For a few moments last Friday night, I wasn’t a sports writer.
I was a former player.
As I walked onto the field at Piqua Alexander Stadium following one of the most amazing games I’d ever covered, the Shawnee High School football team had already started celebrating its 56-42 comeback victory over Elida.
In the scrum of players and coaches, I wandered around looking for Braves coach Rick Meeks, like I have so many other times this season.
But before I found coach Meeks, I saw Braves assistant coach Dave Driskill, my former defensive coordinator at Southeastern.
It was a moment I’ll never forget.
Some coaches never get the chance to coach in a state final — and it was then that I fully realized coach Driskill and the Braves had earned the opportunity of a lifetime to play at Canton Fawcett Stadium in the state championship game.
“You always dream about that, and wonder what that would be like,” Driskill said. “To finally get a chance to actually be in a game in Canton, it’s pretty amazing.”
Before he was my coach, Driskill was my third-grade teacher at Miami View. He was always the quarterback in our schoolyard football games, tossing passes to many of his future players.
Driskill, a Dola Hardin Northern graduate, began coaching at Southeastern in 1989 as an assistant under Steve Bartlett, who my dad, Bob, just happened to help out on Friday nights, writing play charts. (A quick aside: My dad has perfect handwriting. I’ve never seen anything like it. I’m sure the coaching staff used to marvel at his penmanship at halftime. Seriously, if he lived in the 18th century, he would’ve been handwriting letters for George Washington.)
Driskill stayed on staff at Southeastern when his cousin, Mike Hetrick, took the job in 1995.
His “Uncle Al” just happens to be Al Hetrick, the longtime Versailles coach who guided the Tigers to six state championships, the most by any public school in Ohio.
Driskill was the defensive coordinator during my years at Southeastern. He was always tough and fair, gave you credit when deserved — and always had a smile on his face. You knew he loved football, and every moment he spent on the field with us.
He left Southeastern in 2001, when Mike Hetrick left to take the job at Brookville.
After two seasons away from football, Driskill, who had taken a teaching job at Rockway, was asked by Rick Meeks to join the coaching staff at Shawnee. He’d be coaching defense with Braves coordinator Devin Spitzer, one of his former defensive ends at Southeastern, who he didn’t get to use very much “because he was a quarterback.”
“We kid around about Star Wars, about how Obi-Wan Kenobi trained Darth Vader,” Driskill said. “(Spitzer) always says to me, ‘You trained me, now I am the master.’ ”
It took 15 years of coaching for Driskill to make an appearance in the playoffs as a coach. Our team at Southeastern got close several times, but couldn’t quite get over the hump.
Now, Driskill will coach in the state final, and I couldn’t be happier for him.
“You’re blessed to have the opportunity,” Driskill said. “There’s a lot of coaches who don’t this opportunity. For whatever reason, it came together here.”