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Developing Young Men Through Football

Coach tackles leadership, responsibility

In a culture where athletes are viewed as a commodity to be used and pushed aside, Pioneer Head Football Coach Brian Willmer has another goal. He wants to develop young men with Christ as the model. 

“There’s a shortage of healthy male leadership,” Willmer says. “That role has been void in a lot of young men’s lives. I want to help them make good choices now so they can ‘lead from the front.’”

Willmer’s slogan means rather than letting others take responsibility, these men will lead their team, their co-workers, their families, from the front, forging the way through life’s challenges. 

Willmer thinks men can be shaped through the game of football and the culture developed by their coaches. For example, wearing uniforms for practice, taking practice seriously, being on time and valuing others' time are traits that will help them succeed in all areas of life. 

“If special teams practice starts at 7 a.m., then 7:01 a.m. is late,” he says. “If you don’t execute well you lose games.”

Willmer has rules apart from practice. All new players and those whose grades warrant it, have mandatory study hall twice a week. Weight training is mandatory too. 

“We want to first of all grow their relationship with the Lord,” Willmer says. “But secondly, we want them to earn a degree.”

His assistant coaches follow Willmer’s lead and have bought into this year’s theme: The End Result. 

Ask Willmer what’s the end result and he’ll say, “Christ died for us, He rose again. I try to bring each practice around to that. Everything applies to this, he adds. If you choose to sleep in, what does that lead to? You might flunk. And if you flunk, you won’t graduate. That’s the end result.”

But don’t think it’s all rules on Willmer’s squad. Caring discipleship is part of the equation too. Assistant coaches Bruce Pielstick and Joe Hall lead a Bible study for some of the players who have children. Willmer says they’re teaching them what it is like to be a Christ-like dad. 

Willmer encourages his athletes to use their sphere of influence to disciple others. That’s his greatest hope for every man on this team.

“I want to equip and build men who are humble before God and who will be disciple makers themselves.”

What about the game?

by Joshua Brisco and Chad Jenkins

MNU’s sixth head football coach focuses his game philosophy on turnovers. For special teams, he warns that it is a phase of the game that is often overlooked, but that he has made it a point of emphasis for the Pioneers.

“The purpose of defense,” Brian Willmer says, “is to get the ball back as quickly as we can. Offensively, we can't turn over the ball, and we want to be able to move the ball and put points on the board in a fashion that has a balanced attack.” 

Regarding special teams, Willmer says, the team practices that component of the game every day. 

Willmers’ Pioneers faced the largest venue they have ever played in this season. Their appearance in the inaugural NAIA Gridiron Challenge on Oct. 11 versus Missouri Valley was a double-header held in Arrowhead Stadium, home of the Kansas City Chiefs. [See story on page 11.] 

“It was an amazing opportunity to be able to play in an NFL stadium and to play a rival of MNU that’s had a lot of good success,” Willmer says. “To play them in that venue was really an exciting thing for the program, for the school, for us as coaches. Life is about having a lot of different experiences, and this was a different experience.”

Willmer has enjoyed a varied career, spending 15 seasons—including eight as defensive coordinator—coaching at Azusa Pacific University in California where he helped lead APU to multiple playoff appearances and two NAIA semifinals. 

A four-year letterman at UCLA and captain of the 1997 team, Willmer established himself as the Bruins' top linebacker during his junior and senior seasons, both years leading the team in tackles earning Honorable Mention All-Pac-10 linebacker. 

Willmer, 39, holds a bachelor's degree in political science and a master's degree in higher education and organizational change from UCLA. He also taught in APU’s exercise and sports science program.

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