Mid-July, with the temperature 80-plus degrees at Avalon at Buhl Country Club; however, it felt like a fall, football Friday.
The inaugural Sharon Football Boosters 4-man golf scramble took place recently, and served as a Who’s Who in the Tigers’ triumphant tradition.
Sharon qualified for the 2013 District 10 Class AA playoffs in Head Coach Jim Wildman’s first season as Tigers’ taskmaster after his 11-year hiatus.
“It’s July, we’re undefeated, and that’s a good thing,” Wildman quipped, while overseeing 28 foursomes preparing for a shotgun start.
In all seriousness, small-town scholastic football can be a powerful tie that binds generations.
“Football, I think, at any level brings people together, and certainly, there’s nothing like high school football,” asserted former University of Michigan Head Coach Lloyd Carr. “I was a high school coach for seven years before I went into college coaching (34 years, including 32 in the Big Ten Conference), and it certainly played a great role in my life.
“But more important than that,” Carr continued, “my high school coaches were great people, great coaches, and a great influence on the lives of a multitude of young people.
“That’s what, I think, the game does: It creates great opportunities for learning. And, of course, in Marlin Jackson’s case, and Teryl Austin, look what’s happened with them, in their careers and their lives. I think it’s great that they’ve come back here to give back to this community.
“I am (proud), and I think it goes back to Jim Wildman, who coached them both and mentored both of them,” Carr continued. “But to see Teryl in a position where he’s got one of the great jobs in pro football (defensive coordinator with the NFL’s Detroit Lions), and a great future ahead of him. And of course, Marlin had a great career at Michigan — an All-American — and a great pro career, won a Super Bowl (with the Indianapolis Colts), and he’s doing a lot of great things off the field for young people (with his Fight for Life Foundation).
“These guys are great, special people,” Carr concluded.
ä Austin’s audacious resumé includes 13 years as a college coach and he is in his 11th in the NFL, having served on the sidelines at 3 Super Bowls (Seattle, Arizona, both of which suffered setbacks to the Pittsburgh Steelers, before Baltimore won and he earned his ring.
The former Sharon High and University of Pittsburgh standout related:
“Growing up in a small town ... I think the biggest thing I always do is try to remember where I came from and all the people who helped me get there, ’cause I know I didn’t do it by myself. It starts back in Midget football — Lester Robinson was my coach for the (Sharon) Tigers, then I moved onto high school with Jim — and all those people who kind’ve shape who you are and what you do.
“I think it’s awesome that somebody from Sharon can say, ‘Hey, they were a Super Bowl winner,’ just like Marlin. I’m super-proud of Marlin for when he won it because I recruited Marlin to Michigan and coached him for a couple years. And to see him have an opportunity to win, it makes me happy!
“It’s great to see the impact the (Shenango) Valley has on the people here, ’cause we keep it close to our hearts — you grew up here, you’re attached to the people around here, your family stays here. It’s awesome! I think it’s more awesome, than being just some other guy from a real, big city.
“I think it’s awesome to come from a small town.
“I told Jim I would come here and help him, because I know how much Sharon football means to him, and I know what he did for me, personally, and I’m sure he’s trying to do it for these (2014) players.
“Sometimes, as a high school player, you don’t know what he’s trying to do, but now that I’m older ... There was a time when I caught the wrath of Wildman — he kicked me off the team for a while,” a grinning Austin recalled. “But in the long run, now I know why: He was just telling me, ‘Hey, you have to take responsibilty for the things you do and how you do it.’ So it was an invaluable lesson.
“If I can come back and help him and he can instill, impart that message on some of these youngs guys, maybe it helps them, and in another 20 years we’re interviewing another Super Bowl champion from Sharon.
“I enjoy this, I really do. And it’s the least I can do, ’cause there were a lot of people who were responsible for helping me get to where I am. So if I can come back and help somebody, I need to do it, I have to do it.”
