Practice was over and the evening darkness and biting cold had settled in as Jeris Getter worked his way from Welcome Stadium, across two parking lots to the Dayton Flyers football locker room behind UD Arena.
When he finally got to the raised sidewalk outside the team’s quarters, he noticed senor H-Back Brian Gillen standing nearby and said:
“Hey Brian, give me an arm, will ya?”
In a move as routine as a center’s snap to a quarterback, Gillen stepped over and extended a sturdy forearm. Getter grabbed hold with his left hand, made the step up and then both moved on.
“Lean On Me – which begins “You just call on me brother, when you need a hand;
We all need somebody to lean on,” – was a big hit for Bill Withers back in 1972 and has become an iconic tune since.
This football season Getter and the UD players are bringing that song, those lyrics, to life every day.
A hefty, bearded, 25-year-old assistant defensive coach in his first season with the Flyers, Getter deals daily with cerebral palsy, a movement disorder that causes problems with mobility and balance and shows itself in his limp.
Over the years he’s endured seven surgeries, two to strengthen his left Achilles tendon and five on a lazy left eye also caused by the CP.
Although he shed his leg brace in his early teen years and no longer loses his balance and topples over like he did when he was a kid, he still needs a steadying hand when he has to step up or down from something.
And yet, Flyers coach Rick Chamberlin thinks he, his players and fellow coaches get far more than they give in these daily exchanges:
“Our young men are being exposed to a fellow who’s overcoming a lot in his life and going after his dreams. He’s setting a great example for all of us.
“Jeris has gotten his degree and is working on his masters. He’s also working an IT job at a college in Richmond and then he drives here every day and coaches without getting paid. He’s a volunteer who gives us a lot. He’s passionate and conscientious and cares about our players.”
Getter – who lives in Lewisburg and was a volunteer coach at Earlham College the past two seasons until the school dropped football this year – said along with his duties working with the Flyers scout and special teams and doing film room and administrative tasks, he hopes to be “an ambassador for people.”
“It doesn’t have to just be athletes, but people in their everyday life,” he said. “I want to say, ‘Oh you got an impairment? You got a problem? You can still go for it.’
“And one day I hope athletes will look back and say, ‘Coach Getter showed me a viewpoint that I didn’t have before.’
“One of the lessons is you can’t just look at someone and assume who they are or what they can do.”
That’s a lesson that wasn’t always embraced by others when he was growing up. Along with his mobility issues, he once was quite overweight and said he often got mocked and bullied.
But he’s slimmed down and grown up and found athletes like those at Earlham and now especially at UD, to be more understanding and caring.
“Adam Trautman (the team’s NFL-talent tight end) was one of the first to introduce himself to me,” he said. “Guys like Michael Newbold and Nate Obringer (both defensive ends) and Brandon Easterling (safety) did, too.
“The curbing coming off the JV field can be tough for me, but the other day Matt Young, another H-Back and tight end, actually ran over to help me.”
Chamberlin said the interactions have been wonderful to watch:
“It shows you the type of young men we have in this program. They have some good hearts.”
“I knew I was different when I was four or five,” Getter said quietly as he sat on a chair just outside the Flyers dressing quarters the other evening. “Kids didn’t want to play with me and stuff.”
And when they did, he often would have to pay a price.
“My earliest memories are playing Duck, Duck, Goose in preschool,” he said. “I was purposely made the goose because I’d have to chase them around and they knew I couldn’t get up fast enough to catch them.
“Kids can be mean. Early on, I didn’t understand and I’d cry. I’d be real emotional about it. That was the way it was for me growing up.
“Some kids bullied me in middle school and my first years of high school for no other reason than that I was different. I couldn’t move like them. I had a limp. My eye wandered and somebody would go, ‘Hey, what you lookin’ at?’
“After a while I understood that some kids just didn’t want to play with me or hang out with me because they didn’t want to be friends with a handicapped guy. But if they had sat and talked with me, they would have found out I was OK, that I was pretty good guy.
“I ended up with about five, six or seven friends and that’s about it.”
His mom, Bert – who was a factory worker when he grew up and was once was a singer and mandolin player in a bluegrass group that included her sisters – said it was tough seeing her only child going through what he did as a kid:
“He was so outgoing, so trusting. He never met a stranger, but he had a rough time in school. It’s too bad those kids couldn’t see who he really was.”
No matter what, Getter said his mom and dad and his late grandparents, whose Arcanum home he spent a lot of time at, always stressed one thing with him:
He followed that advice most of the time, but not always.
“You know what table-topping is?” he asked in reference to the prank where someone secretly kneels behind you and then someone else pushes you backwards over them.
“Well, one of my cousins did that to me once,” he said.
He said another relative was sitting on the porch with his dad and they both saw what happened. He got mad and was going to come down, but my dad said, ‘No, let him work it out.’
“I was maybe seven or so and later that cousin got too close and I grabbed him, turned him around ad pile-drived him into the ground.”
