When it comes to football in 'The Valley' area, former Midland Valley head coach Rick Knight has seen just about everything there is to see. He experienced it as a member of the Mustangs' coaching staff, first as an assistant and eventually as the head coach.
He's been through the winless seasons, but he's also been through some of the program's most historic years. Through it all, he's always seen an atmosphere of fan support and tradition he says is among the best anywhere.
"Our fans are pretty dedicated," Knight said. "Everybody we ever played said we traveled better than most teams they played. It's amazing how often I run into people who still recognize me. The tradition is far-reaching"
Knight came to Midland Valley in 1991 as a member of Clayton Chriswell's staff. It took a while for Midland Valley to get competitive, but in many ways, Knight put the program on the map. The Mustangs won their first region championship after in 1999 after Knight took over as head coach three games into the season. Midland Valley won seven straight games to close out the regular season that year.
The highlights didn't stop there for the Midland Valley football program. In Knight's final season, the Mustangs made a run to the Class AAA state championship game. It didn't get more special than that for Knight and everyone surrounding the program.
"It was so unique," Knight said. "To load up the bus to go to Columbia and there's a fire truck on the interstate ramp with the ladder fully extended and a banner hanging over the interstate that says 'go Mustangs.' There were people all the way from the school to the interstate that were coming to the road cheering. You just don't ever forget stuff like that. That was unbelievable. The events surrounding the game were really special."
Some of Knight's other memorable moments at Midland Valley had nothing to do with actual football games. For instance, Knight was so invested in Midland Valley football that he helped build the practice field, an undertaking that lasted until the early hours of the morning and had to be finished under the lighting from the headlights of the coaches' cars they had parked around the field.
The other downside, Knight missed his second wedding anniversary, which was the first time he and his wife were going to get to go out without their son. Fortunately for Knight, his wife, Debbie, was understanding.
"We were all out there, and there's no cell phones then, so I was planning to be home at 3 p.m. I got home at 3 a.m.," Knight said. "So I missed my second anniversary because I was sprigging the practice field."
Knight, who retired after the 2015 season, said the support and the passion surrounding Midland Valley football are part of what made things like that worth the effort. Knight still lives in the area and Midland Valley still has a special place in his heart.
"Midland Valley has been a part of most of my life. I got married; we went to Midland Valley, I had a son, he graduated from there, and I retired from there," Knight said. "I guess that's just the story of a small town football coach. It's a coach's life. Everything was memorable."