Brian Marrow had to be convinced to take the football coaching job at Youngstown Christian.
“I didn’t have any aspirations to coach,” said Marrow, who eventually got roped into it by his church, then by an administrator at Woodrow Wilson and then by the president of Youngstown Christian.
The Eagles are glad he was able to be convinced.
Youngstown Christian has had some good seasons, but never a playoff team. That’s going to change this season if the Eagles win one of their last two games, starting tonight at Fairfield Christian.
Marrow was a standout at South High for coaching legend Bob Stoops, graduating in 1980. He went on to play at Wisconsin and had a tryout with the San Francisco 49ers.
“But I was injured and things didn’t work out there,” said Marrow. “So, I had a couple years in Toronto [in the CFL]. People kept saying, ‘You should coach because you have a background.’
“But, just because you were a player doesn’t mean you want to be a coach. That’s sort of how I felt, but it just kept coming to me.”
Marrow returned to Youngstown, where he began coaching younger players.
“When my old church took over a football team [New Bethel Braves] in the Volney Rogers League, they needed a coach,” said Marrow. “I really didn’t want to, but they wouldn’t take no for an answer, so I ended up coaching for seven years.
“Then, different people in the community was telling me, since we did a good job with the Volney team, that I should coach high school. A bunch of people kept pushing for me to coach Wilson.”
Tim Kelty was the assistant principal at Woodrow Wilson at the time, said Marrow, and he thought Marrow could be a guy to motivate them and get a program that was competitive.
“We had a really tough schedule — Harding, Massillon, Elyria Catholic, Poland — even though we were Div. II,” said Marrow. “They had trouble at that school, but we still got that [football] turned around.”
After Wilson was closed, Marrow was approached about serving as an assistant coach at several schools.
“At the time, during a Fellowship of Christian Athletes bible studies, we were going over this book called Spiritual Leadership and I had a revelation,” said Marrow. “All my life, God was placing me in leadership roles and I wasn’t even chasing after them. On every level, I was reluctant to be the leader. So, I thought, ‘I need to stop running from leadership.’
“It had to be two weeks later that I got a call from [Youngstown Christian president] Mike Pecchia who told me that their coach was … going to Florida and they wanted me to be their head coach.
“Again I was reluctant, so I had to think about it. I thought: ‘Wow, here it is again. I need to stop running from leadership that God is placing on me right now.’ So, I said it’s something I had to do.”
Youngstown Christian is enjoying a turnaround. The Eagles were 1-9 a season ago and now stand 7-1.
Although YCS has only been under .500 a few times in its nine years of existence, the 2011 edition is unprecedented.
“We took it on the chin the first year,” said athletic director Dolph Carroll. “But we’ve been very competitive throughout those nine.”
The Eagles were 6-3 in 2007, 7-3 in 2008 and 6-4 in 2009.
“We knew we were going to take our lumps because we had a tough schedule,” Carroll said of the 2010 team that had lost almost a dozen players from the year before. “But that’s high school athletics.”
Carroll is pleased to have Marrow at the helm.
“We couldn’t have a better person in charge of our young men,” Carroll said of Marrow. “He’s a great communicator and strives for excellence in what he does. He expects that from the kids, too. He’s a great X’s & O’s guy. It’s amazing to watch him call a game. It’s a blessing to have someone of his caliber at a Div. VI program.”
In the most recent offseason when Marrow and defensive coordinator Dave Gessler supervised conditioning sessions, a sign hanging in the weight room reminded the players about the dreadful record in 2010.
“They didn’t want to go through that again,” Marrow said. “To top it off, we had injuries and a couple academically ineligible guys.”
Youngstown Christian pulls its students from several communities and all sides of town.
“We do have a few kids we have to look out for because, again, it’s a mix of guys who come from different backgrounds,” Marrow said. “Some of those from single-parent homes we have to put our arms around and mentor.”
Compared to last year’s roster of 28, this year’s figure of 34 sounds healthier.
The Eagles’ two leading rushers are Anthony Abeid and Ryan Grier, both of whom are on track to get 1,000 yards.
“We call them our two-headed monsters, like Craig James and Eric Dickerson,” Marrow said, referring to a pair of SMU running backs from the ’80s.
Marrow is high on Darien Townsend, a sophomore who was injured last year.
“He’s one of our skilled guys who can score in a variety of ways,” Marrow said of Townsend in a “wildcat” role. “You just have to give him the ball because he makes plays.
“But we hang our hat on defense,” Marrow said, noting that Gessler’s gang has eight of 13 interceptions returned for TDs.
Paving the way is offensive line coach Jared Vrabel’s group of center Melvin Gregory, guards Jairus Pettis and Bobby Houston, and tackles Desmond Cloud and Anthony Harris.
Defensively, the linemen are ends Kaevon Green and Nick Gonda, as well as Cloud and Harris.
“Those front four, both offensively and defensively, make our team go,” said Marrow, who noted that Green has nine sacks.
Others in the 4-3 alignment are middle linebacker Nick Rios and outside linebackers Drevon Green and Grier. The cornerbacks are Devaun Adams and Khris Lewis. Abeid is the strong safety while Kenny Griffin and Deon Gilbert share the free safety spot.
Junior Emmit Underwood is the starting QB.
The kickers are Dom Polito and Danny Yargo and Ryan Coyier is the holder. Polito recently had a 43-yard field goal against Sandy Valley.