Panther pride returning to Oak Grove

Jeff Stead/PrepsKC

By Nick McCabe PrepsKC staff writer
Posted: October 5, 2012 - 7:09 AM

Coaching changes are a fact of football. Generally a new coach can expect to spend multiple seasons getting his program built for success. Oak Grove Coach Pat Richard has his new team ahead of schedule, off to a convincing 6-0 start in his second season at the helm.
“We’ve come a long way,” Richard said. “We had a great offseason. We had nine months of kids working as hard as any I’ve ever had.
“This is the first time that our seniors have played in the same offense for two consecutive seasons. They’ve settled into our system, and that’s allowed us to add a lot and do more things offensively than we did last year.”
Oak Grove also started well in Richard’s first season, winning its first six games before a three-game losing streak knocked them out of contention for a playoff spot and sent them to a 7-3 finish.
“Last year was such a learning year for them and me,” Richard said. “I think this is a great group of kids that understands how good they can be, I hope. Hopefully we can find that potential.”
There was no shame in the beginning of last year’s losing skid, a 24-14 defeat at the hands of perennial power Harrisonville. But a district-opening loss to Van Horn eventually cost Oak Grove a playoff spot. Even though the Falcons were a solid 7-4 squad last year, it was a tough defeat to take for the 2011 Panthers but a teaching tool for the 2012 team.
“There were some games last year we can point to that…,” Richard hesitated before finding the right phrase, “inspire the kids, would be a way to say it. The Van Horn game was chief among them. We can point back and say if you let down or look past anyone, they can come back and beat you. We can’t allow that to happen this year. And I don’t think it will.”
Richard brought a personal history of success to Oak Grove. His first head coaching job was at Orrick, taking over a team that was on a 25-game losing streak. In 11 seasons he built the Bearcats into a Class 1 power, culminating with back-to-back undefeated state titles in 2007 and 2008. He was a two-time Coach of the Year and had 50 players named All-State.
Family roots in Oak Grove, including the family dairy farm where he spent summers as a youth and numerous relatives that still live in the area, was the primary factor in the decision to make his first move since becoming a head coach, according to Richard.
“It’s home,” he said. “I’m back where I grew up a little bit every summer. I had lots of great experiences here.
“It’s a wonderful community that has a wonderful history of supporting their team. It’s so awesome to be part of that.”
Oak Grove is led this year by a returning starter at quarterback, senior Jon Latshaw. Richard teams have always used run-first offenses, but Latshaw has already had two career-high passing games this year, including 9 of 10 for 129 yards and three touchdowns in week No. 4’s 48-7 win over St. Pius X.
“When people load the box on us, he can make them pay,” Richard said. “He’s such a great leader for us. In the offense we run, we’ve got to have a guy like a point guard in basketball that distributes and gets the ball to other kids and let them make plays. But he’s made some plays himself in the last four weeks.”
Another player to watch is sophomore running back Aaron Graham. A monster 364-yard performance against Pius followed by 306 against Odessa and just over 100 last week in a win over Pleasant Hill put him at 1,178 for the year after gaining 951 as a freshman.
“I think he’d be the first to tell you that he’s having a better year because we’re better up front,” Richard said. “But he’s a pretty special running back. He’s got very good vision, made some cuts Friday that I don’t think I’ve seen since coaching at Coffeyville Junior College. He’s a player, that’s all I can say.”
The 2012 Panthers rolled through an unbeaten non-conference schedule and then followed that with a big win over Odessa and a tight win against Pleasant Hill. This week Oak Grove faces its toughest test when it travels to perennial power Harrisonville. If the Panthers can get a win there big things could be on the horizon for Oak Grove.