The list of football coaching legends at Bluefield College includes the likes of B.E. “Mullie” Lenoir and Tony Lotito, who together amassed an 83-22-2 win-loss record over a 12-year span during the infancy of BC football.
Just who will be the next legendary coach at this small Christian college nestled in the Appalachian Mountains of southwest Virginia?
Coach Mike Gravier. At least that’s what Bluefield College leaders declared during a press conference, July 23, 2010, announcing the hiring of Gravier as the new head coach for BC football.
While Coach Gravier’s legend on the sideline will have to wait, his claim to fame for now is the fact that he is Bluefield College’s first head football coach in 69 years, considering the college abandoned the sport after the 1941 season as a result of the loss of most male student-athletes to World War II.
But, in June 2010, after an extensive feasibility study and a tremendous show of support from alumni and friends, the college announced the revival of its football program and embarked on the critical search for the right person to lead the resurgence.
“Hiring the right coach, someone who identifies with the college’s mission and has a passion for transforming young men’s lives through the game of football, is critical to the success of this new program,” said BC president, Dr. David Olive. “I’m convinced we have found that person in Mike Gravier.”
Gravier helped launch a football program as an assistant coach and offensive coordinator at Malone University in Ohio in 1992. Two seasons later, he became the head coach of the young program, where during a four-year span he amassed a 30-12-1 win-loss record, three Mid-States Football Association (MSFA) championships, a MSFA Coach of the Year honor, and two National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) national tournament bids.
“Mike brings an excellent understanding of the game and effective coaching style to Bluefield football,” said BC’s athletic director, Pete Dryer. “In addition to his experience and success on the field, we are excited to have a football coach with strong character, a passion to live out his faith in Jesus Christ, and a desire to serve and mentor student-athletes.”
Coach Gravier began his career with five years of coaching at the high school level after playing football and earning his bachelor’s degree from Grand Valley State University in Michigan and while earning his master’s degree from Western Michigan University.
He spent the next six years as an assistant coach at Kalamazoo College in Michigan, Western Michigan University, Southeast Missouri State University, and Michigan Technological University, before beginning his six-year stint with Malone.
He was called back to his alma mater to coach in 1998 and spent two additional seasons as a high school coach in Georgia before devoting his career in 2001 to faith-based ministries, including Christian Outreach International in Florida, where for three years he served as director of sports ministry.
Today, while last serving as an assistant coach for football at Concord University in Athens, West Virginia, Gravier is the director of OperationSHARE for Heaven Sent Ministries in Princeton, West Virginia, but now he is ready to turn his attention to Bluefield College.
“I’m very excited and humbled,” said Gravier about the opportunity to lead the new BC football program. “It’s always an honor to be the first person chosen to lead a football program. It’s a role I don’t take lightly, and I look forward to the challenge. We will play an exciting brand of football. We will play fast. We will be very aggressive, and I believe we will win.”
Starting a new football program, Coach Gravier said, will be a special endeavor. Like the players from 1941 who hold memories from the last game played, players on the new BC roster, he said, “will someday share stories about the first touchdown scored, the first win, or the first championship.” Those firsts, he added, “are something only the new players can experience.”
Coach Gravier said in reviving BC football he wants the new players and fans to remember why the program was dropped in 1942 and to honor the young men who joined the war effort and risked their lives to secure our freedom.
“I’ve enjoyed reading all of the stories about past teams and past games,” said Gravier. “We will use that past as part of our future. It is my desire to honor those former players in some way. If any are still living, I want them to visit and be a part of our team. If they are no longer with us, their families are always welcome.”
Coach Gravier acknowledged that a new football team will, no doubt, boost the Greater Bluefield economy, offer an additional source for gridiron entertainment to an already football-hungry community, and give more local student-athletes an opportunity to continue their football careers at home in front of family and friends. But, the impact he’s looking forward to most is the one that will involve his players in community outreach.
“We will be involved,” the coach said. “Whether it’s reading to kids at a local elementary school, holding a football camp for kids in the community, or serving hot dogs to people at an event in the park, our players will be a vital part of the community”
In line with the Bluefield College mission, Coach Gravier said he hopes to develop players both academically and spiritually. In addition to what the student-athletes will gain in the classroom from professors, through a mentor program with leaders in the community the coach said he wants to develop the players’ career and leadership skills. The purpose, he said: to develop the whole player.
“We want to show our players what it means to be a good football player, but also what it means to be a leader in the community, a good husband, and a good father,” said Gravier. “Football will be a small part of their college experience, and hopefully the other things they learn they will carry with them through the good and bad times of life.”
Gravier will begin recruiting players now to begin club play for Bluefield College in the fall of 2011. The team will begin intercollegiate play, most likely in the NAIA’s Mid-South Conference, in the fall of 2012.
“I’m very excited about this opportunity,” added Gravier, “and I will do everything in my power to make this a very successful program, both on and off the field, one that the school and community can be proud of.”