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Braves work to bring more fan support

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Old habits are hard to break. But that’s exactly what second-year coach Kevin Siple is in the process of doing with the Grant County High School football program.

Siple, who was hired to lead the program before the 2012 season, knew when he took the job that turning around a Braves’ team that has had only two winning seasons was not going to be easy. And it wasn’t going to happen quickly, either. But even he didn’t fully expect the kind of improvement he’s seen after just one full year on the job.

The program has made tremendous strides under Siple’s direction, growing from 24 players in grades 10 through 12 a year ago to 62 players this season. The program now boast at least 16 players who can bench press 210 pounds or more, a dramatic jump from only four a year ago.

Only one player on the team was able to squat 300 pounds when Siple arrived on campus. Now, no fewer than 25 players can complete the task. And the number or players who can run the 40-yard dash in less than five seconds has grown from three to at least 13.

And the improvements continue daily.

“I am thrilled with where our program is today compared to where we were last year when I got to Dry Ridge,” said Siple, who is quick to not personally take credit for the improvement, instead pointing to the players’ will to be successful and leave behind a legacy that will be talked about for many years to come as the driving force.
“And I want them to have a great experience, too,” continued Siple. “I want them to get out of football what players in successful programs get out of it. I want these guys, when they are adults, to be able to look back and have great memories. This is an experience they will remember forever, and will be talking about for many years to come at reunions and such. But wether they talk about it laughing at themselves for how bad they were, or they are able to talk about it as them being the group that started the turnaround, is up to us.”

Grant County’s two best seasons came in 2007 and 2008 when the program turned in back-to-back winning campaigns, going 6-4 in 2007 and 7-4 in 2008. But the Braves have not been able to win more than three games only one other time.
The difference in Grant County and other football programs has little to nothing to do with the level of talent within the school system. Instead, it’s more to do with the mentality that comes with consistently losing.

“All schools have the same kind of kids,” he said. “But you’ve got to get them early and get them to buy into the system. And when they do, that’s when things start to go crazy and the kids start working out with a passion and have pride. Then all of a sudden the community buys in, the student body buys in, and things just keep growing.

“That’s what we want our Friday night experiences to be, with people tail gating. Kids painting their faces. The band is playing. The cheerleaders are there. Then you get the whole football experience. That’s something that we don’t have in Grant County at the moment,” he said.

When Siple came to Dry Ridge, he was the Braves’ third head coach in three seasons. Under those circumstances, the program had not had an off-season weight lifting or conditioning program during that time, which Siple sees as one of the biggest obstacles for the program to overcome since he arrived.

“When you change coaches three times in three years, I don’t care how great the coaching is, that continuity, or lack of continuity, just kills a program from top to bottom. And I feel like that’s where we were when we took over.

“Our first year we just got man-handled up front. You can’t play a Class 5A schedule with kids that are not physically strong. And we were just getting killed up front. But we had a really good off-season and we’re much improved there.”

With all the improvements that have been made to date, it’s still not necessarily showing up in the win column. That’s the next hurdle for the Braves, to have some success and build confidence.

“Our team does not have that winning mentality yet,” said Siple. “In the past, when things went wrong, they would get down on themselves.

“But our theme this year is to overcome adversity and fight through it and hang in there no matter what. It’s not been like that in the past. In the past, when things got tough, the kids would get down on themselves and when you do that, it’s over.”

The team’s weaknesses are clear. Inexperience and a lack of confidence. But Siple see’s it changing, even if slowly, and points to many exciting things that are happening within the program as evidence.

“Things are absolutely going to change,” he said. “I just hope these seniors get the opportunity to be part of the group that helped start the turnaround. But I believe it’s going to happen. That’s our driving force, to build a program that the community can be proud of, and be the group that will be remembered for doing that.
“We’ve got a lot of exciting things going on, and a lot of exciting things coming up,” Siple said.
“My fear is that we don’t change it as quickly as we want to and these seniors leave here without that feeling. And they deserve it. They’ve gone through a lot in their four years and I really want them to get a feel for it before they leave here.”