Thursday, June 18, 2015

Highlands Graduate Values "Big Picture" in Building Football Program

G. Michael Graham Photo. Kevin Siple, a 1979 Highlands graduate, gives a few pointers in a recent workout session at Grant County High School. Siple is entering his fourth season as head coach of the Braves.
Kevin Siple will tell you he likes to win just as much as any head coach does.

But the former Highlands defensive back and quarterback values the bigger picture even more. He wants his football players to become great husbands and fathers later in life. Siple is entering his fourth season as the head coach of the Grant County Braves.

Siple was in high school when the Bluebirds won the Class 3A state championships in 1975 and 1977. The 1979 Highlands graduate started at defensive back as a junior on the 1977 team that beat Shelby County, 6-0 in the state championship under former head coach Bill Herrmann.

"I looked at it like if I became the head coach at Beechwood or CovCath, what can you really do?" Siple said. "You can't do something new because it's such a tradition. Here, I keep telling the kids that we can put our mark on this program. I want them to experience Friday nights like we did in Fort Thomas. That's what's driving me now."


That is one of the reasons he wrote a letter to fellow coaches about teaching positive values. Siple said he's developing 12 10-minute lessons for coaches to teach things like empathy, kindness and tolerance. Siple said one lesson a week could make a huge difference. He even left the word bullying out of the letters because teen-agers have heard it so much that they've tuned it out.

"The coaches in Kentucky have been positive. I just got a call from a lawyer in Fort Thomas named Bob Arnold. He wants to build a leadership program and include that in it. I'm going to follow through with it," Siple said. "These poor kids are being neglected and tortured at school. I want our athletes to speak to them. You just don't know the impact you can have on someone by smiling and showing some kindness. Whether athletes deserve it or not, they tend to be looked up to in the school buildings. If the kids have decided they've had enough in their buildings, they're the only ones who can stop it. I want to see if we can make a difference even if it's just two kids here in Grant County."

In addition to coaching the Braves, Siple teaches Credit Recovery at Grant County High. That's how he learned about the negative stereotypes some students face.

"The longer you get in there, you find out this was the girl laying on the floor after her sister committed suicide," Siple said. "That's why I think I'm at Grant County. Here, I feel like I can make a difference and create some kind of positive in their life. It sounds silly, but God puts you in places you don't know why. There's a bigger reason for being here than just winning football games."

Siple came to Grant County in 2012 after spending a season as head coach at Bracken County in 2011. The Polar Bears finished 6-5 losing to Bellevue in the first round of the Class 1A playoffs that year.

Siple took over a Brave program that has not been to the playoffs since 2008. That will end this year as the Braves will play in the four-team Class 5A, District 6. In his first three seasons, the Braves finished 5-24 including 0-12 in district play.

But Grant County returns 20 seniors. Siple said that will be the most experienced team the Braves have fielded since he's been there. That includes fullback Hunter Lawson and linebacker Triston Wallace. Lawson led the Braves with 915 yards rushing on 192 carries and 10 touchdowns for an average of about 4.8 yards per carry and Wallace led Grant County with 63 tackles.

"I try to lead on and off the field," Wallace said. "I set the best example with school and a good work ethic in the gym. We want to be the class that changes it all. We want to set the new norm for Grant County as a whole. We have this us against the world mentality. We try to give our best come the offseason."

The Braves have scheduled games against smaller schools in their seven non-district games hoping to record their first winning season since 2008. The non-district opponents are Carroll County, Owen County, Lloyd Memorial, Harrison County, Rowan County, Louisville Holy Cross and Western Hills.

"The biggest message I'm trying to stress is we have a chance to start off and win five or six games in a row," Siple said. "In the past like with any team that's not been successful, as soon as things start to go bad, their attitude is, 'Here we go again. There's no sense fighting.' I'm really anxious to see what will happen when they win four or five in a row. They're going to go to the state playoffs no matter what. With most schools, that's not a big deal. Here, that's a big deal."

One of Grant County's assistants this season will be 2011 Highlands graduate Robbie Nienaber. The former Bluebird guard/inside linebacker was in high school when the Bluebirds began their run of a state-record six consecutive state championships. He's noticing a culture change in Dry Ridge.

"It's nice to see them come, work out and not try to get out of things," Nienaber said. "That's a big first step. We're starting to model the runs, tags and different things. It's not a straight sprint, but it's a competition to beat this guy to the goal line. We're also teaching them lateral movement. It's been nice having fun."

The Braves know they are up against a huge challenge in the new district with Highlands, Covington Catholic and Dixie Heights. The Bluebirds own seven state championships in the last eight years and Dixie Heights finished Class 6A runner-up last year. CovCath has been to the region title game the past four years.

Siple even said the facilities are better at those schools. Highlands can practice outside in the turf when it rains. But Grant County can't do the same on its field.

Members of the community wanted to see Grant County play an independent schedule for two years like Pendleton County did the last two years in 4A. But the staff decided against that.

"I talked to a lot of people who were in similar places," Siple said. "I talked to the coach (Terry Brown) at Pendleton County. I think the bottom line is I didn't want to send a message to kids that when it gets a little bit tough for you, the best thing to do is duck and run. It's such a big part of life. You deal with what happens with life. Fortunately, our principal (Claudette Hills) believed the same way. The jury is still out. We're going to do the best we can and there are positive things to that. We'll find out if we're making progress by playing the best in our class."

Grant County ran a variety of offenses last year trying to get the ball to Lawson. The Braves ran Spread, Wishbone and Power-I sets. Lawson said the chemistry between the upperclassmen and underclassmen is better than it has been recently.

"We don't yell at them," Lawson said. "We help them out and build their confidence so they keep doing it right. We need to be serious when we're working out. Afterwards, we can have our joking time."

Siple served as head coach at Cincinnati Indian Hill for 16 years between 1993 and 2008 before landing at Bracken County. That program finished 2-8, 4-6 and 4-6 in his first three seasons before enjoying 13 straight winning seasons.

One thing Siple is trying to do is build relationships in the community. Siple recently spoke at a local Chamber of Commerce meeting about the program.

"The community piece is huge here," Siple said. "The schools that do well with athletics and academics have those pieces together. The students, parents and community all want the same thing and are trying to work together. That's what we're trying to do. It's a work in progress. If you stay patient, sooner or later, good things will start to come through."

Siple will face off against his alma mater on Oct. 23 in Fort Thomas. Highlands is 6-0 all-time against a Grant County program that has been around since 1993. It will be the first meeting between the two teams since 2006.

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