Menendez football assistants Mike Jefferson, Allen De Vos, Carmine Schiavone, T.J. Sims and Ben Walker are veterans who continue to serve their community through football.
The war to end all wars ended a century ago today. In the years since, America has been represented in a series of other engagements by men and women who place their country over their personal edification.
There are more than 19 million living veterans in the United States. Five of them are on the football coaching staff at Menendez High School.
Their branches, length of service and journeys that led them to south St. Augustine vary; but, their love of this country and of the Falcons binds them. They are a blend of St. Johns County natives and Ancient City transplants who devote their time, talent and treasure to assist the Falcons.
They are: Allen De Vos, United States Marines; Michael Jefferson, U.S. Army; Carmine Schiavone, U.S. Army; T.J. Sims, U.S. Air Force; and Ben Walker, U.S. Army.
Walker is a Hastings native who is in his third year on the coaching staff. He wanted to share some of the discipline instilled in him with others in his community.
“I saw the need for discipline for our boys and girls,” said Walker, who also serves as one of Menendez’s track assistants. “So many of our kids lack self-control. Sometimes all it takes is someone coming into their little world and helping them refocus.”
Walker has lived in St. Johns County most of his life. De Vos’ first experience with St. Augustine was five years ago when he and his son visited Scott Koob, an Army veteran who was one of De Vos’ childhood neighbors.
De Vos played football and basketball in Sheldon, Iowa. He said joining the Marines exposed him to a world beyond Northwest Iowa.
“I loved the camaraderie of having a team. Some of my fondest memories of high school were of bus rides, whether it was football or basketball. That’s one of the reasons I joined the military was the teamwork. The espirit de corps.”
Menendez is not the only football program in St. Johns County with a veteran presence. The Falcon Five do everything from work with the junior varsity, give players rides home, produce video of practices and games, coordinate the program’s community outreach, launder clothes and serve as the personification of the impact that discipline and a spirit of service can have on one’s community.
“God. Family. Country. After retirement I was deciding what I was going to do. I had no idea what I was going to do,” Jefferson said. “Barry Williams, he was a dean out here at Pedro. I went to a football game and Palatka and St. Augustine were playing. He said ‘Mike, come coach with me.’ I said OK. This is a part of ministry to me. It is an opportunity for me to give back like someone did for me. Mr. Eddie Vickers and mentors back in the '60s and '70s who helped me along the way.”
Menendez’s season ended on Friday night with a 27-22 loss to North Marion. The Falcons, who finished 8-3, beat St. Augustine for the first time and may send as many as four seniors to play Division I football programs.
The Falcon Five have supported the football program and the broader Menendez community with actions large and small.
Menendez athletic director Patrick Turner brought in De Vos, Schiavone, Sims and Walker when Turner was the head coach. Jefferson, who has coached at Menendez since 2002, is as much an institution at the school as its blue helmets.
Jefferson’s primary focus is the linebackers. But he keeps a watchful eye on the entire Falcons defense.
If you have heard a “Doggone it!” emanate from the Falcons sideline, it was probably Jefferson correcting someone or something.
Jefferson does not curse, much to the amusement of the players. Junior cornerback Tre Evans smiled at the thought before adding the dean of Falcons coaches has a spectacular vocabulary.
“It’s nice having him as a great support system,” Evans said. “He is the first to say ‘Good job!’ It’s great having him. He’s a great coach too.”
Kyle Skipper retained all five veterans when he was promoted to head coach in March. He has repeatedly mentioned the Falcon Five are not only great men and wonderful coaches, but people who made his transition from offensive coordinator to head coach a smooth one.
Having Veterans Day on a Sunday and the 243nd birthday of the Marine Corps on Saturday meant De Vos was allowed a weekend of reflection and gratitude.
“I didn’t get to choose when my service ended. I served honorably and faithfully. I have met a lot of veterans who have done a lot more than I did,” De Vos said of a military career that was cut short after 20 months after he lost his right leg in a motorcycle accident in 1989. “To me, it’s a time to think about the other guys who served. It’s a time to be thankful about stuff. We live in a great country.”