Mrs. Stoffer — the unsung hero of the Wapakoneta Redskins 2011 football team.
Years ago she told a young, impressionable Doug Frye, “Good, better, best. Never let it rest until your good is better and your better is best.”
Frye never forgot the words of his sixth-grade English teacher and passed them on to his young charges.
“I think our kids have to understand that what we did this year was a step in the right direction,” the Redskins varsity coach said. “But it wasn’t the ultimate accomplishment.”
A step in the right direction indeed.
Two years ago, the Redskins went 1-9.
In 2010, Frye’s first season at the helm, they compiled a 7-3 record and narrowly missed the playoffs.
That was good.
Wapak then rolled to a 10-2 record in 2011, becoming just the second team in school history to win a playoff game.
The Redskins’ only losses were to teams ranked No. 1 in the state of Ohio — Kenton in Division IV and Trotwood-Madison in Division II.
Now the goal is ‘best.’
Given the way Wapak played in the loss to Trotwood-Madison that ended its playoff run and season, best can’t be too far off.
Outgunned by a bigger, faster, stronger T-M team, the Redskins fought and clawed and were an ineligible-receiver-downfield penalty away from landing a blow square on the jaw of the stunned Rams.
Instead, the momentum swung back T-M’s way and the Rams pulled out the win.
Observer’s from Trotwood-Madison said Wapak was the best and toughest team the Rams had faced all year.
“It was our goal to win the game, No. 1. But No. 2, it was our goal to not back down,” Frye said. “I’m not sure in the past we would have played the way we played Friday night. I saw it right from the warmups, there was no intimidation factor. There was no backing away. There was a total belief that we could win the football game.
“And I think afterwards our kids were most disappointed in the fact that they really believed we could have won the football game. In the situation they were in, facing the No. 1 team in the state, the fact that everyone outside of the program was telling them that they probably didn’t have a chance, our kids listened to what the coaching staff had to say and to what each of them had to say. And they continued to believe. I think it’s a testament to the character of our seniors and of our kids overall.”
The team slogan for the 2011 Redskins was a simple one — 11-15.
“On a scale from 1-to-10, we want to play with an 11 effort,” Frye said. “And 15 is the ultimate number of games we want to win in our football program. ....
“Each year you have a different slogan for your team. Well, until we get to 11-15, that’s going to remain the slogan here each year. We kind of evaluated it, a couple coaches and I, and we thought we’re an 8-11 right now. We’re on the right track towards getting where we want to go.”
Frye and the Redskins will say good-bye to a stellar senior class led by All-Western Buckeye League and All-Northwest District performers Connor Pickens, Chris Schwartz, Jim Knippen, Kevin Kraft, Cole Thrush, Connor Metz, Brendan Wilson, Josh Hartman, Nick Warner, Trey Smith and Lance Vetter, as well as Nic Sawmiller and T.J. Sprague.
“Those kids really took the bull by the horns and led for us,” Frye said. “Two years in a row, we’ve had two groups of seniors that have made significant impacts on our football program. A year ago the group led the turnaround for us. And this group took it another notch or two up.”
Pickens was the headline-grabber for the Redskins, rushing for a mind-boggling 1,913 yards and 29 touchdowns, including a single-game record 274 yards in a Week 2 win over Elida.
This came on the heels of Logan Erb’s 1,193 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2010.
“Connor Pickens had a great year and he’s a tremendous running back,” Frye said. “I think what we’ve done here is we’ve started to establish quite an act to follow. There have been two fantastic running backs come out of here, albeit they had great offensive lines and great blocking up front. But in a lot of areas, we’re establishing tradition for kids to make themselves into those types of players.”
Offensive coordinator Mark Law’s hybrid Wing-n-Fling offense looked very Wing oriented early in the season. But the Fling came out in a big way in the Week 7 rout of rival St. Marys when quarterback Kyle Gibson completed his first 17 passes and threw for a season-high 289 yards and three touchdowns.
“We’re not where we want to be with the Wing-n-Fling yet, but signs of the two parts of it coming together definitely showed as the season went on,” Frye said. “Were we proficient enough at the Wing-T? No. Were we proficient enough at the Fling? No.
“But as I about the 11-15, we were moving towards that. We might have been an 8 in both areas. I think if we can get those two things to have a happy marriage, I guess is the best way to say it, we become a pretty tough team to defend.”
Defensively, Wapak began the season with a host of question marks, including a brand-new, first-year coordinator in Shane Patterson and a whole new defensive scheme featuring multiple fronts.
But the Redskins answered those questions emphatically, leading the WBL in scoring defense.
“He learned a lot throughout the season,” Frye said. “There were many times we sat down after games and he said, ‘I think I’ll do this next time or I’ll do this.’ Even though he’d been part of the Western Buckeye League, as a first time he’d coordinated like that, having Bill [Sammons] with him was such a major asset.”
There was a slew of new faces on special teams as well, with first-year kickers Bailey Hinegardner and Matt Ewing and punter Zach Holtzapple.
Now the Redskins will take a few weeks off before the weightroom reopens on December 12. Some of the players will play winter sports.
“Even though I coach football, it is my goal and our goal to win championships in other sports,” Frye said. “We want that to become a habit among our kids.”
It all goes back to making the better best.
And to reaching out to other kids in the school.
“A school our size, we had 62 or 63 football players. We ought to have 80. There ought to be 80-90 football players here at Wapakoneta,” Frye said. “I just can’t say enough to young men, even though it takes a lot of commitment and a lot of work ethic, but it is such a unique experience. There are so many kids and their families that came up to me throughout the season, kids that very seldom got onto the field, about how much fun they’d had with it, how much they enjoyed the experience, how much of a bonding experience it was for their families and everyone.
“That was the great thing throughout the season, to see the community excited, the fans, the police escort as we left town, the fans out in their lawns, the yard signs. So I’m going to challenge our kids, when the season ends, I want to see some Redskins gear on daily. I want to see some Wapakoneta Football stickers on your windows. I want you to wear that with pride. And we want to encourage other kids to be a part of our program.”