HANNIBAL — A familiar face will be heading the Hannibal football program.
Hannibal officially introduced Jeff Gschwender as the new Pirates head coach in a press conference at Korf Gymnasium on Wednesday morning.
Gschwender said he was excited to have the opportunity to lead the Pirates football program.
“In Hannibal, there’s going to be good talent here year in and year out,” Gschwender said. “I feel like we have a good opportunity to be very successful every year we are here. We have a great group of kids coming back from last season, but we also have a extremely talented group in the junior high levels and even the youth levels.”
Gschwender had served six years as an assistant coach for Hannibal, including the past four seasons as the Pirates offensive coordinator.
Hannibal will be bringing back of all their assistant coaches with only one opening, the vacant offensive coordinator position that resulted in Gschwender’s promotion to head coach.
Hannibal athletic director Clint Graham said the interview committee decided Gschwender was the best fit for the program after two rounds of interviews that included several other candidates.
“Jeff is very knowledgeable, he is very energetic and enthusiastic,” Graham said. “He does a great job of building relationships with the kids. Overall, he will bring a lot to the program as far as his background and his knowledge.”
Overall, Gschwender brings a total of 14 years of experience as a football coach. He has previous experience as a head coach at Bowling Green from 2012-14, compiling a 21-14 record.
Gschwender said he has learned better ways of making in-game adjustments and recognizing changes that need to be made in between games since his time at Bowling Green.
“It helps to recognize the level of coaching has gotten better as you go up,” Gschwender said. “You really figure out a lot of the little things that it’s going to take to be successful at this level.”
Two of Gschwender’s coaching mentors are Missouri Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame coaches, former Hannibal head coach Mark St. Clair and his father, former Louisiana head coach Tony Gschwender.
Gschwender said he still keeps in touch with St. Clair and both of those coaches have had an impact on him.
“(My father was) a huge influence on me,” Gschwender said. “Playing underneath him and just seeing all of the behind-the-scenes stuff that’s done and the impact he had on so many lives. That really pushes me to follow in his footsteps and do stuff the right way, similar to the way he did it.”
The Gschwender era begins after a tumultuous 2020 season where the Pirates had to deal with not only the coronavirus pandemic, but off-the-field issues from former head coach Quentin Hamner.
Hamner resigned last month after two seasons, with the former head coach missing three games due to a suspension from an August arrest in Kahoka and being placed on a paid leave of absence for the Pirates final two postseason games for an unrelated issue.
Despite the distractions, Hannibal finished with a 8-3 record in 2020 and advanced to the state quarterfinal, before falling to MICDS 48-34.
“If you look at the athlete’s performances from last year, they are real strong-minded kids,” Gschwender said. “I think with a lot of the stuff that went down last year, they did a good job of staying focused on the job at hand. Really, they didn’t let any of those distractions bother them, if you ask me.”
Gschwender said Hannibal is entering 2021 hungry after tasting some success last season.
“They want to take the next step forward,” Gschwender said. “Not just having a successful (regular) season, but even into the postseason. I think they felt they left something on the field (against MICDS) and they want to go back and get back at it.”
Hannibal has plenty of reason to feel optimistic about next season with the Pirates returning 16 starters.
Among the returners for Hannibal include First Team All-District players Aneyas Williams (all-purpose), Caden Salle (offensive line) and Kanye Washington (offensive line). The Pirates also have Second Team All-District quarterback Courtland Watson and running back A.J. Thomas returning.
“We pretty much have our entire offensive line coming back, which is very beneficial for us regardless of whatever skill athletes you have,” Gschwender said. “Having your quarterback back that’s been here for two years, as well as some of the other weapons like Aneyas Williams, A.J. Thomas, Kaiser Greenwell and some of the receivers. You put all of those things together and it allows you to do lots of different things.”
Shortly after taking the job, Gschwender reached out to his team via a Zoom meeting.
A big plus for the team is familiarity with Gschwender and the work ethic he expects from the players.
“I think getting that same coaching staff (back) and a lot of the guys the kids have worked with for the past three to four years really helps out,” Gschwender said. “They already understand expectations and where we are on a personal level. It can get the ball rolling pretty quickly.”