Note: This sports Q&A appears in the Wednesday, Nov. 6 newspaper on Page B4.
WELLSTON — It’s well known that football success and Wellston haven’t exactly seen eye-to-eye over the past decade.
But no matter the circumstances, senior running back Rylan Molihan has stayed true to the Golden Rockets, and his loyalty alongside his fellow seniors have paid off.
The Golden Rockets clinched a playoff berth, despite a loss to Vinton County on Friday and are officially Ironton-bound as a No. 8 seed in Division V, Region 19.
Molihan has been the driving force behind the turnaround season for Wellston, totaling 1,160 yards and 11 touchdowns on 160 carries this season.
Before leading his team against the No. 5 state ranked Ironton Tigers, the Courier caught up with Molihan to discuss playing for coach Mike Smith, embracing the underdog mentality, the playoffs and much more.
Question: You’ve seen it all in your four years. You’ve been through three coaching changes, but this change was more rewarding. What has it been like playing for Coach Smith?
Molihan: It’s been an honor to him to come here and honestly I wish he came here sooner. Respect to the coaches, but having someone that knows your offense and uses the talent to its full potential makes you appreciate a coach a lot more. He’s not one-lane minded, him and all the other coaches work really well with us. It’s been great playing for him and having him lead us to victories on Friday nights.
Q: When the team and he had the first meeting, how did you get the sense that things were truly different this time?
M: You’re going to be skeptical at first after having previous coaches come in and promise different things. Especially us as seniors with him being the third coach in four years, we’re all wondering what he’s going to say and do. But he’s stuck to his word every step of the way and he helped bring that respect factor to the team. Playing for him, you knew that the team and ourselves individually were going to gain respect from others.
Q: It’s been a long time since Wellston was respected as a program. What was the moment you truly realized that things are really different?
M: We knew we were special from the very beginning, but I think the moment finally hit us when we beat Nelsonville-York on its home field. Nelsonville is a really good team, it just beat up on Athens last week to share the TVC. But when you beat Nelsonville at their place in the fashion that we did, that’s when it hits you that we have something in store for the season.
Q: Based on the reputation Wellston had, you guys weren’t placed to win the TVC, much less finish in the top four from those on the outside. How did you guys embrace the underdog mentality and change the perception of Wellston football?
M: Everyone here watched Gridiron Glory, and when it came out with its preseason TVC rankings, we were ranked second to last. We knew that wasn’t a respectable standings and that we had potential to win the conference. We’ve always been underdogs just based on our rough school history, but seeing that ranking drove us to be even better than we knew we already were.
Q: The offensive line has been the foundation of this team and you’ve always given credit to them for what they do. What is that bond like between yourself and the guys from front?
M: If they don’t block then I can’t run anywhere and the team knows that everything starts with the guys up front. The thing that sets up apart is that we get on each other a lot, but there’s a lot of respect among us and that makes a huge difference for the team. If someone makes a mistake, we’ll stop and correct it. And when someone makes a good play, we’ll celebrate it. We all keep each other in check, respect our perspectives and keep moving on.
Q: It has to be a pretty special thing going out with the senior class knowing what you guys have accomplished. What is the legacy you guys hope to leave behind?
M: Us seniors have gone through three years without a winning season. And once you start winning a couple games and finally clinch that winning record, you automatically go down as the team that changed everything. Qualifying for the playoffs was a completely different feeling. We would have liked to get a share of the TVC but we didn’t get that done. However, when you go out as the first team to make the playoffs since 2006, you’re remembered for much more than just another team in school history. There’s meaning to it.”
Q: Speaking of the playoffs, what was that feeling like realizing that even with the loss that you guys clinched a playoff spot?
M: We were still a little down because of the loss, but then we started to reflect a little bit. We went 7-3, came close to winning the TVC and earned a playoff spot, it was sort of like all the troubles in the past just washed completely away. There’s a new buzz in the community now that it’s playoff time, hopefully it’s a buzz that we can keep for a really long time.
Q: Being that you guys as a team, nor Wellston haven’t been to the playoffs in a long time, what is your mentality as you guys travel to Ironton on Saturday?
M: We know all about Ironton. They have a lot of great players, including a couple Division I commits, but we’re not intimated by them at all. It’s not as if we’ve never seen a team like it before. We’ve played Jackson for three years, along with Athens and Nelsonville-York so this is nothing new for us. We know what we’re capable of doing. All respect to Ironton, but we’ve played in big games with big atmospheres so we’re looking forward to it.
Q: When you look back over the course of your four-year career at Wellston, what stands out to you and what are you most proud of?
M: I’m most proud of the seniors sticking together the way we did. When coaches leave, there’s around speculation about are players leaving or even playing on the team anymore, and there are some tough decisions especially as a senior. Do you want to transfer or stick it out and hope for the best? Us seniors decided we wanted to stick and build the program, and it just makes the whole town a lot more appreciative. We knew it was the right thing to do and we’re brothers. We love this community, and there’s no better feeling know that we stuck it out, didn’t take the easy way out and got to see the glory days.