Chris Risenhoover’s football success at Stigler over 12 seasons is well documented with a lengthy run to boot.
But a growing role as grandparent was tugging at him, urging him to explore options that beat what had been a two-hour drive to fulfill that role.
When the head football job at Muskogee opened, Risenhoover thought about it. Once he explored it some, he saw Travis Hill was an applicant.
So his strategy changed.
“At first I thought Muskogee would be ideal. It would cut that drive to my kids’ houses in half, but I thought about it for 30 minutes and said to myself, ‘I’m not even the best guy for this job. He is.’”
Perhaps that job wasn’t the fit he thought it was, but he definitely had a job in mind.
Though the two weren’t especially close, Hill and Risenhoover knew of each other enough to fuel the chat they had when Risenhoover called him at one point during the search process.
“I asked him if he thought he would get it and he said he wasn’t sure,” Risenhoover said. “I knew if he did, he wouldn’t normally reach out to guy who was already a head coach about being a coordinator, so I pitched it myself.
“He’s a guy with a great reputation on the defensive side of the ball, and I feel pretty good with what my offenses have done. I thought it would be a great combination.”
Risenhoover became part of Hill’s working assets in his push for the job and it indeed all came together, including a plan to build a home off the northern portion of Fort Gibson Lake.
Risenhoover’s offensive record speaks for itself as well as his 98-43 record there.
Since 2012, his teams have averaged over 500 yards per game twice, and topping 400 on four other occasions. His quarterbacks have earned four All-Phoenix Large School Offensive Players of the Year honors, Nate Bryant in 2018, Cade Shearwood in 2011 and 2012 and Jarrett Radford in 2009. Shearwood, who he added to his staff in 2018, was named as his successor this spring.
But aside from the daughter who has two children, 13 and 3, in Claremore and a son in Chelsea, he’d also come to the conclusion that at Stigler, there’s an elephant or two in the circle of competition there that were becoming a nuisance — private school powers.
In his last three seasons, a period that included arguably his best Stigler team in 2020, he was 29-2 against public schools, but 0-6 against the privates, including two state champions — Heritage Hall in 2018 and Holland Hall, in the semifinals, in 2020.
“If I’m honest, it had some to do with my decision as well,” he said. “If you’re going to win a state championship in Oklahoma and to this point in time I’m ringless, you want to be in eight-man Class C or you want to be in 4A or 6AII, it’s just that simple. Those classes are the apples to apples. In 6A1 with the east side not splitting you got schools twice the size of the west that dominate, in 5A you have private schools that if they want to win it they can do so instantly, in 3A there’s three dominant private schools that are heads above all the others and then there’s the same thing in 2A.
“We’ve got Bixby in 6AII but that’s nothing compared to what I’ve seen in 3A with Holland Hall and Heritage Hall. Sure Bixby’s the class of 6AII but Muskogee’s been competitive with them. I’ve known Muskogee. I played at Tahlequah against Muskogee and all along have been very aware of the level of talent Muskogee is capable of producing. Just the potential of what could happen here excites me.”
They’re starting off with a three-way battle for quarterback between incumbent Walker Newton — a junior who last year was thrust into action with Oklahoma State safety signee Ty Williams missing the entire season due to injury — as well as freshman Jamarian Ficklin and sophomore Jacob Jones.
“All three would give us a different look style-wise,” Risenhoover said. “The Jones kid would be more pro-style in the pocket and we wouldn’t do as much run game with him. With Newton he’s more shifty, has great feet, good strength but is not your traditional passer. He likes to bring it from his hip pocket area but he throws it well and is obviously very mobile. The freshman has a super arm, is very wise for his years and you can tell he’s been coached well — he’s very confident in what he does and has the ability to run the ball.
“I think all of them will find themselves on the field filling other spots if they are given that option, and in this spread offense I like a true 50-50 mix because it gives you the most diverse look, and as a defense if you’re faced with a situation where everyone on the other side gets to touch the ball, it’s hard to defend it.”
Having different skill sets at quarterback hasn’t hampered his offenses before.
“Radford had a great arm and not much mobility,” he said. “Cade was a running quarterback who developed into a passer but he orchestrated the offense better. Our last three or four had more mobility and were some of our best athletes and rushed for 1,000 and threw for 2,000.”
Still with just the second round of 7 on 7s completed Tuesday, it’s a process far from where it needs to be with the entire offense as he and the unit get acquainted.
“Everybody has been exposed to our base stuff and we’ve probably only got 25-30 percent of our run game in,” Risenhoover said. “A couple of them at different positions are ahead of the others. The (Jayden) Bell kid at receiver has a really good feel for the schematics.”
The biggest keys are buy-in and discipline.
“Obviously there has to be a tremendous amount of discipline on a good football team,” Risenhoover said. “From my experience with past programs, losing leads to frustration and finger-pointing, and when that happens, even some of your good players don’t play as well as they should.
“My plan is to show them the right way to do things and get them in functional situations to demand that they execute and play hard, and that has to be on every snap. You build success off momentum of everyone pulling together.”