The circle of trust

DES MOINES – Mike Woodley came to Grand View University six years ago with a vision.

The former Fort Dodge Senior High football coach was building a program from scratch. He needed players, resources and community support.

Above all else, though, he needed a staff he could trust.

”Almost everything in football, like life, is dictated by the people you surround yourself with,” the 61-year-old Woodley said. ”As a head coach, you have to find assistants who are honest, hard working and dependable, with a passion for the game that mirrors your own.

”I am extremely fortunate to have that here. They make us who we are as a football program – they are our personality. Our identity.”

The Vikings were an unknown commodity when Woodley took the reins in 2008. Today, second-ranked Grand View (10-0 overall) is a legitimate championship contender at the NAIA level heading into the 16-team national postseason tournament.

Woodley’s circle of trust includes many names familiar to the Messenger area, including former Dodger and University of Northern Iowa lineman Jon Pilcher and ex-Manson Northwest Webster and Iowa Central quarterback Andy Jepson. Pilcher and Jepson have been with Woodley at GVU since day one.

”Jon and Andy both bring a love for football that really resonates with our players,” said Woodley, who was 25-28 at FDSH from 1983-88. ”At this level, you’re very lucky if (the assistants) have the kind of commitment ours show. Most of them work part-time for little pay. They have jobs and families and lives outside of our program.

”Jon was an outstanding high school coach after his playing days (at FDSH and UNI), and I’ve known Andy since he was a kid because I’m good friends with (Manson Northwest Webster athletic director) Mike (Jepson, Andy’s father). They’re great football minds, but even better people. My staff has such a positive influence on our young men both on and off the field.”

Pilcher is a fifth-grade teacher in the Ankeny Community School District. After prep stints with Nevada and Louisa-Muscatine, he joined Woodley at Grand View.

”Coach Woodley gave me an opportunity, and I immediately found a comfort zone at this level,” Pilcher said. ”Right from the start, we clicked (as a staff) and were really able to bring a unified message to the kids about what we expected from them on the field and in the classroom.

”(In NAIA), it’s about continuing your career because you love to play. Most of the kids we get are still very competitive, but also very grounded. I really enjoy being at Grand View and working with Coach Woodley. I feel like the success is a direct result of the work everyone in the program puts in, but also because of the fun we have. There’s a great balance.”

Jepson is a vice president of mortgage servicing for Wells Fargo in downtown Des Moines. He works with the quarterbacks and assists former Iowa State Cyclone Austin Flynn in putting the offensive gameplans together.

”As soon as I’m done with work, I head over to (Williams Stadium in Des Moines, Grand View’s home),” Jepson said. ”It’s a pretty hectic schedule, especially this year given the travel obligations I’ve had (at Wells Fargo, with trips to Tempe and San Antonio). Coach Woodley is very flexible and understanding, though. We make it work.”

Woodley called Jepson a ”tremendous asset to our program.”

”Andy also helps our guys with real-world experiences on the business side of things. We’re very fortunate to have him around.”

Jepson has always appreciated Woodley’s perspective on both football and life in general.

”Coach has been through it all and knows what it’s like to juggle this with a job and home life,” Jepson said. ”He’s patient and open-minded, which means a lot to all of us.”

Jepson’s commitment to coaching remains subject to yearly self-analysis.

”It’s hard to say what the future holds,” said Jepson, a 1996 MNW graduate. ”I’ve taken on a lot of added responsibility (at Wells Fargo), and of course, with a wife and two young kids at home, I don’t want to miss out on anything family-related.

”No matter what happens down the road, it’s been a pleasure to be a part of building this program. I’ve really enjoyed it, and I admire Coach Woodley, our assistants and our players a great deal.”

For as proud as Woodley is of the Vikings’ football accomplishments, he beams when asked about their classroom success.

”Of our top 44 players, 14 have a grade-point average of 3.7 or higher,” Woodley said. ”Almost half are 3.3 or better. We have respectful kids who make good decisions, which also makes our job as coaches easier.

”Each team has a different personality and chemistry. We’ve had a lot of success here, with three straight conference titles and 40 wins in the last five years, but the talent and depth (in 2013) is stronger than we’ve ever had. You combine that with the lack of ego and attitude – we have mature, true student-athletes leading us.”

Second-seeded Grand View, which already owns victories over Drake and the last two defending national champions in Marian and St. Xavier this season, will take on No. 15 seed Ottawa to kick off the playoffs on Saturday in Des Moines. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m.

The NAIA title game is Dec. 21 in Rome, Ga.