Hopewell's In Good Hands
By Ryan Lazo
Sep 13, 2013, 08:36
Ryan Lazo/Hopewell News/News-Patriot
HOPEWELL — Blue Devils’ head football coach Ricky Irby stands in the middle of his team’s practice, encouraging the special teams unit while also teaching the players lessons to hone their trait.
Irby does so fluidly, going from special teams, to defensive backs, offensive line and quarterbacks almost as if the position of football coach was made for him.
Yet, surprisingly, the position he’s had so much success in during his time on the sidelines is not what he envisioned for himself.
“I was always a baseball guy,” Irby explained of his childhood. “It’s kind of funny how everything ended up. I never anticipated myself being a head football coach. When coach (Marshall) Parker retired, we sat down and talked about it. I was all in.”
It’s not hard to determine why baseball seemed to be the calling for Irby.
The Hopewell High School graduate was a four-year letter man and two-time co-captain of the Blue Devils’ baseball team and it was his success on the diamond which led him to be named the head varsity baseball coach from 2005 through 2010.
But while he coached baseball, Irby was also an assistant for Hopewell’s football program starting in 2000. During the early years, Irby worked his way up from defensive coordinator of the freshman and junior varsity teams to the varsity offensive line coach in 2002.
Irby credited his time as an assistant coach under Parker to help him understand what it takes to be successful on this level.
“I really knew how everything worked and it was a smooth transition,” Irby said of coaching football. “There were some small things we changed, but for the most part I was fortunate enough to work for two icons in this city...I learned a lot.”
But that would be only part of the story.
Because Irby was also a key part of the Blue Devils’ coaching staff when the team captured one state championship, two regional titles and a runner-up finish. It’s the success Irby aimed to match just last season.
Ryan Lazo/Hopewell News/News-Patriot
The Hopewell squad, predicted to win just three games, surprised everyone with a run through the playoffs and into the regional finals. While the Blue Devils’ run would not continue, they fell 35-7 to Hanover, the blueprint for success was handed down.
Irby’s uptempo offense with focus on the offensive and defensive lines proved
to be the difference in maintaining success. He also learned to keep players committed to the program which this year’s squad is trying to emulate.
“We got better each and every game and when the playoffs came, we were hitting on all cylinders,” Irby said of last year’s squad. “This is what we’re aiming to do again.”
And with players like Jarvezz Brown and Tabyus Taylor in the fold, this team is capable of doing so again because of the relationship they have with the coaching staff.
Brown acknowledges Irby is a demanding coach, but says he has grown as a player during his time at Hopewell.
“It’s fun after you get used to it,” Brown said of the work being put in. “When I first came here I was offense, but they have made me into a good defensive player.”
Good would be an understatement.
Under the guidance of Irby and his staff, Brown was placed on the second-team all-District squad following his performance last year. He helped solidify his standing last week as the Hopewell defense held a talented Grafton squad to just 13 points on the night.
Meanwhile, Taylor has turned himself into one of the top players in the entire VHSL.
The jack-of-all-trades player or swiss army knife for the amount of positions he plays — wide receiver, quarterback, punt and kick-off returner — to name a few.
Taylor can impact games in ways most players could only dream about and it’s the way Irby uses him to maximize the athletic ability which makes him dangerous.
“He’s got some of the best receiving skills of anyone I’ve ever coached,” Irby gushed of No. 5. “There’s no underestimating what he means to our team and this program.”
The development of players like Brown and Taylor is the best part of the job to Irby.
“Just to watch these kids develop and grow,” Irby said of being a coach. “Hopefully sending them off to college is really gratifying and rewarding as a coach to think that, maybe, you played a little part in that success.”
Over 10 years after starting as an assistant coach at Hopewell, it’s easy to see the effect he’s had on not just the players, but the program as whole.
With his caring demeanor and focus on teaching the fundamentals, the Blue Devils are sure to experience more success in the near future.