Gravier Embraces Building Process
Building a football program from scratch is not an easy proposition.
February 6, 2011
By: Brian Woodson
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
BLUEFIELD, Va. — Building a football program from scratch is not an easy proposition.
Mike Gravier has done it before, and now he's doing it again.
Football Head Coach Mike Gravier embraces the opportunity to find talent to head his first BC Football team.
Gravier has been hard at work since taking on the challenge of resurrecting the football program at Bluefield College, a school that hasn't fielded a gridiron squad since World War II broke out in 1941.
He was part of the staff that started the football program in 1993 at Malone University in Canton, Ohio, and had them in the playoffs in three seasons.
Can he do the same at Bluefield? Why not.
"Without sounding arrogant I really think we can make it happen fairly quickly," Gravier said. "That JV year is going to be a huge difference in the development of those players."
Bluefield plans to field a junior varsity team in the fall, with the Rams playing 8-to-10 scrimmages in preparation for their first "official" season in the Mid-South Conference in 2012.
"All of our games will be scrimmages next year, which means we don't keep score, we don't keep statistics and we don't charge to get in, that is the criteria set up by the NAIA," Gravier said. "By doing that, that will serve as a redshirt year for all of those kids so they will still have four years to play starting in 2012."
Gravier always knew what he wanted to do with his adult life. So did everyone else.
"I have always wanted to be a coach, my nickname in middle school was 'Coach'," Gravier said. "As long as I can remember it is something I have wanted to do."
A native of Michigan, Gravier went to Grand Valley State, always a solid program, walking on as a receiver, calling himself a "Division III athlete at a Division II school."
He has coached for more than 30 years at the prep and college levels, and it was at Malone where Gravier helped to start the program under Joe Palmisano. Unlike at Bluefield, where the Rams will gradually develop into a team with scrimmages next fall, the Pioneers spent one year bringing in recruits, and started playing ball the next fall.
"That is why I really think this JV year is going to be invaluable to us, just to be able to coach the guys, but not necessarily have to get them ready for a game," Gravier said. "When we started at Malone, we jumped right into varsity football right away.
"I remember the first game, I was the offensive coordinator, I am calling plays and I'm thinking 'Oh man, if I just had this play in' but we just didn't have time, to get lined up we were happy."
Malone tied their first game, finished with a 2-6-1 record and followed that with a 7-3 mark. Gravier took over as head coach in 1995, and led the Pioneers to an 10-1-1 mark, losing the quarterfinals of the NAIA playoffs to eventual champion Findlay.
After compiling a 30-12-1 record and three conference titles in a four-year span, Gravier spent a year at a Georgia high school, and then left coaching and got involved in sports ministry for three years in Florida.
Gravier moved his family — which includes his wife, Lynda, and three children — again six years ago, becoming a part of Heaven Sent Ministries in Princeton. He got the itch to coach again and helped Mike Kellar at Concord in 2009 before the Bluefield College position was created.
"I got out of it to do ministry for the last six years and just recently over the last two or three years, I just felt that itch again," said Gravier, who stayed in coaching with his kids' youth teams. "I just really felt like I wanted to get back into coaching at the time and I really enjoyed coaching at the college level. Within the last year I have been looking around for jobs and this one fortunately came open."
Gravier met with Bluefield College President Dr. David Olive before the interview process began, and liked what he heard.
"We started the program at Malone so I knew what I was getting into which helped, and the fact that we wouldn't have to move was obviously appealing," Gravier said. "I just really felt like things were heading in the right direction, not only from an athletic standpoint, but from a college standpoint."
Gravier applied, went through the interview process and then waited.
"It was very exciting, I think most coaches approach these things with some confidence," Gravier said. "Knowing that I had done it before, I thought it might be a good fit and just the fact that we already lived here.
"I felt good about the process, but obviously there are no guarantees. It is obviously an anxious time when you are waiting for that phone call."
The call came and Gravier accepted, becoming Bluefield's first football coach since Tony Lotito in 1941.
Why football at Bluefield College? Enrollment increases are part of the appeal. A football team needs bodies, and lots of them.
"It would obviously generate more students, and a lot of the studies I have seen indicates that for every football player you bring on board there is an additional 1.2 students that end up coming to school," said Gravier, who added at the school hopes to eventually add a marching band. "You are going to get friends and girlfriends and you are going to get that student that just wants to be going to a college that has football.
"That is just tradition. I think the college atmosphere, the college experience, going to homecoming, going to the football game and tailgating and doing all those things is part of it. You will get some ancillary students in as well, but when we started the program at Malone, the school was at 1,200 at the time, they are over 3,000 now."
The 50-year-old Gravier plans to bring in at least 60 to 70 players by the fall, and while the college would like 85 by year three, Gravier is shooting for 100 since there is attrition in football due to injuries and defections.
"Just football alone, next year they want me to bring in 60 guys so there is an increase already," he said.
While Gravier was part of the beginning of football at Malone, he admits it wasn't as big a deal in Canton, which is home of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
"Probably not as much as we are getting here, it was kind of rammed down people's throats at Malone," Gravier said. "There were a lot of people on campus that didn't want football and Canton was a big enough city where it wasn't as attractive as it is here."
Gravier doesn't expect that to be the case in Bluefield. He said the administration and athletic department are behind the program, and he expects the football-crazy local community to support the Rams.
"What I am sensing here is there are a lot of WVU and Virginia Tech fans, but a lot of people can't afford to go to those games," Gravier said. "What we are going to end up being is that college football fix for those people because we will be much more affordable and much more accessible for those people.
"Early on I am sure people are going to come out because they are curious and there are some local guys hopefully playing on the team. Then it is up to us to win to keep the people involved."
Editor note: This is the second in a series of articles on the resurrection of the Bluefield College football program.