Buoyed by two state football titles in four years, Minster’s Geron Stokes finds his name as the subject of rumors as to where he’ll coach next. Is he going, or is he staying? The answer is in the reading.
Minster – If he’s amused he doesn’t show it. If he’s interested you’d never know. Geron Stokes barely gets caught up in the tangibles of what he’s already done, much less the rumors of what he’s about to do next.
If you’ve lived in a hole, or under a rock, for these past four football seasons, Stokes is the wunderkind young coach of the Minster Wildcats, which shocked the OHSAA tournament in 2014 by knocking off the highly-talented, and highly-favored, Kirtland Hornets, 46-42, in the Division VI title game. They did it with an aggressive, attacking style that one Kirtland player later described as, “We knew what was coming, and we couldn’t stop it.” And, “They threw because they wanted to, not because they had to.”
Trailing 28-27 at the end of three quarters, Minster outscored Kirtland 19-14 over the final twelve minutes, the winning score coming on a 50-yard bomb from quarterback Josh Nixon to wide receiver (and future Tennessee Volunteer) Eli Wolf.
Two years later Stokes had his team back in the state finals, but lost to a bigger, and better, Warren John F. Kennedy in the Division VII final, 24-6.
And yet, motivated by knowing they had not played their best football that day, Stokes again graced the Division VII finals last December, crushing a favored Cuyahoga Heights team, 32-7.
“They were bigger, stronger, and better prepared than we were,” said Cuyahoga coach Al Martin. “We got beat by a heckuva’ football team today.”
All this, of course, has set the stage in southwest Ohio for discussion on Geron Stokes’ future. Would a coach so young, with so much sudden fanfare, be satisfied to stay at Division VII Minster? Or, will the persistent rumors of him becoming the next coach at a bigger, more profiled football school lure him away? His name, if you’re still living in that hole, is in constant circulation as a candidate for a GWOC school, Cincinnati, or the first available job that meets his criteria.
“Well, I don’t know about that,” said Stokes this week. “The job thing has never been on my mind. I want to coach, and I want to coach really good kids. And I have that here in Minster. I have an opportunity to build a quality team every year with really good people and a really good coaching staff. So, wherever I can do that, I’m going to be happy.”
He grew up in Urbana, competitive, determined, and in his words “always on the chase”, meaning…Geron Stokes is driven to accomplish, succeed, and over-achieve. He still lives there and makes the hour-long drive each day, leading some to question if there’s something wrong with Minster, but he quickly dispels such notions, or rumors.
“No,” says Stokes. “We live in Urbana because my family is there, my wife’s work is there, and she’s made a lot of sacrifices for me to do what I do in coaching. This is my way of giving something back to her for her sacrifice.”
He is, by his own admission, his own man. When the Wildcats won their 2014 championship he chose not to ride the bus home with the team for a victory celebration, choosing instead to stay in Columbus with family and friends.
“There were a lot of people who came in, friends from California, and my whole family was there for that day,” says Stokes. “I couldn’t just leave them, and I’m probably going to do that every single time.”
So you see, Geron Stokes is not like a lot of other coaches – a non-conformist, perhaps – but always willing to do what’s best for his kids and the program he’s coaching.
“Let me say this,” another area coach recently said. “If he left for another job he would be hard to replace. Geron Stokes is that kind of special guy.”
Special, because he’s a remarkable combination of old school and new reality. He demands, and yet he understands the temptations of being young – of being a follower instead of a leader. Stokes, is, and always has been, a leader.
He admits to frustration early on at Minster, but was determined to find a way to bring what he calls a remarkable community of talent to the doorstep of accomplishment and success.
“I need to be around really good people who are as hungry as I am,” he says. “And when I got here five years ago we weren’t in that situation. But every job is frustrating. A lot of marriages are frustrating. When you’re trying to grow and develop it’s frustrating. The fact is we didn’t lift weights the proper way. We didn’t practice the proper way. We didn’t discipline ourselves the proper way. We just weren’t doing things the way you do things if you’re going to win. If you’re going to be good in business there’s a way you do things. If you’re going to be a good spouse there’s a way you do things. We’re still not perfect, but we’re a lot closer than we were back then.
“We now value practice. We now value hard work, I think. It’s just a process that you have to teach every year. But I love kids and I love to see them grow. I’ve always been transparent. I say what I think because I’m open with people. I just believe that you get one shot at this and there’s so many people out there who live their lives for other people’s approval. I’m never going to live like that. And if you do it to get validity among the coaching profession, or a pat on the back, I think you’re doing it for the wrong reason. I’ll probably get fired one day for being myself.”
To the fact of present-day football, if he’s aware of being the defending state champion in Division VII he doesn’t let on. That was eight months ago, and opening night, against Ft. Loramie, is now less than four weeks away. He has to replace the league’s best player, in Jared Huelsman, on both sides of the ball, and he has to find key replacements in the backfield and on the offensive line.
“Our kids have done the work in the weight room all year,” he professes. “They’ve given an incredible effort. Now, it’s just a matter of putting it together as a cohesive unit.”
Jacob Niemeyer is the heir apparent at quarterback, while Alex Schmitmeyer will replace Isaac Schmiesing as the featured running back. And that offensive line, which impressed Al Martin so much last December, will be a work in progress. But to describe the process as a whole – a bunch of guys all competing for spots. The Geron Stokes way.
And in response to the rumors, his competitive nature makes it a better-than-average bet that he’s not going anyplace else to coach – not as long as there’s a Marion Local, a Coldwater, and teams in the football-rich MAC that maintain the high standard of competition and accomplishment. In his five seasons, he’s yet to beat perennial state champion Marion.
“We still have a ton of room to grow,” he insists. “I believe that, with all my heart. My mission in coaching is to get the absolute best out of people and I don’t think we’ve gotten there yet. We’re closer, but we’ve still got to grow, and change, and become more disciplined. We still have to love the work that goes into this whole thing.
“I’ve still got to get better, to make the most of the talent we have here. Everyone here is bigger and longer. The average player in the CBC (Central Buckeye Conference) is 5’10, and the average player up this way is 6’1″…in all sports. We just have a bigger brand of human beings. And they come from great families. So they listen to coaching more, they respond, they show up to do more things.”
And, he emphasizes…they lift more weights.
“I really believe this,” says Stokes. “When they started lifting weights the right way here everyone got better. The girls basketball team lifts, the track team lifts, and the football team starting getting better five years ago when we began lifting with consistency. It’s not that we’re uber-stronger, or something, it’s just a confidence that comes when you trust yourself a little bit more.”
So to the issue of where Geron Stokes is going to coach next, the answer is, without hesitation, Minster. He’s not distracted, he’s not impressed, and he’s not changing his priorities over what other people say.
“Most of those jobs aren’t even open,” he says, flatly.
And while he’ll tell you he’s miserable at times, still, he’s happy in Minster.
“I get miserable because I’m never satisfied,” he says. “There always has to be a chase, a focus on perfection, to be as good as you can be. But don’t misunderstand, that’s just me.”
And lucky for Minster, it is!