Football Coaches and What They Taught Me about God (Hawk Pride)

Disclaimer: This is long, and maybe not even worth your time.

I have been thinking about writing this article since last football season, and given recent events in our community decided I would write it now. I will first address the giant elephant in the room of the arraignment of Bridgeport’s football coach, then we will cover some of my coaches over the years and what I gleaned from my time spent under their tutelage.

Hope Your Sin Sensitive Ears Can Handle Honesty

First and foremost, I have zero personal experience with the man to know anything about him other than what I have read in the newspaper, what happened with Mr. Nicewarner is unfortunate and a black eye to his life story. I have had a lot of black eyes in my thirty-two years. A lot of drinking and drugs, sexual immorality, and pride. I was never addicted to any of the drugs and when I repented, boom my drug use ended. (Sort of, I walked away from God 2 years later for another 2 years of ignorance, but after that it abruptly ended again, whatever) Porn and cigarettes were a different story all together. These were addictions and the deepest rooted being the porn.  This secret sin can grow like a cancer and spread leading to greater and more perverse sins if not confronted.

If you think for one second pornography has any place in the life of a Christian or that God doesn’t mind it let me assure you that you are dead wrong and it can quietly destroy your life out from under you. The whole time you don’t even recognize what is being done. I never had any incidents like Mr. Nicewarner, but knowing the enemy and how he always wants to take  you further and further, I was always afraid of finding myself in some sort of similar situation. When would one type of desire not be enough and what would the next line I would cross be?

The drug addict or junky that everyone wants to let die isn’t much different from the porn/sex addict. One man’s judgements are evident here, the other’s will be evident for all to see at the final judgement and we will find out that most of the folks calling for the addicts to go to jail didn’t really have a bit of moral high ground to be standing on. I said that to remind us to call out sin, but separate that sin from the man. Strongly rebuke, but more strongly love.

With all of that off my chest let us move on to the matter at hand. We have ourselves a failed role model to a lot of kids. I want to go ahead and highlight some men who have been good role models and taught me a lot about God when they probably didn’t even realize they were doing it……With that being said……

Dave Cottrill: 1 Corithians 2:2

Dave was my very first football coach. He is a master teacher. I don’t believe I had a knack for understanding football, I believe I had one of the best guys around as far as putting football into understandable concepts. He took it down to the basic package and built it up from there. All of the mechanics of the game and the necessary knowledge he was able to convey to me in a very short amount of time. That is why Dave gets this scripture from Corinthians, “For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.”

When all is lost in your world, and the pressures of your family, job, mental stresses, sickness, any other struggle in life feels like it is just about to crush you; forget it all and remember the basics of your Christian faith. Jesus Christ died on a cross to pay for your sins so that you can know Him, and spend eternity with Him. Take comfort in the basics.

Don Toth: Hebrews 12:29/1 John 4:16

For our God is a consuming fire/ …God is love

Don Toth, or Spider as a lot of folks know him is probably the coach who had the single greatest impact on me over the years. Looking back all these years later he reminds me the most of what God’s character is like. He was deadly intense and powerful, yet at the same time one of the most kindly caring gentle folks I’ve known.

His anger could flash to a high very quickly, and be very intense. This wasn’t like the anger of other men that I see though, this was an anger that was rooted in a love and desire to correct you. It wasn’t to destroy you and make you feel stupid, but it was to shock you into reality and build you up. He also worked us harder than we ever would have imagined we could. If you played football under Don, you were basically a mini Spartan.

The apparent contradiction of these two concepts of an angry/jealous God and an all loving God is a typical misnomer by someone who is just glancing at the bible and not in a relationship with God. That power to rip this world from its hinges and destroy it is to be revered, feared, and respected; the decision to instead lay that power down and take the punishment on yourself is to be adored, loved, praised, and worshipped.

Bobby Kester: Luke 14:31

“Or what king, going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand?”

Bobby is the chap that dubbed me “Puddin” because I was slow and smooth. Still haven’t ever figured out if that was a compliment or a jab haha. He is the master planner. He would never be found in the middle of a battle without a plan. He would have back up plans for his backup plans. I think as we were playing the first half he had the video reel of the second half playing in his head and then he would explain how it was going to go down to us in the locker room. He was always a step ahead. If we were getting smoked on the field it was the execution part, not the battle plan itself, because he never failed in that department.

