New challenges can be invigorating.
Just ask Larry Cox.
The former Lakota West football coach is just days away from his first regular-season game as the top guy at Talawanda, and he was enjoying the experience.
“I like where we’ve progressed to this point,” he said this week. “The kids have done a good job. They’re working really hard. The coaches are doing a good job. It’s been all positive, so far.
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“It’s been an enjoyable transition for me. That’s about all I can say. I’m having fun. I’m enjoying what I’m doing. The kids enjoy being around each other. They’ve been enjoyable to coach.”
Cox, who went 114-103 in 21 years at Lakota West after going 13-7 in two seasons as Bellbrook’s coach, inherited a Braves team that finished 2-8 overall and 0-6 in the Southwest Ohio Conference last season. The Braves won a combined five games in the last four seasons and are 17-54 in the last seven.
Talawanda has three SWOC all-conference picks returning from last season’s team – 5-foot-11, 205-pound senior fullback Kyle Campbell, who’s being converted from tight end, 6-3, 230-pound senior tight end Dalton Norris and 5-10, 170-pound senior wide receiver-defensive back Luke Richardson. Campbell and Norris were second-team picks. Richardson earned honorable mention.
Going into a scrimmage against Roger Bacon on Friday, Cox and his coaches still were trying to determine who would start at quarterback in the Aug. 30 opener against visiting Preble Shawnee. Adam Crank, a 6-1, 180-pound senior, started as a sophomore, but a shoulder injury cost him most of his junior season. Tyler Teeters, now a 5-11, 180-pound junior, took over and threw for 1,165 yards and six touchdowns. Teeters finished second in the SWOC in passing yardage.
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“At this point, it’s still a competition,” Cox said a few days before the Roger Bacon scrimmage. “Adam and Tyler both have done a good job. Kevin Thomas, who’s a senior who came back to the team, has done a good job as well. Tyler is nursing a little bit of an ankle injury that’s limiting him a little. He’s also a starting inside linebacker, so we’re taking precautions.”
Cox has tried to avoid one of the mistakes made by many coaches taking over programs – throwing too much at the Braves too fast.
“We’re not very complicated,” said Cox, who sat out last season before deciding to get back into coaching. “We’re simplifying things for the kids on both sides of the ball. When kids are playing both sides of the ball, you don’t want to have too many complicated schemes. You want schemes that are easy to digest. You don’t want them thinking too much. If they’re thinking, they’re slow. We want them to play with as much speed as they can, so we have to keep our schemes down to a minimum. We have to focus more on technique.
“It’s going well, but it’s not perfect. We’re not where we want to be. When you’re around kids as much as I’ve been around these kids, you get a good feel of who can do what.”
Situations such as having a quarterback also play linebacker is one of the new challenges Cox is facing while adjusting from a Division I program to a Division II team.
“It is challenging,” he said. “It’s been a lot of fun. The only thing I’m getting used to is the numbers, more than anything. The freshman class has really grown. We have 27 out, which bodes well for the future. The varsity numbers are sitting at 44. You’d want those to be a little higher. It’s a learning curve. You find yourself doing things differently. We’re establishing a program. We want to establish the mode of having expectations and learning my expectations. Some kids came out late. That’s OK.
“It’s been enjoyable. This is a fantastic school. It’s a fantastic academic place. One of the beautiful things is we have a great administrative team. Everything’s sort of laid out as far as where we want to be as a program. We’re maybe still learning some of the pitfalls on how to adjust with it.”
Other than Teeters, the Braves had successfully avoided significant injury problems during fall camp, and Cox hoped to keep them healthy with the approach of the regular season, After Preble Shawnee, Talawanda is scheduled to play Badin at home on Sept. 6, at Eaton on Sept. 13 and New Richmond at home on Sept. 20 before opening the SWOC schedule at Little Miami on Sept. 27.
“Knock on wood, we’re healthy,” Cox said. “If you want to win the Kentucky Derby, you don’t want plowhorses. You want your thoroughbreds.”