|8/4||Div. I||All-American Conference Gold Tier|
The zeal of Warren Harding football might best be summed up in a motto using the school’s initials, WGH: Win or Go Home.
Such a motto might be directed to the coach of the program with a reputation and hunger for success.
Last year’s 8-3 record that ended with a first-round playoff loss helped lead to a staff opening at the top: one which Rick Rios filled in the spring.
The Toledo native said he wanted the challenge of a new place, a new opportunity and a place where football is really important.
“It’s always been a goal of mine to be somewhere where the whole town shuts down on Friday nights to come out to watch the ballgame and we, obviously, have that here,” Rios said recently. “We’ve got the support, we’ve got the resources here, so we expect big things.”
Still, the former Toledo Rogers head coach wasn’t leaving for a place that didn’t have talent at his disposal.
“Don’t let anybody fool you,” Rios said.
“You win with players,” he said, acknowledging that he did some homework to make sure he wasn’t walking into a situation where the cupboard was bare.
“It’s definitely not [bare]. I wouldn’t say it’s full; I’d say it’s half-full. But we have a chance to be pretty good.”
He mentioned two players capable of putting the Raiders on a playoff path again.
“We already knew about Jalyn Powell, who played on both sides of the ball last year and he’s going to do the same thing again this year and will probably be very involved in our return game,” Rios said. “A player like Xavier Harris up front has been a strong leader for us. We’ll have some guys who can make some plays.”
Rios didn’t bring any Rogers staff with him. In fact, his paid assistants allotment was reduced to four last year, with five volunteers on top of that.
“There were 10 of us for the whole program,” Rios said of Rogers last season. “Then they cut to three this year.”
Rios got a phone call from one of his former staff members recently.
“He [the assistant] said that I left at the right time because ‘we’re coaching out here by ourselves.’ Here [at Harding], we’ve got 12-14 guys running around, so it’s a staff where guys coaching on only one side of the ball makes a big difference.”
Rios was asked about using the Harding job as a springboard.
“I’m not looking too far ahead. What I want to do is make sure that we get this thing going the right way and do some big things. I really want to be a part of Warren tradition. They’ve got a great history here and I’m just excited to be a part of that.”
When Rios arrived at Harding on April 1, he hit the ground running, so implementing a plan was tantamount.
“We were already behind the 8-ball as far as time. The big thing was making sure we had a staff that was all on the same page; that they had great character and that they were here for the kids first and football second. Obviously, football’s big here, but we’ve got issues here with our kids where they’ve got a home life that maybe isn’t as good as maybe you would hope. Some of them come from various backgrounds where they need a lot of time and attention and mentoring. That’s a big part of what we do. We want that to be solid so we can carry it over onto the football field. I think now we’re all on the same page and have things going in the right direction.”
In the past, Rios said he’s been a 65-70 percent run guy, but out of the spread. Because of Harding’s talent this year, Rios said the Raiders might throw a little more than they’re accustomed to.
“We’ve got some good wide receivers and a couple good quarterbacks who throw the ball well.”
Harding will use a 4-3 multiple defense, tweaking it based on what the personnel dictates.
“I’d like a little easier Week 1 than Fitch because they’re going to be awfully good,” Rios said. “Then Howland for Week 3, we know, is big around here. Then Week 8 we go to Massillon on a Thursday night and you know you’re walking into a little bit of a trap there, but those are the kinds of games you live for.”
The coach said he’s good friends with a couple of coaches in the Lake Erie league, of which Harding is a new member.
“One [coach] I played college ball [at John Carroll] with and a couple I worked with in the summer at Ohio State and Penn State camps. I’m excited to see what we do against them.”
What does coach Rios bring to program?
“Some excitement, discipline and the big thing is I think these kids understand that our hearts are for them. When we walked in here we made sure that we started mentoring and sowing seeds right away so they knew we wanted what was best for them. We tried to get them to understand that we’re looking out for them and their futures. That way, we get them to do the things that we’re asking them to do.”