Hired by O’Fallon High School to be its defensive line coach in 2011, Byron Gettis welcomed the opportunity to kick off his career at a reputable school and athletic program.
Eight years later, Gettis has earned the opportunity to not only lead the O’Fallon football program, but to create a culture built on family, hard work, discipline and doing things the right way.
It hasn’t taken long for Gettis’ enthusiasm and positive attitude to rub off on his football team.
“Coach Gettis brought in a new culture. It was needed. We’ve all really gotten behind it and we’ve all become like family now,’’ senior offensive lineman Mason Baker said. “We knew during summer workouts that we had a chance to do something special and that we had to keep working hard to make it special.
“Everyone is working hard. We all want to be here. We’re all in this, nobody is out.’’’
After winning just four of 18 games over the past two years, Gettis has the Panthers off and running in 2019. O’Fallon opens Southwestern Conference play at home Saturday against Belleville East with a 2-1 record.
Hired earlier this spring when longtime coach Brandon Joggerst resigned, Gettis took over the reigns after serving as athletic director and assistant football coach at Cahokia. A former outfielder for the Kansas City Royals and all-state quarterback during his prep career at Cahokia, Gettis has had nothing but positive reaction since taking over the job.
“It’s been great. The kids have worked hard and continue to work hard, the coaching staff is tremendous, the school, the administration, the community ... everybody involved has been supportive and positive. I wish everybody in high school sports had the opportunity to experience something like this.,’’ Gettis said. “They do things the right way here.”
“The right way”
The Panthers fast start may be a surprise to some.
After finishing the 2018 season at 1-8, O’Fallon lost its opener to St. Louis power Christian Brothers College Prep (CBC) 65-28. But on the road the past two weeks, the Panthers have come up big.
After defeating perennial IHSA playoff contender Bradley Bourbonnais 40-36 two weeks ago, O’Fallon defeated St. Louis power Francis Howell Central 26-20 in Week 3.
Gettis says he’s been impressed by his players work ethic and resilience.
“When I got here I didn’t know how the kids would respond to hard coaching,” he said. “It has more to discipline than anything else and it’s more off the field. If you are doing the right things at home and in the classroom, it translates over to games and you are more apt to do the right this in touch situations. I didn’t know how the kids would handle that, but they come to practice ready to play everyday.’’
The Panthers have been led on the offensive side of the football by running back Mason Blakemore and an offensive line which features four seniors and a heralded freshman in Jeremiah Hardnett.
Baker leads the way at center, while AJ Jordan, Caleb Mills, Ryan Ritchie and Juel Little.
“That’s where it all starts for us. We got a lot of experience on both the offensive and defensive lines,’’ Gettis said. “Those guys have seen a lot of plays in the Southwestern Conference. They know what its about and what it takes to be successful. They are leaders on this football team.”
“He’s hard on us”
Blakemore, a transfer from Centralia, is the one who benefits the most from that offensive line. Tied for the second most touchdowns in the metro east with nine in the first three weeks, Blakemore also is among the top running backs in the St. Louis area with 682 yards.
Blakemore, like Baker, said its been a team effort through the first three weeks of the season.
“We’re family. We’re all working hard each day and that hard work has paid for us so far. The goal is the playoffs,” he said. “We’’ve got a long way to go yet, but we’re off to a good start.
“Coach Gettis? He’s hard on us. I’ve never had a coach been so hard, but I would rather have it that way. He’s helping me become a better football player.’’
Quarterback Ty Michael has thrown for more than 450 yards and four touchdowns while in Ian Wagner, the Panthers have one of the top ranked high school placekickers in the nation.
Kam Neal, a 6-7 senior and freshman Kaleb Randolph are two of several standouts on defense for O’Fallon. Bot are linemen.