Jon Wiemers was used to recruiting. More than a decade as a college assistant, including stints as offensive coordinator at Emporia State and Coffeyville Community College, had made him accustomed to the task.
You found the best athletes. You made your pitch. You hoped they came to your school.
So when the Clay Center native took over as the football coach at Arkansas City High School earlier this year — his first foray into the high school ranks — he found that while some things would be different, some things would have to remain the same.
"The whole time I was coaching college, I was constantly recruiting, I didn't have time for much else," Wiemers said. "When I got here, I found myself recruiting out of the hallways, just going up to kids and asking them to try and come out for the team, to give it a shot."
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Wiemers' recruiting pitch has worked wonders so far, with the Bulldogs off to a 4-0 start for the first time since 1999 after wins over Valley Center, Goddard, Winfield and Coffeyville.
"The thing we've said from the beginning is that we just want to get better, every day, and to not let our guys get too comfortable," Wiemers said. "The reason they're at where they're at is they're not too cocky or too brash and win, lose or draw, they're going to keep an even level and keep working."
Ark City travels to play McPherson (4-0) tonight in a battle for first place in the Ark Valley-Chisholm Trail Division II.
"In the past, we had a core group of just a few guys that would come to workouts in the summer," senior running back Justin Spencer said. "This summer, it seemed like it was the whole team. We were out there four days every week, 7 a.m. sprints and then lifting."
Spencer (6-foot-1, 200 pounds) is part of a group that suffered through a couple of dreary seasons — 4-5 in 2009 and 2-7 last season — before Wiemers took over. Spencer leads the Bulldogs with 488 rushing yards and eight touchdowns.
"It's been a great change," said strong safety Keegan Murphy, a four-year starter. "People care and they're showing it. I think it was a case of a new coach and new opportunities."
One new aspect to Ark City's team has been the emergence of junior quarterback Riley Dowler, a first-year starter. Dowler (5-11, 170) has thrown for 400 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 291 yards and five touchdowns.
"Everybody's been a lot more positive about things, you see a lot more smiles on faces," Dowler said. "But our goal is to just to always stay relaxed and play the game we know we can play. We worry about what we can control."
Wiemers comes from a coaching family — his sister is Kansas State volleyball coach Suzie Fritz — and was an assistant at Emporia State from 1999 to 2006, where his older brother, Dave, was the coach from 2001 to 2006.
After leaving the Hornets, he spent a year at Concord (W.Va.) and then two years at Coffeyville before deciding he wanted to try something different.
He found the stability he wanted for himself and his family, wife Sandy and sons Cooper (two years) and Gage (two months) in Ark City, where he teaches World History and a couple of athletic conditioning classes.
"It's different, for sure, but my father coached high school football for 25 years, so I grew up around it," Wiemers said. "And this was something I was thinking about for a long time. Being at a junior-college, I really missed the four-year aspect of being able to develop players.
"In a way, it's not much different than junior college because when you're 17 or 18, you're 17 or 18... it doesn't matter where you're at."
Tonight's game at McPherson will be a first for many of the Bulldogs — a big game in a big-time atmosphere with plenty on the line.
"We don't read too much into the hype, or into what's going on outside of the field," Wiemers said. "But I think our kids are excited, and I'm happy for them that they get to experience this for the first time. They've worked hard to get to this point."