By BRIAN LESTER
Sometimes a sports career doesn’t go as planned. Even the most talented high school athletes can find it difficult to excel at the next level for a variety of reasons.
Mitchell Faine was a star at Ada High School. He was the Northwest Conference Player of the Year in 2008 and his future in athletics seemed bright.
But he missed half of his senior season because of a knee injury. He hurt the same knee during basketball season that year.
He battled back, though, and signed to play football at the University of Findlay in 2010. His hope was to pick up where he left off in high school.
Four years later, after limited playing time, Faine was ready to call it a career. The fifth-year senior was set to spend his final season with the Oilers as a coach.
He served as a student assistant in the spring and planned to do the same in the fall. Ultimately, he decided to give it one more shot. Devontae Payne, who started the last four games of the 2013 campaign, was arrested on assault charges after a December altercation in Tiffin, helping to sway Faine’s decision to come back.
“I was missing football a little bit and we had a guy get into trouble,” Faine said. “Coach (Rob Keys) came up to me and asked if I wanted to play again. I said yes. It was a good decision.”
Before Faine made his final decision, however, he had one question for Keys, who is in his fourth year as the head coach of the Oilers.
“When we talked about him coming back to play, the first question he asked me is if he was going to have a shot to win the starting job,” Keys said. “I told him ‘Heck, yeah. You have every opportunity as anyone else.’ Right now, he has done a really good job.”
Faine is challenging Verlon Reed for the starting job. Reed, a transfer from Ohio State, started seven games last year for UF and threw for 1,791 yards and 11 touchdowns.
While it won’t be easy to beat out Reed for the job, the fact that Faine is willing to accept his role and do what he can to help the team speaks volumes about him as a person and an athlete.
“It’s a testament to the type of character he has and the type of kid he is,” Keys said. “He’s been really good in preseason camp. He’s had some great practices and there have been times where he has completed eight out of 10, nine out of 10 and sometimes even 10 out of 10.”
Faine had bigger dreams when his career began, and while those dreams never materialized, he has no regrets and is thankful to be playing again.
“Getting hurt my senior year was a disappointment,” Faine said. “It’s been a long road, but I am happy with where I am at. Nothing beats being on the field. It’s been a fun time.”
Faine also enjoyed his time on the coaching staff. It opened his eyes to a different side of the game.
“I was able to get to know the coaches better and see how they are behind the scenes,” Faine said. “The coaches can be serious, but they are here to have fun, too. You see how much they put into making the team better and it makes you want to try harder as a player.”
Faine is using that experience to make himself a better football player as he battles for playing time. Keys said there is no question that having a chance to coach is a huge benefit to a player.
“I know when I finished my senior season and went into a staff meeting for the first time as a graduate assistant, all of the pieces of the puzzle I didn’t know about all came together,” Keys said. “You see so many things and see what coaches are doing to get things accomplished. Mitch did a great job for us. I give him a lot of credit.”
In some ways, Faine is still a coach. He takes pride in being able to help out the younger players as the Oilers take aim at their fourth consecutive winning season.
“We have a lot of freshmen, and I want to be able to do what I can to help them out as they get used to college football,” Faine said. “I enjoy it. I’ve been around coach for four years. I know what he expects from us. I’m trying to pass that knowledge down to the younger players.”
Faine didn’t play in either of his first two seasons. He saw action in two games in 2012 but did not get into a game last year.
For a player who was one of the best in the state during his high school career, not being able to make an impact at the college level can be a tough situation to handle.
Faine has taken it all in stride, remaining a team player through it all as he battles Reed and fellow senior Jesse Slone, who hasn’t seen a lot of playing time in his career either.
All three seniors bring leadership that is invaluable, and while they are competing with each other, they have not let the competition get in the way of their friendship.
“I’ve been around college football since 1991 and I can’t think back to a time where we’ve had three senior quarterbacks on the same team,” Keys said. “Verlon, Mitch and Jesse have a ton of experience, and maybe it’s not all game experience, but they all know the offense. They are coaches on the field. They help out each other. Our quarterback situation is good.”
The Oilers enter the season with high expectations. After going 8-3 a year ago, the hope is to win a Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship and earn a berth to the NCAA Division II playoffs for the first time.
The role Faine will play remains to be seen. He intends to be ready to go if called upon. When the season is over, he’ll hang up his cleats for the final time. But it might not be the end of his career in football.
“My minor is in coaching,” Faine said. “Being a coach after school is a possibility. I enjoyed my experience with it. We shall see what happens.”
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