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NAPOLEON - For the folks living in this Henry County community, there's no need to crash the cinemas to watch the movie version of Friday Night Lights.
For as long as can be remembered, autumn Friday nights have been what Hollywood scriptwriters have attempted to capture on the big screen with a story about high school football's impact on a community.
H.G. Bissinger's best-selling book, Friday Night Lights, was based upon a true story about high school football in the west Texas town of Odessa. The basic premise easily applies to Napoleon, the northwest Ohio town that sits roughly a 50-minute drive southwest of Toledo.
Playing football on Friday nights is not only a badge of honor for boys in Napoleon. It's also a right of passage.
Brad Weaver, a 5-9, 165-pound junior, is a third-generation Wildcat. His father, Tom, is considered by many as the best football player to ever wear a Wildcats jersey. He played during the late 1970s and went on to play at the University of Toledo.
Tom Weaver still holds the school record for career rushing yards with 3,164. Brad's grandfather, Pep, also played football for the Wildcats.
Brad, who has already rushed for 1,314 yards on 175 carries this season, understands what Bissinger's book is about without ever reading it. Living in a town where the residents take pride in their high school athletics, particularly football, they eat, sleep and breathe what it means to be part of something that has long been recognized as a staple of the community.
The pride in the program has continued to be reinforced by the support from the huge crowds showing up for the home games at Charles Buckenmeyer Stadium, which seats 4,000.
"Those who have played before us have all influenced our lives," Brad said. "It's all about playing under the Friday lights, the bright lights. There's really no other feeling like it. Playing in front of the big home crowds, there's really nothing like that."
Weaver's play has been instrumental in Napoleon winning its first eight games. He rushed for 267 yards, including touchdown runs of 77 and 49 yards, in the Wildcats' 14-12 victory over Sandusky last Friday. Yet he has not single-handedly carried Napoleon to an 8-0 record, 3-0 in the Greater Buckeye Conference.
Napoleon coach John Snoad spreads the credit around to the entire team for what they've accomplished so far.
"You never really know what to expect," said Snoad, in his 11th year as the Napoleon coach. "We did know the group was very, very competitive."
Perhaps at the heart of the success is a group of players who were born to be Wildcats. Snoad said 11 members of the team are following in their fathers' footsteps.
In fact, the team's motto is: Built on Tradition. Players wear T-shirts with the phrase printed on them.
"We're very big on tradition, and the kids are very aware of that," Snoad said. "We're expected to win, expected to play well, and the kids embrace that."
To be a part of Napoleon football is to know about the history of the program. Charles "Bucky" Buckenmeyer is revered around the community. The coaching legend is a major reason why Napoleon football means as much to the town as it does. Buckenmeyer posted a career record of 209-48-9 and guided the Wildcats to 18 championships when the school was a member of the Northwest Ohio Athletic League.
Kyle Fruth, a 5-11, 200-pound senior, is the heart of the tough-as-nails defense that has dominated opposing offenses.
His brother Josh played for Napoleon in the late 1990s, and his father, Mike, was a linebacker for Buckenmeyer in the early 1970s.
He has heard all about how his father's teams "consistently were at least 9-1" when he played under Buckenmeyer. It motivates him toward the Wildcats' goals to go undefeated and win the GBC title.
The Wildcats never have gone undefeated or won a league title during Snoad's tenure. The best finish was a 9-1 record in 2002.
"Football means a lot to our high school and this community," said Fruth, who leads the team with 77 tackles. "I think everyone in the community wants to see us win league."
Todd Small is the starting quarterback. The 6-2, 160-pounder is a 4.0 student who ranks No. 1 academically in the senior class.
"Ever since grade school I've been wanting the chance to play under the lights," Small said. "It's like a dream come true."
With Marion Harding and Findlay remaining on the schedule, the reality is the Wildcats have a chance to fulfill two of their main goals. With everyone handling their roles - like offensive linemen Derek Flory, Dan Busch, Drew Thompson, Keil Miller and Jacob Lamming blocking well for Weaver and Small - the Wildcats have avoided disappointment.
Napoleon opened the season with a 27-7 victory over Defiance that required playing the game over two days because of heavy rain and lightning. The Wildcats haven't looked back since.
"I think at that point everyone realized this is a pretty special group that could respond well to adversity," Snoad said. "It's been very much a group that has bought into the one-game-at-a-time clich."
Cornerback Elliot Vocke, a junior, whose father Larry played at Napoleon and is the Wildcats' swim coach, said team chemistry has been a key to their success.
Yet Vocke explains perhaps the most significant reason why the Wildcats are 8-0.
"We never take a play off," Vocke said.
Contact Donald Emmons at:
or 419-724-630220.49721 -98.92436