Mat McIntosh would prefer to not take credit for much.
He’d rather talk about the dedication of his players, coaches and even the booster club that showed up in huge numbers ready to support, and hoping to propel, a Class 2A football program that didn’t win a single game last season.
Still, pressed, he came up with one thing he might have done that was, indeed, a little different.
“We spent a lot of time in the offseason, trying to figure out how to practice better,” he said.
There would be group talks, thinking sessions, among the coaches. There would be coaching clinics to attend. In everything they did and everywhere they went, McIntosh and his Community Christian coaching staff would try to take something here and something there that would make the Royals' training sessions more productive.
McIntosh and his coaches were old dogs learning new tricks to teach old tricks.
Though 0-10 a year ago, the Royals are now 6-4 with a playoff game to play at Kingston Friday. For that, McIntosh earned The Norman Transcript’s high school football coach of the year.
Additionally, McIntosh knows the work he and his coaches put in to take better advantage of practice paid off. He knows it.
“One of the things we laughed about as coaches is, after our first win of the season, our fans and parents told us they really liked ‘those new’ plays,” he said. “We died laughing because we’d been running those plays for 10 years.”
Of course, McIntosh understood whey they appeared new.
“It looked different, because there was a sharpness to to them and that sharpness was cultivated on the coaching side of it,” he said, “from all of our coaches spending the offseason trying to become better practice coaches.”
Here’s another cool story, which came before that first win.
First game of the season, against Crossings Christian, the Royals fell 36-14. The Knights, though a Class A program, turned out to be pretty good, finishing the regular season 8-2 and 6-1 in District A-3.
“When we came back in the locker room,” McIntosh remembered, “one of our coaches, Mike Mitchell, we were walking off the field and he said, ‘I know we just lost, but this does not feel like last year.’”
No, it didn’t.
When the coaches got to the locker room, the Royals were not a beaten team that had been put through the ringer as they’d been so many times, undermanned and overwhelmed, before.
They were angry.
That was different, too.
Asked for a few players who have made a difference this season, McIntosh began with his center Tanner Campbell, who, while McIntosh and the coaches were participating in 7 on 7 outings with the receivers and backs, was organizing meetings of linemen “to get together, run bleachers, do agility drills.”
His quarterback, A.J. Ward, he said, has been steady and strong all season.
Jackson Montgomery, a running back who plays strong safety, too, who chose not to play his junior year, returned and helped plenty. Middle linebacker Case Harding is another senior who didn’t play last season, but returned, bought in and made a difference, McIntosh said.
And, though he hates to mention it, McIntosh’s son, Boyce, just a freshman, not only had what it takes to get on the field as a ninth grader, but to lead the Royals in tackles as well.
While those five have made differences, it really is everybody that’s pushed the Royals from no wins to six wins and to the playoffs. Because there’s a new culture at CCS and it’s this season’s Royals who have brought it to the fore.
Prior to this season the Royals, still the program that recently left the Christian school league to join the OSSAA, would show up and look across the field and think and feel something.
“They’re bigger than us, there’s more of them than us, they have better athletes,” McIntosh said.
However, that is now so last season.
Because players chose to return to the program, like Montgomery and Harding, there were now more Royals. Because of the offseason work put in, like never before at CCS, the opponent was no longer brimming with better athletes. Because the coaches also looked inward, asking themselves how they could do better, CCS was no longer in trouble.
McIntosh is fond of a few numbers: the Royals scored 135 points last season and 320 thus far this one; gave up 421 points last season, yet 268 thus far this one; created only five opponent turnovers last season, but 25 thus far this one.
Talk about a turnaround.
“The buy-in across the board has been unbelievable,” McIntosh said.
Also, the Royals are still playing.