Gaining perspective

Harding coach passes on Raiders’ tradition to nephew

Tribune Chronicle / John Vargo Warren G. Harding coach Steve Arnold, right, poses with his nephew, Brandon, a sophomore on the WGH football team. Brandon is in his first year as a Raiders football player, a sport his father, David, played for WGH, the University of Michigan and in the NFL.

WARREN — Steve Arnold remembers the early August inter-squad scrimmage. He’s seen plenty before, but never from this perspective.

His 6-foot-2, 155-pound sophomore nephew, Brandon, strapped on the helmet for the Warren G. Harding Raiders.

Trepidation? Sure, he had a little. This was his player, but he was an uncle as well.

Brandon’s teammates Simahjay Warfield and Bill McCready converged on the first-year player with a devastating hit.

“His face mask was kind of crooked,” said Steve, the WGH football coach.

No worries, uncle Steve. He can handle the hits.

“It wasn’t as bad as I thought,” Brandon said. “It didn’t really hurt. Kind of surprised me a little bit. It’s not bad, just contact.”

See, not so bad after all.

Brandon, who plays baseball for the Raiders and can be seen showing off his skills at Cene Park in Struthers during the offseason, wears No. 15. It was the same number his father, David, wore at the University of Michigan.

David and Brandon had a father-son discussion three months ago. This one was about football, not the birds and the bees.

Playing on Friday nights? There’s no pressure and never was from David. He just wanted him to try the sport that brought David so much joy and a couple of years in the NFL in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Talent? David saw it when he was an assistant coach at Kentucky Wesleyan in Owensboro, Ky., an NCAA Division II school. Brandon used to follow his father in practices, review video and analyze. This is no ordinary first-year player.

Brandon, who is trying out at quarterback for the Raiders and could play cornerback, threw the ball to current Jacksonville Jaguars receiver Keelan Cole.

“Keelan always said, ‘Coach Arnold, your son can throw. He’s got hands,’ “ David said.

Potential? There’s some there, but don’t think for one minute his last name gives Brandon a free pass on this WGH team. David expects nothing less. It might be tougher since it is uncle Steve, just like the other coaches.

“Steve may get on him and Brandon may get mad, but he knows it’s in his best interest,” David said.

It’s a first for Steve, who hasn’t coached a relative either while he was the Raiders basketball coach or in football.

“It’s kind of a fine line,” Steve said. “I’m on him, but I try to let his position coaches handle it. I have to treat him like the other players as well whether it’s good or bad.

“I’m navigating my way through this.”

No different than uncle Steve is his coach. The learning never stops. He wants him to be a good person and be a student of the game.

There’s no talking back, plenty of discipline and he must be coachable.

“I want to go out there, do my best, give it my all and play my role,” Brandon said.

Merle Carter was Brandon’s grandmother and Steve and David’s mother. She passed away three years go.

Brandon playing football? If she were alive, you’d have one nervous grandmother. Carter didn’t want Brandon to play. She felt the same when David Jr. played as well.

Her love of her grandsons wouldn’t have kept her away from practices and games at Mollenkopf Stadium.

The pain of losing a mother or grandmother? It never goes away. The pain can lies within a soul for a lifetime. Steve and Brandon had to hold back their emotions.

Now she looks down from heaven as one of the Raiders biggest fans.

“She would be here watching him play,” Steve said. “She would cheering him on and telling me, ‘Don’t you let my baby get hurt.’ I would say, ‘Ma, he’s OK.’ “

David is coaching at Bethany (W. Va.) College. He’s a defensive coordinator, assistant head coach and secondary coach. Plenty of roles and time away from Warren. Brandon lives with his mother, Kim Warren, who David said does a great job raising their son.

David would like to be there more often, but he and Brandon talk over the phone.

The team’s recent scrimmage against Solon featured many NCAA Division I prospects.

“He said, ‘Dad, I ran somebody over and I got hit by somebody,’ he did not see. He said, ‘Dad it didn’t hurt and I got up,’ “ David said. “I said, ‘Brandon, that’s the No. 1 thing that you got up.’ I was kind of happy for him that he took a big hit, bounced up and said it didn’t hurt.

“That was my biggest fear, how he would react to a big hit for the first time in his life, really?”

Brandon must have Carter, his guardian angel, protecting him.

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