In Ft. Recovery they’re excited to prove something. One, that last year’s Division VII title was no fluke. And two, that success is sweeter when you wait for it that long.
Ft. Recovery – Coach Brent Niekamp leaned against a brick pillar at the football field last week and smiled at the irony of his current situation.
Imagine people writing to websites, texting, and tweeting about Ft. Recovery football just seven months after the Indians won the Division VII title last December.
Imagine who would even care, given that just ten seasons ago the Indians couldn’t find a win with a search warrant…and almost dropped the sport!
Imagine, given that for the first three seasons after Recovery’s 1995 joining with the Midwest Athletic Conference…they won exactly three league games.
But winning, as Niekamp knows from experience, begats respect. And respect begats interest. And in high school-football-mad Ohio curiosity begats curiosity. How will a school like Ft. Recovery handle the pressure of being what they now are…champions?
He’s not accustomed to the attention, the wonder, and even the worry of opposing coaches on the 2016 schedule consumed with how to stop an attack featuring a Division I college quarterback recruit. How to stop a massive, experienced offensive line returning, and a scataway running back in junior Will Homan that emerged unheralded (and untouched) during last year’s playoff run. He’s not accustomed to it, but Niekamp likes the position of being in his position.
“I really don’t feel a lot of pressure about what we do this year, except from the outside if we let that affect us,” he says. “I think the real pressure was our getting to this point, to where we could win a championship last year. Honestly, I think we’ve had some pretty good teams for the past four or five years but we just couldn’t get over that hump that puts you at the next level. This league’s won a lot of titles, and every team that’s won has had a find a way to get over their own hump. Last year was our year.”
You believe him when Brent Niekamp talks football shop with you. There’s not a lot of “coach speak” in his vernacular, and when he does go cliche’ he’ll tell you chapter and verse and specifics on why he believes there’s a weakness.
You believe him because Brent Niekamp, unlike any other coach in the MAC, has seen the every brick, every block, and all the mortar necessary in the building process at Ft. Recovery. The son of Pat and Mary, he’s been there, in his words, “across the street since day one.”
“Yep, grew up here right across the street from the school. My dad was a teacher, coach, and superintendent and this is where I got my start. This is where I got my football start in the sixth grade. I liked the game, I played here, and I was good enough when I graduated to get recruited to play at Tri-State University (Angola, Indiana) now Trine University.
“I don’t want to take anything away from my high school coaches because it was all brand new and we had a small staff, and they did a great job for what they had. But at Tri-State I really learned about putting a program together and how a good program runs. I thought I wanted to coach when I got out and I came back here. I got a job at Edgerton, Ohio and an assistant for a couple of years for Todd Drusback, and I really think he was getting me ready to be a head coach. I started thinking that I’d like to come back here and contribute to my school and my community, never thinking it would come so soon. But it did, and I took the job at Recovery when I was 24 years old. So you might say I’ve been around Ft. Recovery football since day one, my first day in football.”
He’s been a head coach now twelve years, and a lot of those days…tough days!
“Oh yeah, there were a lot of times when I talked it over with my wife (Kim) and my dad about whether I was getting anywhere, or whether I was making an impact as a coach. Ten years ago they were actually considering dropping football.”
That’s a bit more of a challenge to overcome…than just getting over the hump!
“So now, no, I don’t feel any pressure to come back and repeat or be anything other than a good football team again. I’m finally at the point of appreciating what we did last year and being a champion. And I still remember what it used to be.”
And the fact is…that football is suddenly the relevant sport in what’s forever been a basketball town. And they’ve handled the pressure with a new commitment, a gleaming renovation of the Indians’ home playing surface.
The fact is…they’re going to be pretty good (again) with the foundation of quarterback, running back, and offensive line all returning.
“That’s a good place to start when you have your quarterback and your offensive line,” he smiles. “But really, I spend more time thinking about our deficiencies. Every coach does that. That’s what we talk about when we get together as a group. You worry about what you don’t know more than about what you do know.”
And to the curious, the ones wondering and writing, there’s absolutely no complacency in Ft. Recovery after a 13-2 season a year ago, and the school’s first-ever football title…of any kind!
“I can’t wait to get back and play,” said quarterback Caleb Martin in a recent Press Pros column. “Some people probably thought we were lucky, but we want to prove that it was no fluke.”
Which is probably what makes Brent Niekamp flash the broad smile, even now, seven weeks from the Indians’ opening night encounter with Lehman. When you’re grounded by the memory of 1-9, and 3-7, it makes living with the pressure of being a champion so much sweeter.
Everybody has their humps, if even long ago. To Recovery’s credit, theirs are recent enough to remember and appreciate.