12/19/09 — All-Area: Princeton's Williamson is coach of the year

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All-Area: Princeton's Williamson is coach of the year

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on December 19, 2009 11:09 PM

Crouched on the sideline and studying a playcard during a game earlier this season, Princeton football coach Russell Williamson thought to himself "why didn't I do this five years ago?"

Footballs zipped through the air and dropped into receivers hands with ease, and the scoreboard rang up numbers like a cash register ringing up purchases at Wal-Mart. A spread offense that caused apprehension suddenly turned Friday nights into fun-filled outings, and caused droves of fans to fill the bleachers at the Fred Bartholomew Athletic Complex.

And the Dogs produced a record-setting year.

The offense amassed program bests in offensive yards (5,525), touchdowns (59), points (428), points per game (30.6) and most victories (10) since the late 1970s.

"We've had a couple of decent quarterbacks in the past and I was kicking myself in the head," said Williamson. "I didn't know much about (the spread offense). They've actually taught me, and the young'uns probably knew it better than I did.

"I just let the coaches coach, the players play and I blew the whistle to keep us on schedule."

Williamson revived a dormant program that barely registered a heartbeat for three-plus decades. For his efforts, the Rock Ridge graduate is the 2009 News-Argus All-Area Coach-of-the-Year.

Last season, the Dogs recorded four wins but came within just a few whiskers of seven victories. A strong senior class returned and the addition of gun-slinging quarterback David Gurganus caused the coaching staff to tweak Williamson's old "three yards and a cloud of dust" offense.

Assistant coach Delmus Willis approached Williamson about installing the spread offense and skepticism ruled the head coach's thinking. No one had ever been that bold at Princeton.

"The hardest part was teaching me and convincing me," said Williamson.

It didn't take long.

Summer workouts, participation in a passing league and quality time on the gridiron helped the players -- and Williamson -- adjust to the new scheme.

"Once they know the routes, it's not difficult after that," said Williamson. "Then you had to get your linemen squared away when you put them in the mix. When we got through our scrimmage and the first couple of games, I started feeling a little better about it.

"It really worked out well because it gave us a chance to spread out what athletes we had, get them the ball in open spaces and let them do some things."

Gurganus established numerous career and single-season school records in the new offense. The Dogs scored 30 or more points in seven games and advanced to the western semifinals of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 1-A (small-school) playoffs.

Princeton recorded the program's first 10-win season since 1979 when it lost to Robbinsville in the state championship game.

"I thought we could probably have a pretty good football team ... and I felt all along that it would probably be one of the best teams we've had in quite a while," said Williamson. "Being able to see this senior class, knowing how they started out four years ago, have some success is what pleased me the most. It was a good group and they loved to play.

"For them to win 10 games in a tremendous feat on their part."

And a tremendous feat for an old running-style coach to try something new and enjoy undoubtedly one of the best seasons in Princeton football lore.