Healy senses progress in Austin Peay's rebuild

Publish date:

(STATS) - There's probably some truth to why Will Healy says he took up drinking coffee. When he visits high schools on recruiting trips, he says he doesn't want to be mistaken for being a student.

Austin Peay's second-year head coach is the second-youngest in Division I at 32, and looks even younger than that. He's not too far removed from being a team captain on Richmond's 2008 FCS national championship squad.

At least Healy is older than his program's losing streak, but at 27 games, the longest one in the FCS is inching close to his age. It includes 21 straight Ohio Valley Conference games.

Healy's mission is to turn around Austin Peay's fortunes. Having been at the Clarksville, Tennessee, school for nearly 18 months, he senses progress with the rebuilding job. But the wins and losses ultimately decide how much.

"You feel so confident and excited about where things are heading. There's nowhere to go but up," Healy said. "The expectations and standard at our place were so low that it was a great job for me.

"I had time to do it the right way, too. I didn't feel like we could go take a bunch of transfers last year and have a chance to win a couple games, and not really take a step forward from kind of weeding out anything that was kind of holding us back. We spent 12, 18 months on trying to get it to where it is now. I think we've got great kids, I think we're a lot more talented than where we were a year ago."

While Healy and his youthful coaching staff boast unlimited energy and enthusiasm, their roster takes it to another level. The Governors used 27 freshmen in games during last year's 0-11 season and more newcomers will have the opportunity this year.

Healy feels the Governors improved their offseason training this year and that some of the younger players are maturing into leadership roles.

"You knew that job was going to be tough and you knew it was going to take time," said Richmond coach Russ Huesman, for whom Healy served as an assistant coach for seven seasons at Chattanooga. "But the energy that Will and his staff have is incredible. They're relentless recruiters. I think they're really good football coaches. That's a good combination to have in turning a program around."

So are some of the talented players.

Austin Peay employs a 4-2-5 defensive alignment that Chattanooga used while Healy was there. It's a unit anchored by middle linebacker Gunner Scholato, who led the OVC in tackles per game (11.2) as a sophomore last season.

The Governors' spread offense improved dramatically after the redshirt was taken off freshman quarterback JaVaughn Craig following six games. Combined with the versatile Kentel Williams, who set an OVC record with 399 all-purpose yards against Eastern Kentucky, they have two sophomores in their offensive backfield to build around.

"I learned even from winning at Chattanooga, the players still look to coaches to see what their reaction is, how confident they look, how they sound," Healy said. "To me, it starts with us as coaches to make sure that our guys feel they can look at us and feel like we believe in what we're putting on paper and are talking about - that we believe in them.

"I feel great about where it's heading. I've never been more confident about an athletic experience, it's just that you've got to prove to people that we can win games at our place and kind of validate the buzz and hype of what's going on."