Prep football: Unbeaten Talawanda looking forward in well-known coach’s second season

Talawanda football coach Larry Cox checks the time to the next water break for his team during Tuesday’s practice. While several coaches wore masks during the practice, Cox sported a visor which he said his players told him they prefer he use. CONTRIBUTED/BOB RATTERMAN
Talawanda football coach Larry Cox checks the time to the next water break for his team during Tuesday’s practice. While several coaches wore masks during the practice, Cox sported a visor which he said his players told him they prefer he use. CONTRIBUTED/BOB RATTERMAN

Talawanda, off to 2-0 start, faces Butler County rival Ross on Friday night

Talawanda High School football coach Larry Cox has been preaching a message of using each day to improve and so far, the Brave have been showing progress.

However, that means looking back only enough to see what needs corrected, and this week in particular might be difficult not to recall the memory of the more distant past.

The Brave (2-0, 1-0 Southwest Ohio Conference) will get another chance to take steps forward Friday when they host rival Ross (1-1, 1-0 SWOC) at 7 p.m. in a rematch of their 34-21 regular-season finale loss that erased hope for a Division II playoff berth. Talawanda needed a win and some help from other results. The Rams were likely to advance in Division III regardless but left no doubt with the win.

“You don’t let it (be a factor),” Cox said. “If you’re thinking about last year, you’re looking behind. You don’t want to do that. Everything with the pandemic has given these kids an appreciation for each day. We get a chance to practice and a chance to play, and they appreciate it. That’s been my message. The other part of that is I’m not a big goal guy. I preach about improvement and not just from a football perspective. It’s about everything. If we can build the person, football part will improve. … The kids have bought into that. We won’t set a goal except what can we do better than the last game?”

Talawanda saw great improvement under Cox his first season last year. The Brave went from a two-win record in 2018 to finishing 7-3 and just missing a playoff appearance, a quick turnaround for a program that produced a record of 5-35 over the four years prior to Cox’s arrival.

Cox had been Lakota West’s head coach for 21 seasons before taking the 2018 season off, but saw potential in the Brave shortly after his introduction to his new team. Talawanda won its first four games under Cox, and the confidence keeps building.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” Cox said. “It’s a completely different culture than where I was prior to this. It’s a different culture, different atmosphere. Having lived in Butler County my whole life, once you get up here (in Oxford), you realize how vastly different it is. The kids up here really wanted to win, they were motivated. They work hard, and the administration and community is very supportive of how we are building and where we want to go.”

The Brave aren’t satisfied with last year’s success, Cox said, and he won’t let them get too excited about a 2-0 start now.

Talawanda opened with a 26-6 win over Dayton Carroll but still had plenty of mistakes that might have been masked by the victory. The Brave then beat Southwest Ohio Conference foe Harrison for the first time since 1995, collecting a 17-7 decision last Friday.

“As excited as we were, it’s great and all, but we still didn’t play like we’re capable,” Cox said. “We didn’t go in thinking, ‘Let’s beat Harrison.’ We wanted to take the mistakes we made against Dayton Carroll and improve on those. We did some of that, but there’s still room to improve. We’re not where we want to be.”

Cox said he’s looking for better blocking up front and eliminating mistakes like the five holds in one game, and defensively, the Brave still don’t seem to all be on the same page, even though opponents have been held to 13 points combined over two games. Talawanda’s strengths on defense lie on the perimeter and in the secondary but the inside linebackers continue to be a work in progress.

Talawanda is led offensively by quarterback Braden Wright, a baseball and basketball player who returned to football after years away from the sport, as well as running backs Deondre Bothast-Revalee (286 yards rushing) and Austin Heart (120 yards rushing). Bothast-Revalee fell just short of 1,000 yards last year as a sophomore. Jonathan Richter, another newcomer from basketball, also is blossoming with two catches for 74 yards.

“The kids got a taste of wining last year, but now it’s: What will it take to be elite?” Cox said. “Are we going to live off last year’s success?”

Ross is a team with something to prove, too. The Rams opened with a lopsided loss to Badin and then bounced back with a 41-36 win at Northwest last week.

Cox said he’s still wary of quarterback C.J. Boze, who rushed for 1,227 yards last year, and senior fullback Jackson Gifford seems like a hard runner who will be difficult to bring down, especially working behind a physical offensive line.

“Coach (Kenyon) Commins does a great job taking advantage of his team’s strengths,” Cox said. "We are going to have to tackle well, read keys well, and on offense we’ve got to make sure we improved our blocking technique and are sound on assignments, and we can’t give up the ball.

“The biggest thing is our kids are happy every week to come out and play, then add the fact it’s a SWOC game and your neighbor, that’s what these kids look forward to. That’s what makes these games fun.”

FRIDAY’S GAMES

Fairfield at Hamilton

Ross at Talawanda

Dixie at Madison

Eaton at Monroe

La Salle at Lakota East

Fenwick at Alter

Kings at Middletown

Lakota West at Sycamore

New Miami at MVCA

Northridge at Carlisle

Northwest at Edgewood

Preble Shawnee at Franklin

SATURDAY’S GAMES Chaminade Julienne vs. Badin at Edgewood