'It's still Richwoods football'

Tom Batters
Roland Brown

Last year, Richwoods quarterback Michael Davis proved that he could throw the ball effectively, albeit in limited passing attempts.

This is, after all, Richwoods football, which has featured the “smash mouth” run, run, run style of play for decades.

The Knights have been known to go entire quarters (even whole games) without throwing a single pass.

Longtime assistant coach Roland Brown takes over as head coach this year.

When asked if he might open up the playbook a little more, and allow Davis to showcase his passing ability, Brown said maybe, but he would not make any promises.

“Coach (Dave) Webb will call the offense this year, and I’ll call the defense,” Brown said. “If Coach Webb has enough guts to spread out the offense, then that’s his call.”

Brown grinned when he said that.

Then he issued the familiar mantra that many of his predecessors often spoke at the start of each season.

“Richwoods football is Richwoods football — hard-nosed, run the ball, tough players, great kids playing with discipline and paying attention to all the details. That has won us a lot of games.”

Brown said he will stick to the game plan that worked so well for Dave Lang, Doug Simper, Rod Butler and the long line of successful Richwoods football coaches over the past several decades.

But, he said, he is not an exact clone of those coaches.

“Every new coach brings different things to the program,” he said. “I’ll do some things differently, whether it’s the way I communicate with the players, or the formations that I use in certain situations.”

Brown said Davis and senior Nate Taylor are both in the mix at quarterback. Davis is the more athletic player, who can run or throw. Taylor is more of a drop-back quarterback who can pass or handoff to one of the many talented backs on the roster, Brown said.

“We feel comfortable with either one of those guys at quarterback,” Brown said. “There may be some games where they both get playing time.”

Nick Hines, a senior tailback and cornerback, said the offense has worked on a few “wrinkles” this summer, and it would not surprise him if the Knights pass the ball a few more times.

“We have a lot of guys who can do a lot of things on offense,” he said. “If the run isn’t working, we’ll have other options.”

Danny Ardis, the running back who seemed to get 30 carries, 100 yards and two touchdowns every game, graduated, which left a big hole in the offense. Ardis was also the team’s top linebacker and one of its leaders.

“We probably won’t be able to replace what Danny did for us,” Brown said. “You just have to deal with the talent you have each year, and look for other guys to step up.”

Nate Mahrt, a senior fullback, is one of the players who will get some carries.

“So far, everyone has been working hard and we’re having good practices,” he said. “We lost some key players, but we have a lot of good players coming back.”

Kicker/punter Matt Batton also graduated. Batton would routinely pin opponents behind the 20-yard line with his towering kicks, and he was near-automatic on field goals and extra points.

“We’re kicking by committee right now,” Brown said. “We will not have another Matt Batton by any means. He will be sorely missed.”

Six of the top seven defensive linemen also graduated.

“Defense is where we have the least experience. They have improved over the past week, but you never really know, until you get into a game situation, how they are going to respond to changing formations and all the other things that they will have to do during a game.”

Hines and senior T.J. Cole will anchor the defensive backfield.

“They both have experience and athleticism,” Brown said. “They can help us shut down a team that tries to pass the ball.”

Brown said he expects the top half of the Mid-State 6 Conference to be just as competitive as it has been the past few years ever since Woodruff emerged as a contending program.

“I know (Peoria) Notre Dame has been putting in a ton of time, so I expect them to be a better team. Woodruff always has talent and speed. Quincy Notre Dame (last year’s conference champions) will obviously be good, too,” he said. “You have to work hard and prepare for every game, though. There are no easy games.”

Hines said, even though the team is young, the expectations are high.

“We want to get to State,” he said. “That should be the goal for every team. People say we’re young, but they don’t know the talent we have, and how well we’ve been coming together. Coach Brown is doing a great job bringing all the younger kids together and making sure we are all are ready for our first game.”

Mahrt said he had fun playing for past coaches, but he is enjoying playing for Brown even more.

“I like the way he relates to the players,” he said. “He’s tough and he makes us work hard, but he’s a likeable guy, too. We feel like we can talk to him easily.”

Richwoods opens its season at home Aug. 28 against Pekin.

Pekin, which finished 1-8 last year, is under the direction of first-year coach Doug Nutter, who was the Dragons’ defensive coordinator for the past two seasons.