High School Football

Northwestern looks ahead with new offensive play-caller

Northwestern football will have its first new offensive play-caller in 10 years this fall.

Robert Hellams – who was the offensive coordinator last season – will call plays after former head coach Kyle Richardson took a job on the Clemson staff. Richardson is gone, but the Trojans return:

▪ Rising senior QB Gage Moloney, who committed to Ohio University over the summer. Moloney threw for nearly 4,000 yards last season, rushed for 500 more and accounted for 63 total touchdowns.

▪ Senior running backs Jerry Howard and Dequez Harris. Howard, who committed to East Carolina in June, averaged nearly eight yards per carry last fall; his effectiveness means Harris will probably play more at wide receiver this season.

▪ Leading receivers Jordan Starkes and Jamario Holley, who combined for 145 catches and 23 touchdowns in their rookie seasons of varsity football. Holley had a great summer and could emerge as one of the best receivers in the area as a 10th-grader.

When asked what Richardson left behind that could lead to success, a grinning Hellams said, “He didn’t take Gage with him. Jamario is still here, Jerry Howard is still here, that’s what it’s all about.”

Northwestern returns most of its 2015 offensive contributors
Northwestern has a new offensive play-caller for the first time in 10 years, but Robert Hellams has plenty to work with. The defending 4A Division II state champs return most of their offensive output from last fall.
Type of yardage2015 output% returning in 2016
SOURCE: The Herald

Richardson’s impact

The Trojans are moving on. And there may be changes. But that wouldn’t be different from the last nine years when Richardson was annually rejigging schemes, alignment or nomenclature.

“If there are any tweaks or changes, it would be a tweak or change made if Kyle Richardson was here,” said first-year head coach David Pierce.

Still, there will be scrutiny on Hellams and Pierce, especially from the stands. That’s in part because Richardson was one of the best in the business, something Hall of Famer Jimmy Wallace noticed when he brought the North Carolina native back to the area from the college ranks in 2007.

Richardson’s influence on Northwestern’s traditionally run-focused offense was immediate.

Then-quarterback Will King broke the school record for passing yards (374) in the first game under the new offensive coordinator. Richardson told former Herald sports reporter Barry Byers that year that “this offense is set up to take what the defense is giving, what’s there for the taking.”

The Trojans surpassed 6,000 yards of offense four times in nine years under Richardson, a stat boosted by the fact the team played the full allotment of 15 games six times during the nine seasons. They averaged 41 points per game and won three state titles, while losing in championship games three more times. Three of the program’s best QBs during that stretch - King, Mason Rudolph and Dupree Hart - were converted wide receivers, evidence of the potential Richardson saw in change.

Last season’s championship team embodied the offensive idea of taking whatever the defense offered, whether it was rushing or passing yards. That group had games with as few as nine rushing yards, or 171 passing yards. But it only had three games with less than 396 yards total and averaged 47.6 points per contest.

Northwestern’s offensive output under former head coach and play-caller Kyle Richardson:


Hellams, a Stratford High graduate that played football and baseball at Newberry College, has already made one decision: he’ll call plays from atop the press box during games, instead of on the sidelines.

“If I feel like I’m not getting what I need up top, then I’ll go back down to the sidelines,” he said. “Because what you lose is the personal, face-to-face communication with the players.”

But the view is vastly superior, enabling Hellams to see the whole field. And technology - headsets - makes it easy to communicate with the sidelines. Hellams trusts his coaches down on the field, including Mitch Walters, Page Wofford and new offensive line coach Sam Mallard, which eases the worry.

Hellams trusts the technology too.

He worked in internet support before entering the coaching/teaching ranks. One of the classes he teaches at Northwestern is digital multimedia, where students work with the Adobe suite of graphic design software, and he sells the sideline replay system echo1612 during the offseason as a part-time job.

Northwestern was the first school in South Carolina to have echo1612. During the game, players and coaches gather around two 40-inch TVs and six iPads, which were paid for with a combination of fund-raising and booster club money, and watch replays of their previous possession. The system costs about $2,000 up front and then $400 a year afterward. It’s a huge advantage that most schools in the state don’t have.

The same could be said for the Northwestern coaching staff. Richardson was always quick to suggest that he got too much credit for the school’s football success.

“It’s not any one person,” said Hellams. “We joke around about calling touchdowns. It’s not cocky or arrogant; everyone has a role on the staff and everybody has influence. Kyle didn’t call every play, I’m not gonna call every play.

“Basically, I’ve got the final say instead of being just one of the voices.”