To Devin Gill, the question was a no-brainer. The Wes-Del head football coach position was open, and Brad Hess was asking Gill if he thought players would be interested in having Hess, then an assistant coach in the program, as their head coach. To Gill, the answer was a resounding yes.
Hess became the Warriors’ head coach last summer, and Gill, a senior running back, said the first-year coach has even exceeded his expectations.
The Warriors are 4-1 and on are a four-game winning streak. For the first time ever, Wes-Del has a winning record entering its Harvest Helmet Classic game, to be played at 7:30 p.m. today at Monroe Central. The Golden Bears will also enter the game with a winning record for the first time in the series’ brief history, a turnaround engineered by a second-year coach who has also earned his players’ trust.
To Gill, Hess’ passion is evident. Hess has sometimes told his players that he wishes he could be out there playing with them, being on the field to help them achieve their goals. Instead, he knows his role is to lead the squad from the sideline.
“It just really gets to me,” Gill said. “Like he wishes that he could be out there, but he’s doing all he can as a coach to ensure our success. You can really tell that he’s being real selfless. It’s not for him, it’s not for him looking good on paper, with the record and everything. It’s really for us. And you can tell that he’s doing it all for us.”
Gill has also been impressed with the way Hess runs a practice. He has instituted a pre-practice portion that allows position groups to get additional work. And the practices are run efficiently, so sessions are sometimes shorter but just as effective.
“He’s really just taken control, he’s really just changed the attitude of the team,” Gill said. “It’s no longer, ‘Oh, it’s just another year of football.’ It’s ‘We want to get better every practice.’ There’s never a day that I’ve come out here and really dreaded going to practice. It’s always been, ‘How can we get better? How can we make the team better?’ “
Hess has enjoyed seeing the passion he has for football trickle down to his players.
“I want them to see the passion that I have for the game, and understand that that passion is something that’s going to help you out with life. That’s my main thing. I’m excited for these guys. They’re starting to figure out and have the high school experience that football should give you. And they’re starting to figure out there’s life skills along with it too. And passion is one of those life skills.”
In his first game in the series as head coach, Hess will be facing second-year Monroe Central coach John Hochstetler. Golden Bears senior offensive tackle/linebacker Conner Elder said that he was simply impressed with Hochstetler’s coaching résumé when he first came to the school. Now he feels like he knows him more personally.
Since then, Elder said he has come to realize how much Hochstetler cares about his players. The coach has been to some of his players’ houses, eager to get a sense of their families and their backgrounds.
After the Golden Bears lost a road game to the Warriors last year, Hochstetler had a detour planned on the ride home. He had hoped he would be making the trip after a win, but still followed through despite a loss (Wes-Del has a 2-1 edge in the series’ brief history.) Hochstetler took his players to his house in Muncie. If it was important for him to know where his players lived, it was important for his players to know where he lived as well. Elder seems to remember the players taking off their dirty gear, then heading inside for a full tour.
“I guess it just showed that he cared, it wasn’t just he was trying to put on a false persona or whatever,” Elder said. “But he cared about us.”
Hochstetler seems more comfortable in his second year in Parker City. He believes he has moved some players into more natural positions, something he thinks has helped his squad to its 3-2 start. One example is former receiver Bracken Barga, who now plays quarterback and has not thrown an interception in 94 attempts this season.
“We’re excited, there’s two haven’t-done-before. We beat Centerville and we beat Union City,” Hochstetler said. “And if you’re a Monroe Central person, regardless of what’s going at Wes-Del or anywhere else, that pushed us into a new world.”