To Chase Sparks, it seems like hardly anything has changed.
Last week, for the first time in 23 years, football practice opened at Putnam City North without Bob Wilson in charge, following the longtime coach’s retirement in April.
But the appointment of Rod Richardson to fill his former boss’ shoes has made for an incredibly smooth transition.
Richardson was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach last season, working closely with Sparks in his first season as the starting QB.
Last spring, many Panther football players were playing baseball under Richardson — the PC North baseball coach for the last decade — when the team made an unexpected run to the state tournament.
“We worked a lot together last year, and it just transitioned right into my senior year,” Sparks said. “It’s gonna be no problem. We’ll just keep working the same offense we ran last year and keep moving forward.
“It’s always tough to lose a coach with as much experience as Coach Wilson, but change never hurts anybody. It takes a little bit to get used to, but I think we’re going to come through it and be better.”
Richardson, who played for the Midwest City Bombers during the mid-1990s, had brought in an intriguing new assistant coach last week, but lost him on Sunday. Former Panther running back Deji Karim had been helping out, but was signed by the Indianapolis Colts, where he has a chance to make team as a backup running back and kick returner.
“It was great having him here,” senior Logan Price said. “You get an NFL player working with high school kids and it makes a world of difference. With me, he really helped me with my footwork. He brought life to the practice, so hopefully we can keep bringing it back.”
Coming off a 4-6 season, the Panthers are looking to turn the corner and get back to being a perennial playoff team, like they were during most of Wilson’s tenure. Of course, doing so as one of the smaller schools in the new Class 6A Division I won’t be easy.
“I like the way we’re practicing,” Sparks said. “We’re an underdog going in, but we were an underdog last year, so we’re gonna go beat some people, turn some heads and win some games.”