Arndt has emotional return to The Pit

By Brad Morris

AMANDA — Since he last roamed the home sideline in The Pit during the 2007 season, Jeff Arndt has been back as a spectator to meet former players and parents that he worked with and to support the Amanda-Clearcreek Aces.

But Friday was different. It was the first time that Arndt was back in The Pit as an opponent having to walk across the field to the visitors’ sideline.

“It was a tough day,” said Arndt, who is in his second season as defensive coordinator for the Circleville Tigers and working for the second time on the staff of Steve Evans, a 1993 graduate of Amanda-Clearcreek and former player of his. “There was a lot of emotion, thinking about all the good times that I had here and being part of what (former head coach Ron Hinton) built here.”

Former Amanda-Clearcreek and current Circleville defensive coordinator Jeff Arndt surveils the field during warmups before Friday night’s game between Circleville and Amanda-Clearcreek in The Pit. View a photo gallery of Circleville’s 50-19 win over Amanda-Clearcreek.

Evans figured that Arndt, who he considers one of his coaching mentors, would be going through a wide range of emotions.

“We were riding over here in a school van for the game, and I asked Coach Arndt how he was doing?” he said. “Coach Arndt said that he would be alright after the game was over.

“I know what this place means to him and all the great memories that he has with helping Ron build this program into what we know Amanda football as today.”

Arndt, who was the head coach for the Aces from 1974-1980, joined Hinton’s staff in 1983 as defensive coordinator.

The Aces won their first league championship and also made their first playoff appearance just two years later.

But the best was yet to come.

Arndt crafted a defense known for its punishing, physical brand of play that was built on a 50-front philosophy along the line and zone coverage implemented by the back end of the defense.

During a stretch of 17 seasons from 1990-2006, the Aces pitched 62 shutouts and allowed a meager 8.8 points per game.

Former Amanda-Clearcreek defensive coordinator Jeff Arndt talks to a player during the 2003 regional championship game. File photo by John Howley.

That became the golden age of Amanda-Clearcreek football, where teams took on nicknames such as Men in Black and Creatures of the Creek.

The Aces rolled off eight regional championships and played in five state championship games, winning twice in 1999 and again in 2000.

During those days, both teams dressed in the fieldhouse that sits on the south side of the home bleachers. The visiting team would have to walk through the crowd to have access to the field.

“When we were talking about coming over here, I told Steve that I was scared to death to walk through the crowd as an opposing coach,” Arndt said. “I thought that was a tremendous advantage for us back in the day and could often intimidate the team we were playing.

“But Steve told me when he was here as athletic director that he had changed things to give (the Aces) use of the whole fieldhouse and that they have the visiting team dressing in the locker room (at the old high school gymnasium). In a way, that’s a different advantage for (the Aces), because they are sitting down there in the fieldhouse making adjustments at halftime and we have to hike all the way up to the old gym.”

Arndt departed Amanda following the 2007 season to join Evans’ staff at Reynoldsburg and serve as his defensive coordinator in 2008 and 2009. In 2010, Arndt was reunited with Hinton in Chillicothe, where he coordinated the Cavaliers defense until he retired in 2018, following his 50th season as a football coach.

When Evans accepted the Circleville job in the winter of 2021, one of the first calls he made was to Arndt.

“I told Steve that I would help him out, but I wasn’t going to do a lot of the coaching,” Arndt said. “But then he had another guy leave, so I decided to step up and play a bigger role.

“Steve is a former player of mine and I like to do what I can for my former players. He also knows where the bodies are buried,” Arndt added with a chuckle.

Circleville defensive coordinator Jeff Arndt watches the action on Friday during the Tigers’ game against Amanda-Clearcreek. Photo courtesy of Scott Iles Photography.

Arndt noted that he has to remind Evans occasionally of his playing days during practice. Evans played what was known as a monster back on defense for Arndt, who was inducted into the Amanda-Clearcreek Athletic Hall of Fame back in 2013 for his long list of achievements and impact on the community.

“We talk back and forth during practice and sometimes I have to get on Steve, because I know about the screwups he had for us when he played,” Arndt said with a grin.

When Hinton and Arndt began working together in the 1980s, Amanda-Clearcreek football wasn’t the Amanda-Clearcreek that we know today. And while Circleville has some teams, players and coaches in its history that it celebrates, the Tigers have rarely had extended periods of success on the gridiron.

The Tigers (4-2) are two wins away from snapping a stretch of six consecutive losing seasons where they only won a combined eight games.

“Circleville has had some hard times recently, so Steve is trying to teach our kids how you have to work and what it takes to be successful, both mentally and physically,” Arndt said. “This is the group we hope that will help start turning things around here at Circleville.

“We have a good group of kids that are fun to work with. If we can have a winning season, then that’s going to be something to build on for us moving forward.”

Circleville defensive coordinator Jeff Arndt yells instructions to his players during Friday’s game at Amanda-Clearcreek. Photo courtesy of Scott Iles Photography.

Arndt, who is now in his 52nd season of coaching, discussed relating to kids compared to when he first started coaching.

“Some people ask about if the kids have changed between then and now? The kids haven’t changed, it’s the parents who have changed,” he said. “Kids still want discipline, they still want to know what to do and how to do it.

“A coach can’t yell as much as we did back in the old days and the era of grabbing a face mask is long gone. But kids still respond to coaching, it’s just a matter of finding the right button to push.”

The Tigers made Arndt a winner in his return to The Pit via a 50-19 verdict over the youngest team Amanda-Clearcreek has fielded in Arndt’s memory going back to his days as a head coach.

“Coach Arndt was starting to get a little emotional afterward in the postgame huddle, so our kids had him do a little victory dance,” Evans said. “I had to tease Coach Arndt that he did a good job of not suffering from muscle memory and walking into the fieldhouse for halftime like he used to.

“That was something I joked and warned (Amanda-Clearcreek head coach Steve Daulton) about before the game. I told Steve if Coach Arndt accidently ended up in his locker room at halftime to just send him up the hill.”

Jeff Arndt had a different view of the action on Friday in The Pit than what he was used to. Photo courtesy of Scott Iles Photography.

Arndt and his wife, Stephanie, shared a tradition after the game that started during his coaching days in The Pit.

“My wife and I have an end of game tradition where we always kneel on the field and then walk off the field together and we did that again tonight,” Arndt said. “It was nice to be back here again to see former players and parents and to reminisce with them before the game.

“When I was walking off the field and looking around, I had mixed emotions. I was happy for our team, because this was a big win that we needed after losing the last two weeks. But there was also another side of me that felt for Amanda. This place means so much to me and it always will.”

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