Unconsidered after a four-game swoon in the middle of the regular season the Minster Wildcats went on to resurrect themselves and win the 2017 Division VII title in OHSAA football, spotlighting one of the special coaching accomplishments in recent history. Good enough…to garner Press Pros’ SOTY recognition.
They say that the term ‘sportsman’ symbolizes one that’s willing to work against the odds – to defy fate – on his or her way to whatever fate bestows. Just keep playing – working – regardless of obstacles!
And so it is…that our Press Pros 2017 Sportsman of The Year honor goes to one who’s lived his entire athletic life by defying the odds – willing to compete with the best of his attributes, and take what comes of it. In the process, Minster head football coach Geron Stokes has embodied a powerful example…for his players, his community, and for other would-be “sportsmen”.
We first noticed Geron Stokes twenty years ago when he played for the Urbana Hillclimbers, and then as an undersized, but hell-for-leather quarterback at Urbana University and coach Todd Murgatroyd. He threw his body around. He played ‘tough’, took a lot of physical risks, and simply defied opponents who were bigger, faster, and more athletic to stop him.
Frankly, at the time you wouldn’t have thought of him in terms of taking that persona into coaching, but he did. And ultimately he landed at Minster in 2013 after Nate Moore left for the greener grass of Cincinnati LaSalle. Stokes came in preaching that message of toughness, hard work, and commitment.
He took some lumps, while measuring the considerable gap between his own cause and the winning scenario being played out at Marion Local and Coldwater. Every week he pointed out to his players: If you want to win in the MAC you have to be as tough as the teams that you can’t beat, or haven’t beaten…yet!
He had some talent in 2014, with quarterback Josh Nixon and wide receiver Eli Wolf. And reminiscent of his days at Urbana, Stokes and the Wildcats won some games in a heart-stopping manner, including a critical playoff game in week 1 of the playoffs that year against Mechanicsburg. It was a game in which the message seemed to resonate – if you want to win…you have to be ‘tougher’ than the circumstances!
They rode that win through four more weeks, to the state finals, and shocked the state in the Division VI championship game with a fourth quarter comeback to beat heavily-favored Kirtland, 46-42. They defied the odds, were more daring than Kirtland, a team bigger, faster, and more experienced. One Kirtland player would say afterwards, “We knew what Minster was going to do, but we just couldn’t stop them,” pertaining to Minster’s willingness to throw caution to the wind…and throw the football!
In 2017 Stokes and the Wildcats defied the odds again. After a three-game win streak to begin the season, they fell victim to a four-game losing slide – to Marion Local, Fort Recovery, St. Henry, and Coldwater – the heart of the MAC’s competitive core in 2017.
“Our kids came out for the Marion game and they were so jacked up to throw a haymaker at Marion…and we did,” says Stokes. “We just came out of that game beat up physically, lost a couple of key defensive players, and then we went into a stretch with three more big-time heavy hitters.”
They lost those four games, a circumstance that for many programs would have negatively impacted the rest of their season. But not for Geron Stokes, and not with Minster. Asked repeatedly about their chances to finish with at least a winning record, let alone their chances for the post-season playoffs, Stokes was consistent in his statement of, “We don’t worry about winning and losing. We worry about getting better each week, and just executing. If we win, we win.”
But you’ve got to stay the course. You’ve got to keep playing.
His words resonated. His senior leadership, an attribute he repeatedly credited and praised throughout the season, bought his message, and thrived. They believed, and they did win again…in weeks 8, 9, and 10, securing a mid-seed in the Division VII playoffs. And then while others questioned, and pointed to that four-game losing streak in October, the Wildcats completed an eight-game win streak that culminated with state final four wins over the #1 team in the state, Norwalk St. Paul in the semi-final round…and Cuyahoga Heights for the Division VII title.
It’s easy to call someone a sportsman when their path is unobstructed, and winning is taken for granted. And it’s easy to overlook someone when talk of overcoming tough times becomes mere words.
But where Geron Stokes is concerned, his commitment to a vision, and his message to kids that life isn’t easy…is to be acknowledged, and should be commended. To the man who never took anything for granted, even the opportunity to play and compete – for his ability to communicate that virtue to a team of teenage football players – we salute him doing that to which others all too often simply give lip service. He not only talked the talk…but walked the walk, as well.
Congratulations to Minster head football coach Geron Stokes…our 2017 Press Pros Sportsman of The Year!