RISON — For the first time in two years, there won’t be a cloud of misery hanging over the heads of the Rison Wildcats. And that is something coach Clay Totty is extremely grateful for.
“This year, I’m looking forward to getting to coach without something hanging over your head,” Totty said. “So the thing that I’m most enjoying is getting to enjoy the game of football.”
Two weeks before last year’s fall scrimmage, the Wildcats lost four of their starters in a matter of two days.
“We lose our center two weeks before the scrimmage because of a broken leg,” Totty said. “The next day, we lose three of our starters — one dies and the other two are in the hospital.”
Logan Prescott died in a fatal car accident that also put another player in a two-month coma and the third in the hospital.
Rison avoided its first losing season since 1977 by stringing together five wins in the middle of season to finish the year 7-5 with a playoff appearance.
“With everything that happened to us last year, there was still some high expectations,” Totty said. “It was the least amount of talent we’ve had in my 15 years coaching and still managed to win seven ball games.
“There ain’t no free passes in Rison.”
In 2011, Totty’s father — who was diagnosed with cancer — spent just about every day with the team.
“The boys watched him die every day,” Totty said. “He would come to practice and he was just a little bit worse every day.”
That same year, Marquis Walker’s senior year was cut short after blowing out his knee in the middle of the season.
“It’s just been one thing after another,” Totty said. “But I’ve told the kids, before anything good happens, you have to go through some adversity.
“You have to go through the bad things.”
Walker is now a redshirt freshman at Arkansas State in Jonesboro.
“These seniors have had overriding issues with them their whole career,” Totty said. “So it is nice to just be able to focus on football.”
Rison will open the season at Fordyce on Sept. 6. Fordyce defeated Rison 45-14 at home last year, so the Wildcats want to try to right that wrong.
“They embarrassed us last year,” Totty said. “We got a lot of ground to make up, so that’s what we are working at every day.
“We want to gain a little respect from them. They are very good and very talented. I want us to play respectable and not embarrass our program, our families and ourselves.
“That’s what we did last year.”
Rison has a lot of experience coming back from last year as the team has 16 seniors returning this fall.
“With our numbers, our depth is better than its been in a long time,” Totty said. “This is probably the most depth that we’ve had.”
Last season, quarterback Nathan Wilson ran 159 times for 700 yards and 10 touchdowns and passed for 340 yards and eight scores.
Rison is scheduled to play Hamburg in a scrimmage on Monday at 6 p.m.
“We’ve got everything in and we just need to get honed up,” Totty said. “We need to practice some more situational football.
“That is our focus now.”
Zuntario Oliver returns this year after running 147 times for 692 yards and seven touchdowns.
“We are excited to have another season on us,” Totty said. “We are excited and are looking forward to it.
“We have a lot of things we need to correct, so I just need to keep us focused on that, one day at a time.”