons, there’s this. Anything, and we mean ANYTHING, is possible.
Or, to complete that well-worn phrase with some clarification: Anything is possible if you work hard enough, if you’re intense enough, and you compete to the standard set forth by those that stand between you and success.
Thus defines the life, the times, and the coaching philosophy of Stokes, who has guided the ‘Cats to the Division VI state title in 2014, and who finished runner-up in Division VII to Warren John F. Kennedy last year, 24-6.
He grew up in Urbana and learned from the example of working parents, who toiled at a variety of jobs to pay the bills and provide the opportunities. Stokes’ dad was a football dad, with coaching experience, and from the third grade on his was a goal to play and defy the odds of his diminutive size.
“I was always the smallest, and I wasn’t very athletic, so I had to fight and work harder for what I got with my siblings,” says Stokes. “Actually, I had a sister that was probably a better athlete than me…who walked on at Ohio State and played women’s basketball.”
He didn’t let size stand in his way as he grew up in the Urbana system, ultimately playing for coach Dave Carroll, who guided the Hillclimbers to a 10-0 season in Stokes’s senior season.
“It was lifting at 5 am four days a week,” says Stokes of playing for Carroll. “He was a very intense guy and a very competitive guy. He really worked us hard and we took on that personality of toughness.”
His was a fight every Friday night, on a good Urbana team in a good Central Buckeye Conference. Smaller than other quarterbacks, he played with relentless intensity and disregard for the size of the opponent. He put his body on the line often, and his team in the end zone, proportionately.
He carried that reputation for toughness on to Urbana University, and Wittenberg, where he earned the respect of his teammates for, as the saying goes…the size of the fight in the dog. And when he came to Minster as coach, to replace Nate Moore in 2013, he immediately launched a personal campaign to impute his ways and attitude into what was a flagging program.
“We’re just not tough enough to compete and win against the likes of Coldwater and Marion Local,” he would say then. “We have to change.”
Change they did, winning their first title in a quarter century the following year. And change they must, once again, as Stokes prepares his fifth Minster team for opening night and next week’s backyard rivalry with Fort Loramie. On the heels of last year’s second place finish in the state, he’s working with some positives despite the graduation loss of featured back Bryce Schmiesing, featured receiver Jon Niemeyer, and his offensive line!
“The attitudes of our senior class has been amazing,” said Stokes this week. “The best I’ve had since I’ve been here. I’m having fun with these guys.”
But fun aside, he’ll tell you, in typical character, that he really doesn’t know much about the cards in his hand at this point of training camp.
“Jared Huelsman’s a great leader and playmaker at quarterback,” he admits. But in the next breath he shares a huge concern for the 2017 Wildcats.
“But we graduated our entire offensive line last spring. We have to break in five new ones. We’ve got to get them up and playing, and quickly.”
Still, there is the experience of last year’s ‘Final’ on which to draw. And the news came on Tuesday afternoon this week that Eli Wolf, of that 2014 championship team, a walk-on at the University of Tennessee the following fall, had been granted a scholarship on that very day by Volunteers head coach Butch Jones.
“I’m pumped about it,” laughed Stokes in a rare moment, impossible to hide his pride. “And I just shared that with the kids in the locker room…that anything is possible if you work hard enough and you’re relentless to achieve a goal.”
So, what about Minster this year? Well, Jared Huelsman was the league’s statistical leader at quarterback in 2016, and he’s back. And, they are the state’s defending runners-ups in Division VII.
“Truthfully, we haven’t talked about that game with the kids since that day,” says Stokes. “I mean, we talked about it at the time, after the game, about how they flew to the football and how hard they played, but I’m hoping they remember. Now, we have to look forward.”
And they look forward to…Loramie, Covington, and Marion Local, three of Minster’s first four opponents. The toughness that he’s preached previously, since 2013, is still his calling card – his constant message and reminder to another group that must find its way against the likes of league heavys, Marion, Coldwater, a promising St. Henry, and the anticipated improvement of the Anna Rockets.
“From where we started back then to where we are now…yeah, I’m satisfied with the progress,” says Stokes. “I love the leadership and work that our kids are bringing every day. I love the unselfishness of this group.
“We still have to be tougher, don’t get me wrong,” he adds. “I just think that’s going to be a fight for us. But our kids aren’t afraid to compete now against Coldwater and Marion Local. As to the balance in the league this year, we’ll see. I don’t know. I really don’t much about all those teams, what they lost or what they bring back. And we still have to play them, anyway. We have no control over those things. Right now we’re going out and try to have a really good practice in about fifteen minutes.”
And they did have a good practice, intense as always, with the toughest of them all (so tough he wears shorts and footies on freezing playoff nights) running around the field, from player to player, exhorting them, reminding them, and wearing a T-shirt that sums up the only way Geron Stokes has ever known.