By J. Daniel Rollins
Register-Herald Sports Writer
COAL CITY —
After what seemed like an incredibly long offseason, it’s finally football season in Coal City. But the offseason was not long for new head coach Chris Vicars.
Vicars, who spent last year as a defensive coach at Summers County, helping lead the Bobcats to their first playoff appearance since 1995, was hired on July 22 for the Independence coaching job, open after then-head coach Chuck Cooper was fired. He’s had only two weeks to prepare himself and his coaching staff for the 2013 season.
“Right now I’m just trying to learn the players’ names,” Vicars said with a laugh Monday afternoon. “I hope to get them down by the end of the week.”
Vicars is in his 18th year of coaching, but his first as a head coach. He spent 16 years at Radford (Va.) High School as a defensive coordinator, helping lead the Bobcats to 20 playoff games, before moving to West Virginia after marrying his wife, Kari, and relocating to Summers County.
“It’s awesome. I was nervous, but ya know, it’s a good thing,” Vicars said on his first day as a head coach. “Because ya know, you want to make sure that you kind of lead by example and do the right things. There’s a lot of challenges to make sure things don’t get messed up.”
The Patriots opened up training camp on Monday with a roster of 48 players, many of whom are returning starters from last year’s 5-5 team. It’s enough to give their new coach a bit of optimism.
“We’ve got some really athletic kids that are knowledgeable of the game,” Vicars said. “They kind of pick up on what I’m telling them kind of quick. That’s a credit to the way they’ve been coached in the past and how they’ve been raised in a community where football is important.”
One player returning will be quarterback Brian Sexton, who threw for almost 1,000 yards last season in coach Scotty Cuthbert’s run-heavy offense.
The Patriots didn’t complete a pass until week three last season.
Vicars will look to Sexton to provide leadershipon the offensive side of the ball.
“Senior quarterbacks are important if they’re willing to take the lead and do the right thing,” Vicars said. “Some of what we’re relying on on offense is very dependent on the quarterback, and ya know, Brian today had a good attitude. He’s excited.
“He made a couple of blips there today when we were trying to go over one of our new plays that relies a little on the option. He was getting frustrated and I think that’s a good thing. He knows he can do it. He has confidence to do it. He’s just really looking forward to being familiar with the offense. We’ll patch some things up and I think he’ll be just fine.”
Sexton seems to think so as well.
“I think we’ll adjust to (the offense) just fine,” Sexton said. “It’s a good thing to have it and to change it up. Mix it up a little more. We didn’t have a whole lot of that last year.”
Football is offering Sexton a shot at redemption.
The senior signal-caller is also one of the sharpest pitchers in the Independence baseball stable, but gave up the game-winning walk-off homer to Herbert Hoover during the state baseball tournament in May. He’s ready to put that memory behind him and work toward getting another Independence team to the playoffs.
“It’s pretty important to me. It’s been a while since I’ve been on the football field,” said Sexton, who just wrapped up a summer league baseball season with the West Virginia Red Hats. “I’m going to have to get used to throwing a football again instead of throwing a baseball. It’s a lot different motion.”
Through it all, Sexton is excited for his final season on “The Battleground” at George D. Covey Field.
“I think we’re going to be good,” he said. “We ended up getting a good coach.”
The Patriots will open the season Friday, Aug. 30, at Midland Trail in the annual “Patriot Bowl.”
— E-mail: jrollins@
register-herald.com and follow on Twitter at @JDanielRollins.