NORTH CANTON The Walsh University football program has a new leader, as longtime assistant coach John Fankhauser has been hired as the Cavaliers’ new head coach.
Fankhauser brings nearly 20 years of Walsh coaching experience to his new position, most recently serving as the program’s co-defensive coordinator and associate head coach. His roots with the program trace back to its first head coach, Jim Dennison, who hired Fankhauser almost two decades ago.
Since then, Fankhauser has coached both offensive and defensive positions as well as serving as the program’s special teams coordinator.
The North Canton resident is excited to tackle the challenges of continuing to build the program at the NCAA Division II level.
"I think the program is in a great shape right now, with the returning players and coaching staff that I’m keeping intact with with the coordinators," Fankhauser said. "The kids are excited how we finished last year because while we were 4-7, we were 4-3 in conference and they’re excited to get over that .500 mark."
Taking over a program with which he has great familiarity is an advantage for Fankhauser, a Dover native who has a direction connection not only to Walsh, but to North Canton itself. He played football at Garaway for Don Hertler Jr., a longtime coach at Hoover High School who stepped down three seasons ago.
"When I moved to North Canton, I actually lived with Don for a couple of years and I’ve learned a lot of the North Canton Hoover traditions and picked those up from him," Fankhauser said.
At Walsh, Fankhauser was part of the program’s tradition from the NAIA level to the NCAA level, as well as its move from the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC) to the Great Midwest Athletic Conference (G-MAC). He takes over from Dan Pifer, who resigned after one season at the helm.
In announcing Fankhauser’s hiring, Walsh vice president and athletic director Dale Howard said the new head coach’s approach is a good fit for both the university and football program.
"We’re fortunate to have someone of John’s caliber within our own coaching staff. He truly embodies Walsh’s mission in his personal life and understands the university’s commitment to support student-athletes in the classroom and on the field, while also guiding them to become compassionate leaders within their communities," Howard said. "Over the years, I have witnessed John develop strong mentoring relationships with our student-athletes that have lasted well beyond their graduation from Walsh. His support among our football alumni is evident, and well deserved. I look forward to working with John and his staff as we build on our rich football legacy and the successes of our first year in the G-MAC."
When it comes to implementing his approach to the program, Fankhauser listed accountability to self and dependability for others as the top two qualities he wants his team to possess. Beyond that, he wants to make sure that the Cavaliers are the hardest-working team possible as they seek to grow into their place at the Division II level.
He pointed to the defensive secondary and linebacking corps as two areas of strength for the Cavaliers, along with the fact that while the roster is still fairly young, many of those young players got playing time in their freshman or sophomore seasons and have experience despite being underclassmen.
On special teams, Walsh returns All-G-MAC second team kicker Kasey Tingler and the offense could get a boost from Dominic Davis, the former St. Vincent-St. Mary standout who announced earlier this year that he would be transferring to Walsh from Mount Union. Overall, the Cavaliers had 11 players selected to the G-MAC postseason all-league team.
The roster also includes former Hoover linebacker Dillon Smith, former Jackson lineman Hunter Reichenbach and former Manchester lineman David Gresham, along with several other players from the greater Akron and Canton areas.
One of the first things Fankhauser did after being named head coach was meet with the team and share both his history and the program’s history. Prior to coming to Walsh, he was a student assistant at Youngstown State University, where he was a member of the 1992 national runner-up team and the 1993 and 1994 championship teams.
His role at Walsh has also included 17 years as Walsh’s head athletics groundskeeper and a stint as an assistant coach for the women’s basketball team from 1998 to 2004. He’s also an active volunteer with Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Stark County and has volunteered for various YMCA youth football training camps.
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