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Published: Friday, 9/21/2007

Thirsty for a title: Arcadia has never won a league crown but 4-0 Redskins hoping to end drought

BY STEVE JUNGA
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Arcadia coach Joe Kirkendall and seniors, from left, Seth Kirian, Mason True and Austin Riggs are off to a great start this year. Arcadia coach Joe Kirkendall and seniors, from left, Seth Kirian, Mason True and Austin Riggs are off to a great start this year.
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ARCADIA - A winning record has escaped the Arcadia football team for 15 years.

A Blanchard Valley Conference championship has eluded the Redskins since that circuit was formed in 1965. Further, according to school officials, since the school first fielded a football squad in 1923 there have been no league titles.

Now that is a drought.

For perspective: In 1923 the New York Yankees won the first of their 26 World Series titles, U.S. president Warren Harding died in office and was succeeded by Calvin Coolidge, and George Gershwin wrote Rhapsody in Blue.

But to second-year head coach Kirkendall, his young staff of assistants, and the current Arcadia players, this bleak past matters little. Players like senior starters Mason True, Austin Riggs, Seth Kirian and C.J Holman are just happy they are bucking the trend.

For the first time since 1956, when the Redskins finished 7-1-1, Arcadia has started a season with four straight wins. That was achieved last Friday with a 25-23 upset victory at Hardin Northern.

"It's actually fun to watch what's happening now,'' Kirian said. "We were working hard, but you don't really know you're getting that much better until it happens on the field. Now, we're 4-0 and we feel like we can play with anybody."

"This is a group of kids who, because they haven't had much success, just want it so much," Kirkendall said. "They are incredibly coachable and they do whatever you ask of them. We have a lot of good-character kids.

"We only have 30 on the roster and only one player on defense over 200 pounds. But the defense has played lights out. They play hard and they're very aggressive."

The Redskins will try to make it 5-0 at home tonight against Pandora-Gilboa (0-4). Arcadia is a clear favorite, a role its players are still adjusting to.

"We put in the weight program last year and the kids stuck with it over the winter and into the spring and summer," Kirkendall said. "We had very good attendance. They buy into what we're doing. They trust the coaches and they trust each other, and they go out and play hard.

"It'll be interesting now to see how they handle the pressure of playing with some expectations, because we've won some games and there will be expectations. That's our next challenge."

In between posting its last winning overall record (6-4) in 1992 and the 4-0 start this year, Arcadia had gone 26-114 overall and 20-106 in BVC play. Take out a 6-0 nonleague mark against Danbury and an 11-3 record against tiny conference foe Vanlue during that 14-season span, and the Redskins were 9-111 overall (9-103 BVC). Only once between 1993-2006 did they finish above eighth place in the 10-team BVC, placing fifth in 1997.

"I wanted it to happen," Riggs said, "but I honestly didn't think that it could.

"We have a lot more confidence going into every game, and that carries over into practice. When we're confident, we're all over the field. If you make a mistake, you know someone's there to pick you up."

"Before this new staff came in I didn't think it could get any better than it was," Kirian said, "and that you couldn't turn it around. But, with what we've done in just two years, this is pretty amazing that it could turn around that fast."

Kirkendall, 30, brought a new perspective with him from his own highly successful alma mater, Patrick Henry.

A 1995 graduate of PH, Kirkendall played for Patriots coach Bill Inselmann, then served as an assistant coach from 2002-05. He exited after the Pats' perfect 15-0 Division V state championship season.

In stark contrast to Arcadia, Patrick Henry was 48-5 overall, 31-1 in the Northwest Ohio Athletic League, and 10-3 in four playoff appearances during the time Kirkendall was an assistant.

After missing out on head coaching posts at both Evergreen and Ada Kirkendall, who teaches at Elmwood, finally landed the job at Arcadia.

"This was an opportunity where there was nowhere to go but up," Kirkendall said. "Being a younger staff helps because the kids identify with us. Here, everybody was starting from scratch, even the coaches."

Kirkendall's staff is composed of former PH players who are just a few years removed from their own prep playing days.

The three paid assistants are Brian Yarnell, a member of the 2005 championship team, Jon Spurgeon, who played on a 13-1 PH team as a senior in 2004, and Drew Bishop, who is a 2003 grad, a former Pats player and Inselmann's nephew. Volunteer assistants are Kirkendall's brother, Jeff (PH, 2000), and his cousin, Mike Bouyer (PH, 2002).

"We tried to take what PH has been doing and use those things here." Joe Kirkendall said. "It's just a way of going about things, really, a mindset of how to prepare. These kids knew we came from Patrick Henry, so credibility was not an issue. That makes it a lot easier. I made it a point, the first time I met with these kids last year, to wear my state championship ring."

The entire staff is still young and agile enough to physically jump into practice drills to give instruction.

"They relate to us pretty well because they're younger," Riggs said. "If they want to demonstrate something they can just show us on the field. A big thing is, they don't settle for complacent attitudes."

A huge step was taken last year when Kirkendall installed the weightlifting, plyometrics and agility programs utilized at Patrick Henry in an attempt to help make the smallish Redskins bigger, faster and stronger.

Arcadia went 2-8 last season, but optimism sprung from "competitive" BVC losses to Leipsic, 7-0, Arlington, 27-20, and McComb, 42-34.

"I thought we actually could have had some good teams in the past," True said. "We had some good players. But we went into those games knowing it was going to be tough to win.

"Last year we were in a lot more games. We knew, with one more year in the system, we could get that much better and start winning games instead of just coming close."

The Redskins have held their four foes to 44 points (11 per game). The "bigger" offense (two starters above 200 pounds) has produced 94 points (23.5 per game) while employing the West Coast offensive scheme borrowed from Patrick Henry.

The turnaround could not have come at a better time for True, Riggs, Kirian and Holman, who all see two-way action for the Redskins. To make sure winning takes hold, underclassmen like junior quarterback Landon Fleegle (55-of-102 passing, 565 yards, 5 TDs) and junior running back Jake Aurand (50 carries, 220 yards) hope to carry on the momentum.

The fast start has the Arcadia community buzzing with excitement on Friday nights.

"We have probably twice as many people at our games now, even on the road, and that helps a lot," True said. "People are talking about it in school, in the community and even when we went to the Findlay [high school] game on Saturday."

"Last year, a lot of fans would stay for a half or three quarters of the game and go home," Kirkendall said. "Things have gotten a lot more interesting this year. We've had real good support and, considering it was a road game last week at Hardin Northern, we had a huge following."

Regardless of the start, breaking the conference title drought will still be a long shot for the inspired Redskins.

Defending BVC champion Liberty-Benton (4-0) hosts the Redskins next Friday, and McComb (4-0) plays at Arcadia on Oct. 19. L-B is ranked fourth in Division V and McComb is ranked third in D-VI. Those two teams stage a potential BVC title showdown tonight at Liberty-Benton.

Contact Steve Junga at:

sjunga@theblade.com

or 419-724-6461.



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