The Villages High School football team ended its season with a nearly perfect record on Nov. 23 when they bowed to Dunnellon in their first loss this year. It was the second game of the post-season in the Region 2-Class 1A playoffs and a score of 43-41.
“Definitely a heartbreaker,” Coach Richard Pettus said via text. But it was also a terrific season for so many other reasons:
- For the first time in the school’s history, the team played a perfect regular season (10-0).
- For the first time ever, the team played in the post-season and winning their first match against P.J.Yonge High School, bringing their season’s tally to 11-0.
- For the first time ever, they gained experience under the pressure of the playoffs.
“Our perfect 10-0 regular game football season really started when last year’s team beat the team that eventually went to the Playoffs. But because of a less than a 1 percent technical point, we watched the other team go while we stayed home. It was that close,” said Coach Richard Pettus, 51, of the Villages High School (VHS) athletic department in an interview with Style Magazine.
“So, the team this year said, ‘That is not going to happen again. And it hasn’t! These guys played a fantastic season,” he said, “’We do what we do’. That’s our motto.”
So, in the last game of the season, when the score was 7-7 at half time, what did you say in the locker room to the team members?
“Actually,” he responded, “I didn’t say much. They told me ‘Coach, we got this!’ And they did.”
The VHS football team finished the season with a perfect record, 10-0 for the first time in the 17-year history of the High School.
“We’re in the business of kids,” Coach Pettus continued. “The smallest impact can affect their lives. If anyone has a rough day on the team, they never go home thinking the coach or anyone is angry with them. We make sure to tell them, ‘Thank you, and we love you.’ They go home knowing things are all right.”
Coach Richard Pettus was graduated from Memphis State University in the late 1980s. When he was not chosen to play in the NFL, he set a goal to get a degree, then become a coach and eventually to build an athletic program. He has accomplished all three.
After attaining a master’s degree in physical education in 1993, he began coaching at various local schools.
“Then in (2000?) the Morse family approached me about starting an athletic department at the then new high school. We began then and it now encompasses 25 sports and includes 36 teams that I oversee as Athletic Director,” he says. “I am so grateful for the total support of the families, the community, and the Morse family. Their support helps make sure we succeed.”
Married to his wife, Judy, for 25 years, their son, Gunnar, is in college after playing last season as VHS quarterback when the current quarterback, Mac Harris, was injured and out for the rest of that year. Gunnar is named after the son of NFL Football great Boomer Eisiason.
“Another thing we do is to give every player a ‘Stop & Think’ card. We let them know their actions off school property still affects the team. The card is for their pockets and asks questions any team member needs to think about before they do something questionable. We ask them to remember to think before they act or call a coach if they need help or to discuss anything.”
The card asks the questions:
- Is this a risk I can afford to take?
- How will this affect my future?
- How will this affect my family?
- How will this affect my teammates and coaches?
On the back of the plastic card are phone numbers of all the coaches. The athletes are encouraged to call any one of them if the student/athlete has doubts about any situation regarding questions on the front of the card.
“That’s how we build our teams,” Coach Pettus says, “We care about each and everyone of them at all times.”
Awards are given out regularly whether the team has won or lost. Called ‘Helmet Awards” they recognized various players for note-worthy actions.
“We are successful because we teach the meaning of the word: TEAM. It’s imprinted on the front of their helmets and their uniforms and stands for “Together Everyone Achieves More,” Coach Pettus says. “I am so proud of these kids.”
VHS Quarterback Mac Harris, acknowledging the playoff loss, stated the obvious in only the way a championship mind thinks, looking forward to next season:
“(The) hard work starts now,” he says.