By Brian Paglia
There was a feeling somewhere deep inside Nick Davis that something wasn't right as he roamed the sidelines the last two years as Shiloh High School's head football coach.
He was at Shiloh trying to resuscitate a dormant program in a high-profile region. He had total control of the program with a stadium his team called home for Friday nights. It was supposed to be the perfect career move after two successful seasons at Riverdale taking the Raiders to the state playoffs.
But after a second 2-8 season with Shiloh and subtle signs of turning things around, there was still that feeling.
"Even though being up there," Davis said, "my heart was always still here at Riverdale. I can't answer why. I can't tell you that. It's just one of those things. It's just a feeling that you get. My heart still was here, even though I was working somewhere else."
So he returns after the departure of Jamie Reed only to find that things have changed. When Davis left in 2005 the Raiders had gone 8-3, made their second consecutive playoff appearance and finished ranked 10th in the state. He sent several players off to continue their football career in college.
When he watched at his team battle in practice, he saw 111 young men suited up and proudly branded with the Riverdale name on their jersey, up from 65 when he took over in 2004.
"I felt like when I was here [two years ago] we were one of the top teams in Clayton County," Davis said. "Now, I don't really think anybody thinks of us."
Davis' first practice this offseason was soberingly different than his first one four years ago. He found himself with only 55 players, most of whom were now meeting their third coach in as many years. He found players who didn't know what it took to follow a true conditioning program or to taste the allure of the state playoffs.
That's why Davis can't wait until school starts. Then he can enter the building again and roam the halls of Riverdale, recruiting unsuspecting kids to fill his roster and build up the program.
"It's almost like my first year coming to Riverdale all over again," Davis said.
There are some familiar faces. Defensive coordinator Ryan Post, secondary coach Bobby Wright and offensive line coach Jamar Fordham were on Davis's staff in his first tenure with Riverdale. Hakeem Smith was an anonymous freshman in Davis' final season, but now he's a senior wide receiver with enough talent that he committed to play at Louisville this past week.
Davis says about six other seniors could land scholarships with colleges, and he hopes their talent can ease another coaching transition for the Raiders.
Except this new coach already knows a thing or two about winning at Riverdale.
"When we put the pads on," Davis said, "it's just about how tough can we get throughout the season. We're in a tough region. It's about kind of getting that swagger back a bit.