Head football coach Andy Schafer, with the John Reed Leadership Award - Putnam Sentinel
Head football coach Andy Schafer, with the John Reed Leadership Award (Putnam Sentinel/Martin Verni)

COLUMBUS GROVE — “My dad passed away [in September of 2017],” says Columbus Grove Football Coach Andy Schafer. “I think it was less than a minute, probably 30 seconds after my dad took his last breath, there was a text that came through on my mom’s phone that was a ‘Verse of the Day.’ Except, she doesn’t subscribe to any verses of the day.”

“It was James 1:12, ‘Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial. For when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life.’ You can’t imagine that text coming through 30 seconds after your dad passes away.”

“So, to have that verse show up. You’re talking a different trial than winning or losing a football game. But, I think that verse has applied to me quite a bit. Because we’ve had some trials here the last few years.”

“Starting out 0-2 is not exactly what was anticipated. But, stay the course, and do what you’re supposed to do. So, I felt like that was a pretty good verse.”

The humble, understated way which Columbus Grove Football Coach Andy Schafer tells this intensely personal story represents the man well. He is open about his life, willing to discuss personal trials as well as professional triumphs. He cares deeply for the students in his classroom, on the field, and outside of school, as is evidenced by every observed interaction.

The effort Schafer makes, and the lengths he’s willing to go for his players and students has not gone unnoticed. He was named northwest Ohio’s Coach of the Year for Division VI in early November. Last Friday, Schafer also became the 2018 recipient of WTLW-TV 44 and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes’ John Reed Leadership Award. As described by the TV station, “The award is given annually to a local football coach exemplifying Christian character and moral strength, creating a legacy both on and off the field.”

To Schafer, it’s all of one piece. He is who he is who he is. And, it’s all about one thing: character.

“I really feel like this was one of the key points, and I don’t know why,” Schafer says when speaking on the idea of leadership. “The thought just kind of came to my mind when I was running one evening…I was like, ‘We need a breakthrough moment for our team this year.’ I really felt like character was an issue. And, there’s so many talks that we give, but how many times do we actually show it.”

“I was really struggling with it. How do I show character to these kids?”

The answer that came to Schafer was to invite Spencerville’s Head Coach, Chris Sommers, to give a talk to his players on the topic.

“How often, in the pre-season, do you invite your competitive coach, that you could possibly, potentially be playing for a league title?” Schafer continues.

“So, I introduced him to my [players]. I said, ‘This is kind of strange. This is Chris Sommers.’ Some of them instantly had a scowl on their face. They knew exactly who it was.”

“[Sommers] said that it was one of the most awkward, humbling experiences for him…So, I ended up talking to Spencerville, and he was right. That was one of the hardest speeches I’ve had to give, to give it in front of competitors. But, it really showed, I thought for both of us, that character [matters].”

“Because, you spend so much time in sports being competitive against people. And, we don’t realize that, hey, they’re fighting for the same thing. You know, that kind of thing.”

“And for us, to come down to a last minute field goal in the Spencerville game. And, that was the league title right there. If we had won the game, it meant the league title. We didn’t, and so we shared [the title]. It still worked out. We still won a league title, but it wasn’t exactly what we wanted.”

“Coach Sommers and I talked after. We talked about the handshake for the kids after the game. I said that it was a different experience. He goes, ‘Your kids were giving me hugs. Thank you for speaking to us. Thank you.’ ”

“And I said, ‘Well, that’s exactly what your kids were like. I think your kids actually felt bad that they beat us.’ I really did. There were some with tears in their eyes.”

“It was just a different atmosphere. I think that was a breakthrough moment. For me as a coach, just realizing how much character is of importance. And, how much just one little thing like that can impact your kids.”