The Lord has given us His word. If like Mr. Kester we can take that battle plan for life and put it to work in our own lives it will never fail. We fail on the execution end, but the plan is simple. Not easy, but very simple….obey and be blessed, disobey and be cursed. Now we need the Lord’s help obviously to obey, but we will never get going anywhere in life as long as we keep a stiff neck and hard heart towards God. Fight the wind if you want, that’s just the way it is.

Ron Fisher: Proverbs 4:7

“Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding.”

Fish. This guy was amazing. He just seemed to make every situation better. No matter what we were doing or what was going on, if Fish was there or involved it just seemed a little less….hard. He was absolutely hilarious too. A quality I tend to admire in folks, love me some joking around. I realized through Fish though that you could be both the funniest guy in the room and the most profound, it didn’t have to be one or the other.

We could go from laughing about somebody’s girlfriend woes or bad haircut, to hearing some valuable life lesson. It was like a switch. He could be telling a joke one second and then the very next you are hearing something that you know is just dripping with life changing wisdom. I don’t know if it was just the manner he spoke, but his words just seemed larger than life and impactful. As mentioned earlier I made a lot of less than wise decisions that may be key in my inability to recall any direct Fish quotes, but just the way in which he spoke and presented his words was impact enough. (Sorry Fish, I’ll let you go over it all again when I get to where you are)

Brad Jett: Nehemiah 1:8-9

Remember, I beseech thee, the word that thou commandedst thy servant Moses, saying, If ye transgress, I will scatter you abroad among the nations; But if ye turn unto me, and keep my commandments, and do them; though there were of you cast out unto the uttermost part of the heaven, yet will I gather them from thence, and will bring them unto the place that I have chosen to set my name there.

Of all my coaches, Coach Jett took the most flack from me. He had the unfortunate luck of having to deal with me at those wonderous teenage years of 15-18. I still remember making a really nice defensive play against Ben Hall as a freshman in a practice that got me noticed by the Coach and I was so grateful that it did, and he would give me the opportunity to go into ball games. My attitude had changed by the time I was a senior. I had become arrogant and figured I probably knew better than the coach a lot of the time.

I respected him and listened to his instruction, but I still assumed I could probably do things better if I was the one calling the shots. Typical I’m a boy, but think I’m a man scenario. Coach Jett was pretty fiercely loyal and protective over his guys. If we did poorly he took the blame, if we did well we got the credit. If anyone had anything bad to say about us he had our backs, but then when we were away from the eyes of everyone else he would teach us to act like we had some sense.

Two things stand out to me about Coach Jett that really stuck with me. The first being that he was able to see the enjoyment and bond of high school football beyond just winning ball games. I recall suggesting a younger player in place of one of my teammates who in my eyes was our weakest link. Now he very well may have been our weakest link (every chain has one), but he wasn’t about to be replaced by someone who hadn’t put in four years of faithfully showing up and trying. I wasn’t able to value that as a younger man, I can now, and I’m glad that he did then.

Secondly, I grew further apart from Coach Jett as my senior year went on. Especially when football season was over. This is real easy to sum up now; I started partying, drinking, and doing drugs almost daily (During football I wouldn’t do any drugs because I cared too much about winning, I would drink on the weekends after the games though) and he didn’t approve. He went from being my pal that had my back to a thorn in my side and an obstacle to me getting to do the things I wanted to do.


This is much the case with God. When we are submitted to Him, there is nothing we have to fear and doors just open up. When we rebel against Him, He is a mighty foe and will not relent nor acquiesce to our sinful desires. He loves us enough to confront our faults. He is definitely not an enabler, and neither was Coach Jett. I can see looking back he had and still has the best intentions for each and every one of the boys he coaches; not only on the football field, but in the field of life.

Wrap It Up Long Wind

Longest post I’ve ever wrote, if you made it this far congratulations, you  have proven you can read 🙂 I want to say thank you to these men and a few others I didn’t write about, but who I could say kind words about and share similar stories of (Frank Tate, Mark Clayton, Jeff Richards (let them big dogs eat!), but I figure I’ve said enough already.

