To understand just how far the Orrick High School football team has come, look no further than Elliott Rice.
You see, in this town of around 800 people, things haven’t always been this joyous when the topic turns to football.
At the start of the 2000 season, Orrick was mired in a 25-game losing streak and had won just one game in three seasons. And most of those losses weren’t even close.
Now, though, things have changed — dramatically.
The Bearcats, 14-0, play Thayer, 12-1, at 1 p.m. todayin the Missouri Class 1 state championship at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis. The Bearcats are going for their second straight title and own the state’s longest active winning streak at 28 games. And most of those wins weren’t even close.
For Rice, especially, the turnaround is dramatic.
“I was thinking it was going to take a miracle and some move-in kids from the city, kids who didn’t want to play for Blue Springs South or Raymore-Peculiar,” Rice said. “I thought it was going to take unbelievable athletes to get to this point.”
Turns out it just took some hard work, something folks in Orrick know all about. It all started with the arrival of Orrick’s current head coach, Pat Richard.
He showed up for his first meeting with the Orrick players in a suit, a far cry from his usual wind suit pants, T-shirt and yellow visor. But he was there to work, and there was plenty of work to be done.
Richard likes to tell the story of how one of his players described the fan base before he arrived in 2000.
“One of my old running backs used to say there were family members ... and family members here, that was it,” Richard said.
And frankly who could blame the fan base? It wasn’t uncommon for Orrick to be down by 50 points at halftime.
Rice, who spent five years in the Marines after high school, jokes that it was so bad he thinks he may have endured a type of posttraumatic stress disorder from the football beatdowns he took from opponent Santa Fe in high school.
“I would have dreams that they were putting 85 points up on us,” Rice said.
As bad as things were, though, Richard remembered seeing something in that young group that laid the groundwork for what would slowly turn into one of the strongest programs in the state.
The 25 players that came out for that first team had faith, perhaps not in themselves, but at least in Richard and his assistant coach Bryan O’Dell, a farmer and former Orrick football player himself.
“It’s pretty amazing,” Richard said. “We came in with the belief that we could change it and we could build something. The great thing about the first year is that we had 25 guys, and we had 25 guys who truly believed that we were going to accomplish something pretty special.”
Orrick won its first game with Richard as head coach and notched three wins the first season.
Two years later they achieved a coveted win over Santa Fe, Orrick’s first win over the Class 1 powerhouse in 21 years. They made the playoffs the next two seasons and haven’t looked back.
The Bearcats won eight games in 2004, eight in 2005 and 11 in 2006, losing to the eventual state champions. Since then it has been nothing but victories.
Seating is at a premium at Orrick home games, and it isn’t uncommon for Orrick to have more fans than home teams do when the Bearcats go on the road.
“Its incredible, we have come so far,” said Leanne Jones, whose son Clayton plays for Orrick. “It’s such a family atmosphere. It’s so good to go to other schools and we’ll have a bigger crowd than the home team, and that’s neat.”
Richard and the Bearcats see just how much the team supports them when they look over their shoulders at practice. Behind them is a new grandstand that holds more than double the amount of fans as the old bleachers.
Those were partially paid for by the Orrick Quarterback Club, which formed last year and already has 82 members, or 10 percent of the town’s population.
Jones and Richard both said the Orrick community realizes just how special a run this football team is on.
“I think coming from where we were at to where we are now makes it even more special,” Richard said. “What a ride. It’s all due to the community and the hard work of these kids. If we were anywhere else, I don’t know if we would have been able to do it.”
MISSOURI CLASS 1 STATE CHAMPIONSHIP •WHO: Orrick, 14-0, vs. Thayer, 12-1
•WHEN/WHERE: 1 p.m. today at Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis
•TV/RADIO: FSKC; KCWJ (1030 AM)
submitted by COLE YOUNG