By Jeff Gallatin
North Olmsted Middle School Principal Thomas Dreiling has seen two of his former pupils at Twinsburg High School make the grade this year with the Cleveland Gladiators.
Dreiling coached both arena football linemen Darren Branch and Ron Haver when he was an assistant football coach at Twinsburg High School several years ago.
“I’m happy for them as persons and as athletes that they’ve reached the level where they are able to utilize their skills and play football professionally,” Dreiling said. “Most high school football players don’t get the opportunity to play professional football, so it’s great to see them use those skills.”
Dreiling remembers both players in high school as having the capability to advance further in their football careers.
“It was pretty evident that they had the potential to go further because they both were really good athletes and big guys, so I’m not surprised that they’re both playing on the line right now,” Dreiling said.
Dreiling said one aspect of Branch’s game stood out to him as a coach.
‘He was pretty versatile,” Dreiling said. “He had those really good athletic skills that enabled him to do different things on the field. He was a tight end, a running back and could do different things out there. We utilized that as best we could and it sounds like they’re doing the same thing with the Gladiators.”
Branch, who spent several weeks on the injured list earlier this season with a hamstring injury, said that ability to do different things on the football field has aided him as an arena football player, where players often go both ways by playing offense and defense.
“It definitely helps out,” Branch said. “I’m listed as a lineman and I spend a lot of time there. We can set it up where I can line up and go out for pass on offense. And I’ve spent some time practicing as a running back on offense, so it’s good that I can do some different things out there.”
Branch said he remembers Dreiling as a good, tough coach with his players.
‘Coach Dreiling could get after you pretty good if he needed to,” Branch said. “He definitely could be tough and let you know if he wanted something done. But he’s a good guy who really knows his football.”
Dreiling chuckled when told of Branch’s remarks.
“Darren would know, because I did have to get after him sometimes out there,” Dreiling said. “But he loves football and his team, so it’s good to see him doing well.”
Branch, who started his college football career at Bowling Green in Ohio before transferring to Northern Iowa, said he’s glad to have the chance to continue playing football.
“It’s nice to be playing ball in the area where I grew up with friends and family around,” he said.
Branch noted that Haver actually joined the Gladiators in 2012.
“He told me about the team and that it was a good deal,” Branch said.
Both Branch and Dreiling have good thoughts about Haver, who is currently on the injured list and wasn’t available for an interview.
“He was big (currently listed by the Gladiators at 6-4, 325 pounds) to go along with those athletic skills, so we knew we could put him out there and he’d get after people,” Dreiling said.
“It’s great being on the same team with him again, because he’s a good player and a good friend,” Branch said.
Although the Gladiators aren’t having as successful a year as others they’ve had, they’re still in contention for a wild card playoff berth and are poised to take on the Pittsburgh Power at home this Saturday at 7 p.m. in Quicken Loans Arena.
“It’s Cleveland and Pittsburgh on the football field,” Branch said. “Anybody who’s from around here knows that is something special, and that there’s going to be some action out there.”