I simply want to point out that, there are good men in our community and that coaches do have an impact on the children they coach. Children are impressionable, so when you hold a position of authority or a platform to speak from, be wary of what you do and how you influence those around you. Jesus said it would be better to tie a mill stone around your neck and cast yourself into the sea than to offend one of the little ones that believe in him.

This season, instead of complaining about whose kids playing more or the fact that this or that was a terrible call; how about you go up and shake the hand of somebody who is taking time out of their life to build and form your children into better citizens and in a small town where it’s still allowed, hopefully better Christians.

42 thoughts on “Football Coaches and What They Taught Me about God (Hawk Pride)”

  1. Great article Jeff! Well worth the read! I was fortunate enough to have these same coaches in my life which helped mold me to where I’m at today!

  2. As I read your article, the first thing that I think of is maturity. Life lessons are learned over time. In your football career, time spent with every coach you have mentioned, you have been guided by there words and actions! Secondly you have shown patients with not only your mentors but with God also, allowing him to help you when you have stumbled. The third thing you are willing to share some great stories about people who have made a difference in your life. As the Middle School Coach at South Harrison (2004 to present)I have gotten to know all the people you have mentioned and can confirm your description of each. I went to school in Buckhannon and can remember coaches I have had from Pop Warner to HS and have had great memories playing for them. Learning discipline, hard work and yes, God as a part of each practice. I would like to thank you Jeff for pointing out the good that grown men can do for young men and athletes struggling to find a spot in this large world. Stop by the Middle School anytime.

  3. Our area has been blessed with coaches that understand that they’re making a difference in young men’s lives. I have not always been one to do that intentionally. Truth is that you’re impacting the young person whether you know it or not. It’s your choice whether you’re impacting them for good or bad. I embrace doing it intentionally now.
    I am humbled and honored to be in this company. Stop by our practice anytime. Maybe you could do storytime for the players.

    1. Well, you did a fine job Coach and it really is appreciated. Thanks for being a good influence and teaching me so much. That first year is my only championship win in my life lol thanks Dru Toth’s foot haha….

  4. Wonderful read, Jeff. Well worth the time. So happy for you and for all who will be touched by your article. Praise God!!!

  5. Great job “Puddin”! What a lot of people don’t understand is, coaches can see the goodness and the ability of each young man. Although every coach wants to win their main goal should be and is to prepare the young man for life and to never give up on that person. WE NEVER GAVE UP ON YOU JEFF!! I could see in that heart of yours something special and at some appointed time GOD was going to use it to help others! Like JOB some times we have to go through trials to make us stronger and to be able to understand what struggles others are having! Jeff you are a blessing to GOD! Love you man!!!

    1. Thanks for the kind words Bobby. Really loved having you as a coach….you and Fish were like this power team wealth of knowledge about football, but somehow you could just sense the things you guys were teaching were about a lot more than football, thanks again, and yes to God be the glory

  6. Jeff, I wanted you to know that many nights your senior year I sat around the dinner table listening to my dad talk about what an intelligent young man you are and how bright you’re future had in store for you. I have been told so many times as I have gotten older by players he had that it took them to become an adult to realize why he did the things he did to have their back and really did care about them. I had dad read this and we really wanted to thank you… It was a tear jerker for sure . Thank you so much ?

    1. Thanks, I hope it can be a small token to the poor way I responded to his actions as a younger man. I’m glad to have got a chance to spend as much time with him as my coach as I did.

  7. You have presented a picture of men who sacrifice time with family, friends to work with young people. I very sincerely commend you for your words and actions. My coach, my hero, my mentor was my main factor in devouting my life to working with young people as a coach, teacher, principal and superintendent. I cherish the memories of all the young people I had the opportunity to serve.
    Thanks , Jim Jay 1995South Harrison coach

  8. Thank you Jeff for your story. I loved your references to the bibl,e, as well as sharing your faith and trust in Jesus Christ. Each article demonstrated you giving God all the praise and glory.
    Keep writing and sharing the love of the Lord to others.

    God Bless.

  9. Jeff,
    I’m very proud of you & how you’ve matured & developed as a young man, glad to see one of our local young men become the person that you’ve become, your words in this article says it all about the impact that the coaches & the role models of our children are around growing up & trying to prepare for the real world, they definitely impact their lives. Like I said a very good article & proud of you.

