Rantoul native has put Bombers in great spot

Rantoul native has put Bombers in great spot

ARGENTA — Steve Kirk contends he "didn't do anything."

Argenta-Oreana football isn't undefeated 11 weeks into the 2018 season because of him.

The Bombers aren't entering Saturday's Class 1A quarterfinals as an 11-0 No. 1 seed because of Kirk.

That's what the Rantoul native will have you believe.

"It's gratifying, but, again, it's a credit to our kids," the second-year coach said ahead of A-O's 1:30 p.m. kickoff versus 13th-seeded Central A&M (8-3) in Moweaqua.

"They don't let me put on the pads anymore," Kirk continued. "They did all the work. They deserve all the credit."

Bombers fans can appreciate that stance. They also see Kirk thriving in his first head coaching role.

A local great, according to Kirk, holds some responsibility for Kirk's strong early track record.

Dick Hood, who died in 2009, led the Rantoul football program for 13 years. In his final season of 1989, the Eagles posted a 9-2 ledger and advanced into the Class 4A playoffs' second round.

"When I was growing up in the late '80s and the early part of the '90s, at least in my eyes, Rantoul football was it," said Kirk, putting strong emphasis on that last word. "Those guys were heroes to me."

Kirk got to play under Hood when the latter was assisting at McKendree College. This followed a 1995 accident that left Hood paralyzed and wheelchair-bound.

Kirk's most important takeaway from that time?

"Attention to detail was the main thing," Kirk said. "This was a guy that wrote a 250-page book with just a pencil Velcroed to his hand. He'd sit there and talk about different ways to attack defenses during that time — schemes, all that."

Kirk admitted he couldn't retain much from viewing Rantoul football in his youth, as far as it pertains to helping him coach the Bombers now.

That doesn't mean he won't try to emulate Kirk's style.

"I still go back to something (Hood) taught me about option football," Kirk said. "Trying to make people wrong, and trying to force kids to make decisions."

A-O has required its foes to agonize over game-planning thus far. The Bombers' offense has been held to fewer than 38 points just once. The three-headed monster of junior quarterback Josh Williams (1,576 yards, 22 touchdowns passing), senior running back Makhi Stanley (1,051 yards, 14 TDs rushing) and junior receiver Makail Stanley (50 catches, 905 yards, 17 TDs) ensures A-O is hard to stop.

And the defense has permitted more than 20 points just three times. Kirk, the Bombers' defensive coordinator before being named head coach in January 2017, credits former A-O coach Chad Eisenmenger for kickstarting this run of success.

"Chad and I put the scheme in about 2015. We thought we had some kids coming up that would be able to run it," Kirk said. "From there, it's taken off."

Three more triumphs would send the program into the stratosphere, culminating in A-O's first-ever football state championship.

And as much as Kirk will direct the spotlight onto others — such as Hood, Eisenmenger and the current A-O athletes — for what's happening with the Bombers, the fact remains this is his team.

"I get to work with great kids," Kirk said. "There's a wonderful administration that will do anything for you. It's been a wonderful experience."

Sections (3):Prep Sports, Football, Sports