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Blue Devils look to work ethic in defending state title

Beau Bearden
bbearden@gannett.com

There is no feeling quite like hoisting a state championship trophy after enduring a tough stretch of playoffs games. The Ringling High School football team experienced that euphoria in 2019 with its fifth title in school history and head coach Phil Koons couldn’t put the experience into words. 

“It was amazing — I can’t explain how glorious, heavenly, lucky and everything,” Koons said. “Whenever you win a state championship, it’s so miraculous. Everybody in the state except for one team is going to be brokenhearted.  

“And I’ve been fortunate enough not to be brokenhearted three times in my coaching career, which is 30-something years,” Koons continued. “We were fortunate enough and lucky. And our kids played great, we played hard. It happened.” 

However, it will be a different group this season as almost 10 Blue Devils are gone, but Koons emphasized that “the culture is the same.” Only time will tell if that is true, but there is plenty of evidence of a determined and bought-in squad. 

“They know the work ethic — we put in 40 workouts this summer,” Koons said.  “We had probably 80% attendance and so they’re chomping at the bit. They know what it takes. Now whether we get there or not is another story. We don’t have as much depth. We’ll have some big shoes to fill at some positions, but again, they expect to win.” 

The biggest shoes Ringling has to fill is at quarterback and right now there are two vying for the chance to be the starter.  

“Julius Koons, my son, has kind of taken the reins, but we’ve had a move-in named Karson Daniel from Kingston, who has a great arm,” Koons said. “He has to learn what to do and everything, but because of his arm I can see him taking over the reins. And that will allow me to move Julius to different places where I would rather him play anyway.” 

That will be of the utmost importance considering the Blue Devils’ overall numbers have taken a hit. Koons said Ringling will be fortunate to have 25 athletes on the sideline, but that’s often a challenge that comes with Class A football.  

“Our ADA, our average daily attendance, really is lower than probably 20 eight-man schools, but we play 11-man football,” Koons said. “I don’t know how to coach eight-man and they’d probably run me out of town if I ever wanted to change to eight-man. This is Ringling, this is the tradition. This is coach (Rick) Gandy Field. He created this dynasty and I’m fortunate to be here.” 

The Blue Devils also know how lucky they are to be part of a distinguished program and haven’t faltered under the pressure.  

“It’s all about culture,” Koon said. “It’s about work ethic, being good students, keeping your nose clean and staying off bad substances. That’s a problem everywhere.” 

But Ringling prides itself on keeping it all about football and will do so this season against a few new teams. The Blue Devils haven’t faced Wynnewood or 

Wayne, but Koons knows that Dibble, Elmore City-Pernell and Healdton are going to be strong. 

But what matters now is the first one and Ringling will get an extra week to prepare for its title defense since it doesn’t open the year until 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 11 at Dickson. 

“It’s hard to say who’s going to be strong week to week,” Koons said. “I’m like Lou Holtz — ‘Everybody we play is going to be the best team that we face.’