Even if the 1977 Genoa-Kingston football team wasn’t recently welcomed back to town and honored, it’s unlikely the state champions soon will be forgotten.
That season was the peak of a significant stretch of dominance from G-K, all while having to compete against the Little Eight Conference. That league put G-K up against tough teams such as Hampshire (state title winners in 1976, 1979) and Burlington.
Still, the Cogs were able to cement their status as an annual contender, much because of their leadership. Dave Russell had so much success as the Cogs’ head coach that the high school’s football field now bears his name, and with good reason.
“He was a good coach,” said Bobby Davidson, a junior offensive lineman on the team. “He kept us in line. If you screwed up, he would tell you about it. He would pull you to the side and he’d be yelling and screaming at you, but I guess that’s what kept us going.”
The start of the season was marked by state title ambitions. The team knew it was good enough, but it was too early to tell. After opening the season with three consecutive shutouts, those ambitions turned to expectations.
Russell’s team sneaked past Hampshire in overtime and then routed Burlington, 20-0, leaving no doubt about who controlled the conference. Injuries led to missed games for several key players, but with the depth of the team, the Cogs kept rolling. As Russell said later, it never was about one player.
“We don’t have a bunch of individual stars,” Russell said at the championship celebration that season. “We didn’t have guys make all-state, like some of the other teams did, but our whole team made all-state.”
By the end of the regular season, the Cogs had outscored opponents, 246-48, sending them into the playoffs with unrivaled momentum.
Wins against Milledgeville, Monmouth and North Shore Country Day set up a championship game showdown against 11-0 Arcola on Nov. 25 in Normal. As they headed downstate, many of the G-K players were preparing for a calm, warm day, but in one night, the weather changed drastically.
“We went down there and it was sunny, a beautiful day. Most guys were wearing T-shirts,” Davidson said. “And the next day, we woke up with four inches of snow and freezing weather.”
But even if they had to play through the frigid temperatures, the Purple Riders had to as well. The main worry for the Cogs was how well Arcola had scouted them. G-K’s go-to play was a fullback run up the middle, so when Russell called it early on, Arcola sealed up the middle to prevent the run.
After more than a quarter of offensive frustration, G-K quarterback Jim Potts adjusted. With 4:30 left in the second quarter, he collected the snap, faked a handoff, and hit receiver Danny Wylde with a 39-yard touchdown pass for a 6-0 lead.
The Cogs never looked back, and they went on to win, 18-0, finishing off a 13-0 season. Even if the players expected it to happen, they still were extremely elated.
When the Cogs returned to Genoa, Davidson remembers Main Street being filled with people who met the team and followed it back into town. Even the mayor, Bill Skinner, made an appearance at the celebration and was at a loss for words from the excitement.
“I really don’t know what I’m going to say tonight,” Skinner said at the school celebration. “This has been probably the most thrilling day of my life.”
The bond within the community has led many team members to stick around. Russell stepped down in 1994 with a 152-50-1 record, but he still resides in the area. Davidson is a custodian at G-K, and he has been in the school district for almost 20 years. And former fullback Tom Price’s son, Adam, was a quarterback for the Cogs this past season.
Even if some players didn’t stay in Genoa, many have taken the time to reunite on occasions, like the 35-year anniversary of the state championship that took place at G-K’s 2012 home opener. When they do, it allows them to reminisce on the bond they built, a bond strong enough to carry the weight of an entire football-crazy community.
“We all became good friends,” Davidson said. “When we come back to town, it’s just great to see them again. Friendships like that, you never lose.”