Anticipation Builds for Rams Football
Football will officially begin in August at Bluefield College, with junior varsity games soon to follow.
February 11, 2011
Courtesy of Brian Woodson
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
BLUEFIELD, Va. — Football will officially begin in August at Bluefield College, with junior varsity games soon to follow.
Ready to begin... Bluefield College football coach Mike Gravier stands in front of a dry-erase board with names of prospects listed on it in his office. Gravier is looking to bring in players for the Rams who haven't fielded a football team since 1941.
Photo courtesy of Eric DiNovo with Bluefield Daily Telegraph.
One year later, records will be kept, scores will be recorded and the statistics will count.
Until August when the players arrive and two-a-days begin, the work continues as Bluefield head coach Mike Gravier chooses the athletes that will comprise that first team.
• • •
At least the facilities are in place, at least two of them. The search for the other continues.
When Bluefield College announced the return of football, it was made during a ceremony at the former Pocahontas High School. That was for a reason. If there was not a facility in Pocahontas to use, football might still be in the discussion stage, at least that is what Gravier understands after meetings with school president Dr. David Olive.
"That first year that will be our football facility, which from a lot of standpoints is really not going to be a bad situation, other than having to drive there every day," Gravier said.
"The fact that we've got a gymnasium to go into if the weather gets really bad, having all the classroom space that is there for meetings and the auditorium for team meetings.
"From that standpoint it is a great facility, the problem is it is 12 miles from campus. That we have that facility in talking to Dr. Olive, if it wasn't for that, they wouldn't have started football yet. That was really the trigger that set things in motion."
Bluefield won't play its games at Pocahontas. There's another historic facility within walking distance of the school. Mitchell Stadium — in addition to hosting the Beavers and G-Men — will now serve as home of the Rams.
"As we bring recruits over there, they are excited about the possibility of playing in a stadium like that," Gravier said. "What I appreciate is it is so close to campus. Students can walk over and tailgate and be a part of the game and the atmosphere and not have to worry about getting a ride or anything, it is right within walking distance."
There is one facility that remains to be found, and the search continues to find a location for a weight room and other strength and conditioning needs. Currently, the five players on board with the team are working out three days a week at the Greater Bluefield Community Center.
The search is on. Gravier said he will hear from Dr. Olive on occasion either with a suggestion or a contact on where to go for a possible answer, which he feels shows how much behind football that the school is.
"We're not sure yet, that is part of the growing pains in the evolution of a program," Gravier said. "I am very fortunate that the administration here is 100 percent behind football...(Dr. Olive) is out looking for things as opposed to 'Here, you deal with it and if you don't get it done'...
"He is actively going out and talking to people and trying to find facilities for us and putting me in contact with people. I am very, very appreciative of not just him, but our vice president of development (Ruth Blankenship) and her staff, with the fundraising we have had to do, and the startup financially that goes with it."
• • •
While Gravier is now the face of Bluefield College football, there were other faces before him. That includes Blankenship, and others in the fundraising arenas surrounding the school, and they've been able to get other folks in the community involved.
"We have obviously had a lot of local people get on board as founder members to our program, but Ruth Blankenship and her staff have just gone out and just talked to people and gotten the word out," Gravier said. "Even before I got on board, they were the face of Bluefield football, talking to civic groups and talking to business people and organizations and trying to get the word out that 'Hey, we're starting this and you can be a part of it'.
"What is unique about that is they are not threatened by football and people donating to football right now as opposed to maybe the college. What they are discovering is a lot of people are donating to the school that had never given before and so now that they are on board, hopefully they will develop more of an interest in the school and that will help."
Getting support from not only the administration, but also the other programs on campus is paramount to success, and he's gotten that backing from a collection of coaches who have built solid teams in other sports, including basketball, baseball and soccer, among others.
"I think they are going to see some benefits from it, but it's been great," Gravier said. "I think they are seeing benefits because eventually we will get a weight room that all the athletes will be able to use and there are discussions of a new athletic facility that I know has been in the works for a while. I think that may be kick-started a little bit.
"I think they are seeing the benefits of it, I don't sense any animosity or anything like that. They have had their kind of success and they seemed to have grown from that so bringing in more students and more athletes and getting to more schools is seen as a good thing."
• • •
For now, Gravier, a football coach for nearly 40 years, is the face of Bluefield College football. He has been ably assisted by student workers Chris Shatley and Shannon Denton, and he's hired one of two full-time assistants, with a defensive coordinator still to come. The rest of the staff, and a college football team needs plenty of them, will come from the local community.
"I will end up getting a lot of part-time guys from the community, either guys that are or were high school coaches," Gravier said. "There are a few guys that coached college football from the area that have shown an interest. It is just a matter of figuring out, especially with schedules, who the right fit is."
They did the same when Gravier helped start the program at Malone University in Ohio back in 1993, and he figures it will work at Bluefield in 2011.
"You would rather have everybody full time, but it's not unusual at this level, it is really the same situation we had at Malone when we started the program there," Gravier said. "It does put a lot more on the full-time guys are far as preparation, but it can definitely be done."
