(ST. JOSEPH, Mo.) Tony Dudik patrolled the sidelines at Central for 29 seasons. It was on the tail end of his tenure there that he would produce a class that would become part of the best season in Missouri Western history.
"We grew up together and we've been playing little league ball with each other since we were eight," Griffon defensive lineman Ben Pister said. "It is special staying on a hometown team and having hometown fans."
"In high school we just built a tight relationship," running back Michael Hill said. "We've been super close, and it's good to have these guys around you."
Pister, Hill and Jeremy Weston, all 2008 graduates of Central, and all caught the eye of Griffon head coach Jerry Partridge.
"Coach Dudik's all about local guys coming here and sticking around and playing," Weston, a defensive back at Missouri Western, said. "Coach P, he's the kind of guy that feels if you've got talent, we want you to come play for us."
"When he recognizes talent in this area, he starts as early as you can, legally, to contact those kids," Dudik said of Partridge. "Over the course of a season, he builds a relationship."
The transition from high school to the college game can be a little easier with familiar teammates. Having two hard-nosed coaches with similar drives can help, too.
"Coach Dudik's a more laid back kind of guy, he'll pat you on the butt and let you know what you did wrong," Weston said. "Coach P will come coach you right to your face."
"They're pretty old school guys," Pister said. "They demand work ethic. They demand good character on and off the field."
Should Western win Saturday, Dudik could have a chance to see his former players at home one more time, trying to be a part of a little more Griffon history.
"I was thankful they got the opportunity to stay here in town," Dudik said. "I didn't get to every game, but I got to a lot of them. Even now, I've got goosebumps talking about it."
"To do this with my best friends, and having my family two three minutes away and come to every game, there's no place I'd rather be," Hill said.
It has shown for the senior running back.
Hill became Western's all-time leading rusher earlier this season surpassing Tony Williams old mark of 3,396 yards. Hill is currently up to 4,610 rush yards for his career.
The Griffons will try to build on the program's highest single-season win total in Arkadelphia, Arkansas this weekend.
Missouri Western will play Henderson State in the second round of the Division II Playoffs Saturday.