Columbia Star

1963        Celebrating 60 Years      2023

Wilsons helping to restore pride at Richland Northeast

Richland Northeast’s William Wilson Photo by Mike Maddock

Richland Northeast’s William Wilson Photo by Mike Maddock

For 31 years Richland Northeast head coach Walt Wilson has patrolled the sidelines, 16 of those as a head coach. He has enjoyed success on the field and coached ultra-talented players like former UofSC stars Alshon and Shamir Jeffrey. However, his latest venture into restoring a program to its former glory may be one of the most rewarding of his entire career.

He took over the Cavaliers’ program in 2021 after a stint at C.A. Johnson for only a year. When the Richland Northeast job came open, Wilson initially didn’t consider it. After a second thought, though, he changed his mind.

“I’m loyal to the kids that I coach,” Wilson said. “I looked at this not as a coaching decision but as a dad decision. As a dad, I want to put my son in the best position to reach the goals he wants to achieve. William is very goal oriented. He works hard. He wants to compete in the Elite 11 camp as a senior and compete for an All-American status. I didn’t feel like he could do that at the 1A level. I felt this opportunity would give him the exposure he wants. I felt like it would help him accomplish his goals.”

When Walt took the Richland Northeast job in the winter of 2021, William was an eighth grader and would go on to win a state championship with the C.A. Johnson track team. William said while the track practices were hard, they were worth it in the end and left him with a great experience and a feeling he is working to get back.

When he learned of the impending move to Richland Northeast, William felt it was the right move.

“I felt that God had a plan for me,” William said. “I knew the decision my dad made would be right for me. I didn’t have any problems with it.”

The story extends far beyond a heartwarming one between father and son. During one of Walt’s previous coaching stops in Columbia, he became aware of Richland Northeast’s proud football tradition. He recalls players like Ryan Bethea. So he was more than understanding of how hard times had become for the Cavaliers before he stepped on campus.

His vision for the Richland Northeast football program was to restore the program’s DNA, to return it to a place where it demanded the highest respect from its peers. The journey has been anything but smooth.

Walt’s coaching philosophy has been to put the best person for the job on the field. That philosophy was put to the test in his first year.

From an early age William gravitated to the quarterback position. Even in youth football when coaches would try to persuade him to be a lineman, he refused.

“What drew me to the position was the leadership,” William said. “Being a quarterback sets a standard. I pride myself in being the standard for the team. I have the ball in my hands on every play. I get to manage the game. I’m the captain of the ship. The biggest thing is being the guy for the team, to be someone others can look up to.”

His journey to starting quarterback was also rocky. In the Cavaliers’ 2021 season opener against Darlington, William was named the starter. However, he was pulled at halftime and replaced by current Westwood quarterback Dylon O’Neal.

“William worked hard, but he was trying to do too much,” Walt said. “The game was moving too fast.”

Richland Northeast won the game 29-7, breaking its 23-game losing streak.

“I had seniors crying because it was the first win they had on varsity,” Walt said. “Winning those early games was huge.”

The Cavaliers would go on to start the 2021 season 2-0, but then things went sideways.

“We let three games get away,” Walt said. “We should have won six games that season, two early on, but we weren’t ready for a 4-0 start. It was part of God’s plan.”

The 2-0 start was followed by a 1-point loss to Crestwood and a 4-point loss to Blythewood, part of a five-game losing streak that left Richland Northeast at 2- 5 heading into a home contest with Dreher.

The Cavaliers beat the Blue Devils 19-10, a win that earned Richland Northeast a playoff berth.

“That playoff game was huge for our development,” Walt said. “They didn’t do us any favors by pairing us with South Pointe, but I had a chance to dress out a lot of junior varsity kids. It established a standard.”

During the midst of the losing streak, William regained the starting quarterback spot. He said following the A.C. Flora game, a 39-3 loss, the game started to slow down for him.

He credits the tough defenses he faced against Irmo and A.C. Flora with helping him become a better quarterback.

That experience translated into William being the full-time starter in 2022. While he’s gained the experience, it hasn’t prevented him from potentially being replaced. Walt said following the Nation Ford game the father and son had a conversation about the quarterback’s play and potentially benching him. After the discussion, William remained the starting quarterback when the Cavaliers hosted the Irmo Yellow Jackets.

The 20-14 Richland Northeast win was made possible by a sequence that displayed how far the Cavaliers have come. Late in the fourth quarter, William connected with Zackery Watkins for a 42-yard pass that moved the ball to the Irmo 3-yard line. Later in the drive, the Cavaliers turned the ball over with the score still tied.

The Richland Northeast defense held the Yellow Jackets to a three-and-out and gave the ball back to its offense near midfield. Two plays into the drive, William scampered 42 yards for the game-winning score.

“In the past the team would have thought ‘Here we go again’ or ‘It’s too good to be true.’ Heads would have dropped. That wasn’t the case this time.”

The win over Irmo marks a signature victory for Walt and the Richland Northeast program, moving the Cavaliers to 2-4 overall and 1-0 in Region 5-4A.

For the season, William has completed 81-of-127 passes for 943 yards, seven touchdowns, and one interception. He also has rushed for 370 yards and seven touchdowns on 57 attempts.

It has been quite the journey for the Wilsons, both as a father and son and as coach and quarterback.

“It has helped me tremendously,” William said. “He worked with the defense at some of his past schools and seeing his standpoint helps a lot. I’m still young and learning the game.”

“I count my blessings that I get a chance to coach my son,” Walt said. “I get to see him develop and turn into a young man. I get to see him process things and grow in different ways. My goal as a dad is to help him reach all the goals he wants. He’s missed out on a lot of things because of me coaching other people’s kids. It’s time now to put him first in a sense.”

Walt said one of his proudest moments so far was watching William receive an offer from North Carolina State head coach Dave Doeren on a virtual call.

There are four big games left for the Wilsons and Richland Northeast and a 1-0 start in the region leaves its biggest goals still on the table.

“One of my goals is to host a playoff game,” Walt said. “It would be big for this community.”

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