A day at camp with… the RTR Knights

TYLER – Football coaches love their philosophies, the mantras they wish to espouse on their team. Eventually those philosophies become slogans synonymous with the team itself. Notre Dame has “Play like a champion today.” For almost 50 years, the Oakland Raiders have believed in “Just win, baby.”

Under first-year head coach Jared Buysse, the Russell-Tyler-Ruthton Knights are trying a new philosophy of their own: dedication, discipline and desire.

“Dedication, discipline and desire. Those are the three things that we need to accomplish this year,” Buysse said. “We need to be dedicated, disciplined and desire to have a successful year this year.”

Along with a renewed focus on the fundamentals of football, the Knights have changed the broader structure of how they practice in pursuit of their new identity. Gone are drills stretching over long percentages of practice, replaced by highly regimented five-minute periods where each position is able to focus on a particular skill.

“We are very structured this year. We’ve got a lot of periods, short five-minute periods so that we can keep things organized,” Buysse said. “Each coach is in charge of a group and then I can kind of float around, so it’s really nice.”

From the coach to the ball boy, just about everyone on the RTR sidelines on Friday’s this fall will be young, especially since the Knights have just four seniors on their roster.

But the youth in camp is something that Buysse sees as a potential benefit. While it certainly helps to have veterans on a football team, the younger players are more malleable to Buysse’s new styles, new systems and brand new offensive playbook. Though the first-time head coach did admit that he will rely on his seniors, especially running backs Brett Vercruysse and Ty Thooft.

“It’s kind of nice. Most of our guys, especially our seniors, played last year so it’s kind of nice to have that leadership, showing the kids the right way to do things,” Buysse said. “With the younger guys coming in and coming up, they’ve got a brand new system to work under.”

Despite returning their two primary ball carriers from last season, the Knights do have to replace the young man who took all of its snaps in 2012. Shay Wabeke graduated after throwing for 433 yards and rushing for 637 yards and seven scores. Wabeke was the team’s only all-area performer a year ago and led the area in punting, amassing 1,266 net yards (also averaging 34.2 yards per punt).

After the first week of practice, the Knights were still engaged in a quarterback battle to see who would be under center for RTR in 2013. Thooft is also competing for the QB spot with sophomore Dain LaRock and junior Brandon Verly, but none had yet to separate himself from the others.

Not only is Buysse changing the motto and playbook of the Knights, he is also hoping to change the culture around the program. RTR has endured seven straight losing seasons, drifting farther from the top of the Little Sioux Conference over that time. Over the past three seasons, the Knights have compiled an overall record of 7-19 and finished 1-8 in 2012. RTR subsequently has not finished .500 or better in the conference since a 4-4 mark in 2009, while a 38-16 win over Canby in the Section 5A playoffs of that same year was the last time the Knights went beyond the first game of the postseason.

Interestingly, Buysse’s first game as a head coach will be against the very team he is looking to catch in the conference.

RTR opens the 2013 regular season at home in Tyler on Aug. 29 against two-time defending Section 5A champions Dawson-Boyd. The Blackjacks have also won at least a share of the Little Sioux Conference title for each of the past three years.

Judging by how he reacted to his first practice, expect Buysse to be a little excited for that first game as a head coach.

“Yeah, I was a little excited. It’s always been a dream of mine to be a head coach. When the first day came, I don’t think I slept at all the night before,” Buysse said. “I was super excited during the first five minutes, getting everybody warmed up, after that it was back to normal. It felt really good and was nice to get things under way.”

Along with the excitement, Buysse hopes to settle into his groove along the sidelines early on against Dawson-Boyd. And he hopes the Knights can find their groove quickly as well.