While Gravier, who will be the offensive coordinator, is still seeking a coordinator for the defense, he already has an offensive line coach who will start in the summer. That is Mike Compton, a standout lineman at Richlands, an All-American at West Virginia and a two-time Super Bowl champion in the NFL.
That connection hasn't hurt in terms of recruiting players, especially among, as Gravier says, the linemen.
"When I tell them who their coach is going to be, their eyes get really wide," Gravier said. "Mike has been in the last couple recruiting weekends we have had and Mike has done a great job.
"I know he was a little nervous at first, he was like, 'What are you supposed to do'. He has just done a phenomenal job relating to the kids, talking to them, making the kids feel at ease and giving information. I told him last week I was just really pleased with how he interacted with the kids."
Compton has done about everything a football player can do, but Gravier said this position appears to rank right up there with any of them.
"He is pretty excited. He is funny, here is a guy who has played in two Super Bowls and won two Super Bowls and played major college football and played in the NFL, and he was telling me, 'My life's dream is to be a college offensive line coach'," Gravier said. "It is like he has fulfilled his dream after all of that, he's hit the highlight now so that makes him feel good.
"Obviously he is very invested in it, he really wants to be a part of it and it is a natural fit. He still has a house in Richlands, his kids are going to Richlands so it is a good fit for him too."
Meshing together the staff will be key to success for Bluefield, as will getting the players acclimated to the school and each other when they arrive and begin practice in August.
One important task is making sure that all 60 or even more freshmen, almost all strangers to each others, are able to blend into one unit which is so important for a football team, including possibly sleeping at the facility in Pocahontas during two-a-days to allow for team-building activities.
"My greatest fear would be if we came back to the dorms every night, they would go right to their room, go to sleep and the only person they would get to know is their roommate," Gravier said. "We want them to be together, we will find out who are leaders are, those kids will step up, but just to get to know each other on a personal basis as opposed to No. 63 next to me, 'I don't know his name, but he is No. 63'."
• • •
A coach serves as more than just a football instructor. He's also like a mentor and father, and one of Gravier's responsibilities is represented by a plaque on his office wall entitled "A Game Plan of Life", which was devised by the school.
"That was developed just before I got here, a lot of these kids are coming from very rough situations," Gravier said. "I have talked to high school coaches and they talk about some of their players that are homeless, one kid was living in a car for part of the season."
Christianity and faith in God is an important part of Bluefield College, and Gravier understand that well, having spent time in the ministry in Florida and with Heaven Sent Ministries in Princeton. He knows how important that message is to the college, and he won't hesitate to encourage students to get involved in such organizations as the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
"That definitely has to be a part of what we do," Gravier said. "Some of the backgrounds the kids are coming from are very, very not Christ-like and being a part of what the college is, it is important we encourage them to get involved in the FCA.
"One of the things I talk to my coaches or anyone I am interviewing is I want those guys to invest in the players' lives and provide them a model of what is a good husband, a good father, a leader in the community. I want their kids to be involved in the program so again they can model those things. It's a situation where it is not going to be rammed down their throat, but that will be a part of who we are."
• • •
Long work days are part of Gravier's existence now, who regularly puts in 12-13 hours a day, working to bring football back to Bluefield.
He's ordered Rams-logo adorned equipment (including 100 helmets), he stays on the phone with potential recruits, watches more film and highlight tapes than even the most avid movie-goer and still tries to finds time for his wife, Lynda, and three children, Anna (19), who attends Duke University, and two home-schooled children, Kevin (16) and Molly (14).
He feels like his family has adjusted well to the life of a coach on the move. They have lived in Princeton for six years, the second longest they have stayed anywhere.
"I think home-schooling helps because the way they approach it is they have friends in five different states," said Gravier, whose family loves to ski. "If we go visit somebody they have got instant friends and people to hang out with."
• • •
Admittedly, Gravier wasn't all that familiar with Bluefield College until he was hired in late-July to bring football back to a school that hasn't had a program since World War II started in 1941.
He knows now, and he's proud to share what the school has to offer, and feels like that message will only grow stronger as the football program gets closer to playing its first game.
"Some of the people had never heard of Bluefield College, especially in football circles," Gravier said. "I am sure in basketball and baseball and soccer and some of those other sports, people have heard of Bluefield, but obviously not having a football team...
"That is one of the things that football does for a college, it brings the notoriety of the college. There will be point if we are successful where people in Kansas and North and South Dakota will know about Bluefield College because of our football program hopefully and that will bring some notoriety to the school."
Gravier had done more than coach since accepting the job in July. He has traveled the state and region sharing his vision for Bluefield College football. After spending a year as an assistant at Concord University, Gravier was separated from actual coaching last fall.
"I went to two of Concord's games. I honestly thought going into it I would be able to go to at least all of their home games, but I was just so busy with recruiting and being on the road or speaking to alumni," said Gravier, who did spend every fall Friday night at a high school football game. "The development office had me speaking to several alumni groups throughout the state.
"That was a lot of my weekends doing that so I did miss it, but I was so busy that I didn't have as much time to miss it as I probably would have."
It won't be long before he's coaching again, and he'll be doing it at a school that hasn't had a football team in 70 years.
Let the anticipation continue.
Note: This is the last in a series of stories on the resurrection of Bluefield College football.