The Benedictine College football team in Atchison, Kansas, will likely help its coach keep a somewhat dubious distinction. Ravens coach Larry Wilcox has more career wins without a national championship than any other active college football coach in the country.
Wilcox has 296 career victories, 14th on the all-time football coaching victories list. Regarded as a legendary figure in Atchison with 41 seasons as a head coach, Wilcox has the Ravens’ home stadium named in his honor — Larry Wilcox Stadium.
“That whole naming the stadium thing, I was worried that I had some kind of disease that no one was telling me anything about at the time,” Wilcox said with a chuckle.
Entering October, the Ravens were ranked No. 2 in the NAIA’s weekly national poll with a 5-0 record. That raised the hopes that the Ravens could return to the NAIA national championship game, which they lost to Morningside of Iowa last year.
But then the season started to head south.
“We stubbed our toe against two really good teams — Grandview University (Des Moines, Iowa) and Evangel University (Springfield, Missouri) — back-to-back in games we didn’t play as well as we needed to,” said Wilcox.
Since that five-game winning streak to start the year, the Ravens have gone 2-3 and there’s a chance of playing their last game of the season Saturday against Missouri Valley. The Ravens have fallen to 20th in the NAIA national ranking, putting them out of the NAIA playoffs bracket of 16 teams.
Senior quarterback Schaefer Schuetz, who played only in the first half of the loss against Baker University Saturday because of an injured foot, said the team, with its sliver of hope, wants to win that elusive national title for Coach Wilcox.
“I know that we preach often the 1-and-0 every week that we want to win, which is really the way we try to go about our business,” said Schuetz, who graduated from Park Hill South High School. “Absolutely, it’s more so doing it for coach and being able to do that for him.”
Football was reborn at Benedictine in 1970 after it had been dormant since 1962. The year it re-started, Wilcox was a player for the Ravens, and he has been around ever since as assistant and head coach.
Wilcox said he’s had opportunities to leave for a bigger school, but he likes where he is. “Where you can make a difference is more important than the size of where you’re at,” he said.
While Wilcox has been around, Ravens football has become something more than the local college team in Atchison. It’s become embedded in the culture — part of the very fabric of community life.
Atchison native Carly Taylor, a Benedictine student, was raised a Ravens football fan.
“I was probably 5 or 6 when we started coming. I’d wear my Raven football jersey,” said Taylor, a graduate of Maur Hill High School in Atchison. “I’d think it’s so cool when I’d see the guy that I had the number on, and (he) the was the guy doing stuff.”
By all accounts, aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart is Atchison’s favorite daughter. But for the past four decades, Larry Wilcox has been the local legend living in the limelight.
Wilcox, however, won’t be lobbying for any statues of himself. Beyond the stadium already named after him, Wilcox doesn’t envision any bridges or highways in Atchison named in his honor like those named after Earhart.
“I hope not. There’s an alley over here about three blocks away that maybe they can throw a sign up and everybody be happy,” he joked. “But I don’t think so.”
The Ravens’ chances of sneaking into the NAIA playoffs will hinge on whether or not a number of teams ahead of them in the national poll will suffer from upset losses this weekend.
Greg Echlin is a freelance sports reporter for KCUR 89.3.