Ric Johns' best season as head football coach at Wesclin High School will also be his last.
The Warriors finished the fall with a 9-0 regular season record, a first in the school's history. This week, Johns resigned his position as head coach after five seasons.
"I want to thank all the fine young men (and girl) I have had the extreme privilege to work with the past five years," Johns said in an emotional Facebook post. "Each team played a roll in establishing the truth that Wesclin can be a football school residing in a strong football community. From 0-9 to 9-1 conference champions I love and appreciate them all, none more than this years 2018 team."
Wesclin was Johns' fourth stop on a 32-year coaching career that has ranged from Class 1A Hardin Calhoun to 7A Belleville West. He's coached winners at every stop along the way, except for a four-year run at Carlinville.
His career record is 131-43 and includes 1A state championships at Hardin Calhoun in 1992 and 1993.
Johns says his 2017 Warriors' team was as good as any of them.
Wesclin's trademark was a deep running game led by 5-foot-10, 195-pound running back Gavin Bilbruck, who had 1,183 yards and 15 touchdowns. R.J. Kattenbracker (736 yards, 6 touchdowns), K.J. Corley (685 yards, 8 touchdowns) and quarterback Josh DeMage (591 yards, 12 touchdowns) added speed.
Area coaches selected Johns as the Belleville News-Democrat small-school coach of the year, even though the Warriors were disappointed in the first round of the playoffs with a 51-20 loss to No. 16 Pleasant Plains.
But Bilbruck returns for his senior season, as does most of the offensive line. Johns anticipates another run at the Cahokia Conference-Mississippi Division championship for the Warriors.
"Whoever the next guy will be has a good team in waiting," Johns said. " A very good offensive line returns four of five starters, and Bilbruck is back. There are some other nice pieces that will come to the forefront this year."
Johns took over in Trenton for the 2013 season and went 0-9, the year after Brandon Murphy's Warriors finished 2-7. By his third season, though, Johns had Wesclin in the postseason.
His overall record in Wesclin is 25-31.
He said he leaves Wesclin confident that he built a football program capable of being a perennial contender.
"You know what it takes to win and you have the components for success," he told the players in a social media message. "Demand excellence from yourself as well as your team mates. Take no console from negative individuals and get better each week. I'll be watching."