ä “I love my hometown, the football team, and Coach Wildman,” a smiling Jackson echoed. “Any time I can come back and offer support, it’s a no-brainer, not even a question if I will (return) or not.
“It’s great to see him doing a good job ... and getting things back on track, and I’m looking forward to seeing him grow on what he was able to do last year, kind’ve turning things back around.
“I’m wishin’ the team all the luck. It always brings a good feeling to the community when the football team, or whatever it may be, when things are going well,” Jackson acknowledged, continuing,
“I was talking to Wade (Vogan) ... just reminiscing about ... the relationships and the camraderie of playing high school football, and the level of fun that we had, just plain and simple fun, being out there with guys you grew up with, played against each other with the (Sharon) Colts, Tigers (Midgets and Pee-wees) when we were kids, then to come together in middle school and grow up together.
“We’re now getting older and we’re now alumni. But to come back and be a part of something like this, giving back to the kids, is very important.
“What I do with ‘Fight for Life,’ I just feel, is my purpose in life,” Jackson continued. “It’s, what I feel, what God wants me to do with my life, just based on things I was going through and able to overcome and go on and be successful. It’s just about helping other people do the same, teaching them how to connect with those things, to go on to the next level of life, whatever it may be — professional, education, just knowing that you can do it.
“Coach Austin was kind’ve a ‘big brother,’ kind’ve a ‘guiding light’ for me during my time at Michigan. Obviously, it was a comforting factor with him being from Sharon and having had a relationship with Coach Wildman made it a lot easier coming into a new situation like that, and he was an integral part of my transition, getting me on the field right away, keeping me in line ... ”
ä Wildman recalled a couple interesting anecdotes:
“(Austin) went to Penn State (for a job interview), and he said, ‘I have a chance to go to Bucknell to coach the secondary, or I have a chance to go to Penn State as ‘GA’ (graduate assistant coach). Whaddya think I should do?’ And I asked, ‘What do you want to make your profession in?’ He said, ‘Well, I want to coach.’ So I said, ‘Go to Penn State.
“Then he calls me,” Wildman continued, recalling, “and he says, ‘I’m going to meet with Joe (Paterno) tomorrow. What advice do you have?’ So I asked him, ‘Do you have a tie? And make sure you wear socks.’
“So he has the interview,” a smiling Wildman continued. “He calls me that night, and I asked, ‘How did the inteview go?’ He said, ‘It went great. I did go downtown and bought a tie ... but I was sitting there (during the inteview), sitting with my legs crossed, and I looked down and ... I didn’t have any socks on.’
“But,” a chuckling Wildman noted. “He got hired, then moved on to Wake Forest with Jim Caldwell, then Syracuse, to Michigan, to Seattle, to Arizona, to Florida ... ”
Interestingly, Jackson, coming out of Sharon High, was interested in matriculating at Penn State University, but was persuaded to journey to Ann Arbor, Mich. and the Wolverines.
“In two-thousand-two or three,” Wildman recalled, “when Teryl was the secondary coach and Marlin was playing his freshman year, the first game against Washington, and they had a six-five receiver, I believe his name was Reggie Williams.
“ ... To be there (the Big House), and to see the team come out of the tunnel is one experience; but sitting in the fifth row, down near the field ... here comes Teryl, and I started to well up a little bit. Now here comes Marlin. ... Now Teryl’s going up to go to the press box, but stops and shakes my hand. ... My wife’s like, ‘What’s the matter?’ And I’m like, ‘This is incredible!’
“These are two guys who’ve never forgotten. Teryl, from Cedar Avenue, and Marlin, from Quimby Street and other places before he came to us,” Wildman continued. “But they’ve never forgotten what it was like in a one-parent family, struggling with family issues, but always wanting to do whatever they could.
“So knowing that you have guys who’ve spent time with you, and are still willing to make arrangements to come back and let you know that what we’re doing is still important to kids, is very gratifying,” Wildman concluded.
Ed Farrell is assistant sports editor for The Herald