Getter transferred from Tri-County North High School to the Miami Valley Career Technology Center as a junior and said suddenly, “I was actually popular.”
He had varied interests from computers to classic cars and he was in the Future Farmers of America (FFA), but his real love remained football.
His dad, Jack, has always been a Pittsburgh Steelers fan and Jeris learned all he could about the players, their pasts, their stats and he even studied game films.
But it wasn’t until he was a junior at Indiana University East in Richmond that he first got the idea he might want to coach.
He had never played the sport and he still had the mobility issues, but he vowed not to let any of that “tabletop” his dream.
“When I graduated in 2017, I decided to email as many coaches as I possibly could and see if I got any hits close to home,” he said. “I probably sent out 75 emails to (small) colleges and high schools.
“At first no one responded. That ‘desire for football’ I wrote them about didn’t really appeal to them, I guess. Not when they saw I had no experience. They didn’t want somebody they’d have to teach everything to.”
In May of 2017, he finally heard from Earlham head coach Nick Johnson, who said he was interested.
“They were in a situation where it wasn’t going to hurt anything to bring in a volunteer who got no pay,” Getter surmised.
At the time the woefully underfunded and undermanned Quakers had lost 33 straight football games.
During the two seasons he was with them, Earlham’s losing streak continued and was at an NCAA Division III record 53 straight when the program was dropped.
Even so, Getter said he learned a lot of football from Johnson and his staff and, most of all, the Quakers coaches and players showed him how decent human beings can be to each other.
After last season, though, Getter thought briefly about giving up his coaching dream.
He was – and still is – working his IT job in Richmond three days a week and he’s finishing his master’s degree online with Ohio University. And this past March he went through another surgery to strengthen his Achilles tendon. It left him on bed rest for two months and forced him to use a walker until early July.
But as he recovered he found himself missing football and that launched another email campaign, this time to over 100 coaches throughout the area.,
Matt Money – who had taken over Gettis’ old high school program at Tri-County North in the spring – offered him a job and he accepted.
But just a day later, UD’s Rick Chamberlin called out of the blue.
A new experience
“In his email, he described what he had done at Earlham and said he still wanted to be part of a program,” Chamberlin said. “He was willing to volunteer and help us in any way he could.
“That piqued my interest because it just so happened the NCAA had passed a new rule this year that allowed FCS programs like us to add up to two volunteers to the staff. So I asked Jeris to come in and talk with me.
“When we met I saw he had a physical condition, but I really liked his personality and his passion,” Chamberlin said.
Afterward Chamberlin contacted Johnson and especially Robert Lee, the Quakers former defensive coordinator who he had known since the 1990s. He said both gave Getter a good recommendation, but he told the young prospect he still wanted to think about it.
“I wanted to make sure this would be something that added to our program and also added to the young man’s experience, so he got something out of it, too,” Chamberlin said.
Finally, he called Getter and told him he had a job if he wanted it.
He did – “I didn’t think I’d get to a Division I level job until I was at least 35,” he admitted – and so he gave his regrets to TCN and signed on for a what would be a full-plate experience because of his job, his own college courses and his daily commutes to Richmond and then Dayton from his home just outside Lewisburg.
“This is the craziest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” he said with a grin. “But I love it. There’s not anything I’d rather do than this.”
UD opened the season at Indiana State and stunned the 14th-ranked Sycamores, 42-35, for the biggest upset win in the FCS-era of Flyers’ football.
“With about 90 seconds to go, I kind of got misty eyed,” Getter said. “I knew how hard these guys had worked and, for me, it was my first win ever in college. I’d never experienced it before.”
With Saturday’s xxx victory over Marist at Welcome Stadium, the Flyers are now 6-3.
Getter – who works the sidelines on game days and helps special teams coach Brian Steiner who’s in the press box – has become a real part of this year’s success. Chamberlin said:
“He’s not here just because I wanted to help a guy out, he’s helping us win games. … And he’s one of the family now.”
Getter said many of the players simply call him Coach G.
That’s music to the ears of his parents, who are sitting in the stands at each game.
“We wouldn’t miss them,” Bert said. “We never tried to hold him back and now he’s just going for it. We’re pretty darn proud of him. We just love that he’s following his dream.”
Getter credits much of that this year to Chamberlin:
“When we first met, I was nervous because I didn’t know what to expect. I mean, he’d already been with UD football 44 years by then. But right off it was like I’d known him forever. He made me feel good. He’s one of those guys where the glass isn’t just half full, it’s three-quarters full.
“He cares about you, his players and his community. Working around him makes me a better person and coach. And he makes me want to achieve my dream even more.
“He’s easily one of the greatest human beings I’ve ever come in contact with. He’s great dude.
“And the players – like those at Earlham – have changed my life. They’ve made my life better. They treat me like a person They treat me like I matter.”
But then why wouldn’t they?
He’s Coach G.
He’s someone they can lean on, too.
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