  10. Wow! This was an amazing read. I, too, participated in sports all through school, and I must say, I had some pretty amazing coaches as well. The life lessons learned are invaluable, and especially when you have a coach that is a willing to be that guide, “tough love” kind of person… Thanks for you raw honesty, truly remarkable trait that is missing today. Thanks again, and God Bless you!

  11. Great article!! Well worth the read! I met Coach Jett 4-5 years ago and he asked me to help start Fellowship of Christian Athletes at South Harrison. When I came to the school and practices I saw a man who lived football, loved the kids, and loved God. He coached to win and he taught the kids the game of football but he also taught them about life. Evangelist Billy Graham once said “A coach will impact more live in one year than the average person will in an entire lifetime”. That is so true. As a former coach and youth pastor God called me to Fellowship of Christian Athletes and I love getting to meet these awesome coaches and young people around the state. None of us are perfect, we all have our faults and failures. God knows that but He still loves us and wants to make us better for Him and for others. This article is a great reminder of the impact coaches have in the lives of young people. I am praying for Coach Nicewarner. God loves, forgives, heals, and helps. Thank God for Coach Jett and thank God for all these coaches.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to read. Glad to hear of your fellowship of Christian athletes program. They certainly do have a unique opportunity to reach an entire group of individuals and have an impact, so glad these men have allowed God to operate in that with them. Thanks again.

  12. Great job Jeff, your testimony of the love of the father is wonderful, Please keep going the way you are, and always remember once a hawk always a hawk, we will always have your back number 33, love Coach Jett

    1. Means a lot coach, meant every word, your the one with the testimony here of being faithful and sticking things out, Im just glad some of it rubbed off. Really blessed to have good men like yourself and the others as guideposts to multiple generations of young men and women over the years. Thanks again.

  13. I don’t know you or any of those you wrote about. I am sure each of them. But kudos to you and them. Them for taking their time with kids to help teach and set a worthy example. And you for winning the battles you fight and taking the time to recognize them. It is a good read. And your suggestion to thank someone else who gives their time to help build others will not go unheeded. Thanks for sharing.

    1. I appreciate that Mr. Kearns. Thanks for taking the time to read and I’m sure any coaches you know that you stop and take the time to thank will be pretty glad you did. Have a good one.

  14. Jeff, I enjoyed reading your post and appreciate you seeing the good in your former coaches. I coached at Lincoln and remember the great player you were. We certainly had a barn burner at Lincoln the first game of your senior year. As a former Principal at your alma mater, I got to know the men you mentioned and I believe you were led by these men for a reason. And I certainly have the upmost respect for these men and I loved working in the SH community.

    When something tragic happens in our community as you mentioned, it can cause many people to question the best of men that work in the teaching and coaching profession. So your timing with your post was perfect, and I truly appreciate you thoughtfulness and courageous honest expression of your past and the impact these good Christian men had on your life.

    I have always worked with at risk youth and know how hard it is to get them to listen to adults. I think you have overcome some obstacles in your life that would make today’s kids take notice of and expect your attention towards them.

    God bless and go hawks!

    Jimmy lopez

    1. Thanks Mr. Lopez. Everything you said rings true and I’m just glad to shed a little light on these men and on the Lord. That game was certainly fun, both teams opted not to play defense lol.

  15. Jeffrey so proud of you and this is a great article .uncle Jimmy (Buffalo ) said up so would like mention coach Gary Barnette and coach (Shorty) McDaniel both good Christian men setting examples of being a Hawk .thank you Jeffrey.

  16. After living in the South Harrison school area, our daughters graduating from South Harrison high school, it is pleasant to see citizens telling of their experience with the coaches they have had the chances to have had with. Men of God will always stand out from amongst them. We have had the pleasure to watch and listen to the great Kurt Warner who will enter the Hall of Fame next weekend. He never sold out to gain fame but kept his eyes looking unto God. We have lived in the Phoenix area for the last 14 1/2 years and it is a blessing to have experienced him playing football.
    To the coaches who my girls were students of and to the rest of the coaches at South Harrison who followed the Christian teachings of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.

  17. As an old football coach, 50 years, we won a lot of games and championships, but I take no greater pride then see young men to grow in great men. Weather they became doctors, factory workers , policemen or farmers. I hope when God is ready for me me he will give me a at-a-boy

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