Shortly after he accepted the coaching position at Rock Bridge, Van Vanatta found himself cleaning the equipment room.
He found a box of shirts, but he had no clue what they were for, or even how old they were.
Vanatta turned to defensive coordinator Joe Collier and asked him what the shirts, which were black and read “Rock Bridge football” and “573,” were all about.
Collier told him they were shirts that the previous coaching staff made about three or four years ago for the time Rock Bridge claimes the Columbia title, or the 573 area code, as the shirts read.
With Rock Bridge’s 41-9 win over Hickman on Friday, those “573” shirts finally left the box.
“We used it as motivation,” Vanatta said. “We told the kids, ‘We might as well give these shirts away, they’ve been sitting around for three or four years.’ That’s just a fun thing, you have to keep them motivated.”
Rock Bridge’s senior quarterback Trevor Twehous, who missed both Columbia rivalry games with a broken collarbone last season, couldn’t wait to get his shirt.
“I’m glad we have both of them out of the way,” Twehous said. “It’s fun playing them all for the first time. I was just trying to come out and do the best I can for the team since it’s my senior year.”
Twehous did just about everything he could for the Bruins (4-1) on Friday night. He was 8 of 15 for 119 yards and one touchdown through the air and added 84 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.
He plays an important role in the Rock Bridge offense. Twehous’ versatility is used to keep defenses from focusing on running back Nathaniel Peat.
Twehous' play, especially in the read-option game, opened up everything for the Bruins, who Vanatta said had their best offensive game of the season.
“We had everything going tonight,” Vanatta said. “That’s our key right now. It’s Week 5 and teams are getting better. Teams are getting things worked out. Teams are keying in on Nate Peat. We’ve seen it, so we had to get that option going.”
Peat, who finished with 113 yards and one touchdown on 14 carries, also raved about his quarterback.
“This offense is dangerous. He can throw, he can run and then we just have a whole bunch of weapons on offense,” said Peat, who has run for 100 or more yards in each game this season.
Rock Bridge got a host of its weapons involved Friday. Reece Jarvis had 33 yards receiving and 20 yards on the ground. Evan Ratermann caught Twehous’ 6-yard touchdown pass and Matthew Hall caught two passes for 47 yards.
“We can be pretty dangerous,” Twehous said. “We have to come out with intensity. We can’t come out like we did last week and get complacent fast. Whenever our offensive line rolls, we roll.”
But before the offense could get going, Hickman (0-5) took an early lead on a 24-yard Andrew Whelihan field goal.
Coming off the loss to Lee’s Summit last week, Vanatta wanted to see how his team would respond.
“I was a little nervous,” Vanatta said. “What I don’t want them to do is become complacent. There is a lot of things this team is capable of doing, and I don’t want to see them waste that. They responded this week, and that’s what we are happy about as coaches.”
As Rock Bridge rattled off 41 straight points, before a 74-yard run by Shemyron Townsend scored in the fourth quarter, Hickman struggled to get anything going on offense and especially on defense.
“They made one schematic difference in the second half,” Hickman coach Trevor Rubly said of Rock Bridge’s offense. “We talked about it on the sideline. We saw what they were doing. We fixed it as far as what we needed to do with our linebacker. We told them to read somebody else, and he just didn’t do it. We have to be able to make adjustments.”
Vanatta pulled his starters midway through the third quarter. The game was virtually over by then, and Rock Bridge will host district opponent Jefferson City next week.
He briefly brought up that game in the postgame huddle, but before the team left the field they joined in on a loud scream of “573.”
The shirts are no longer in the box and, as has been the case for weeks now, the Bruins are on everybody’s radar.
HICKMAN HONORS MONROE: Before the game, Hickman honored former coach Arnel Monroe, who passed away from a heart attack in June 2016.
The Kewpies unveiled the Coach Arnel “Spanky” Monroe Memorial Pavilion about 30 minutes before kickoff.
Athletic director J.D. Coffman, with Monroe’s family beside him, kicked the memorial off with a statement. Coffman, who was good friends with Monroe got choked up during his statement.
“We coached against one another for a few years when I was at Rock Bridge. I came over, and he greeted me with open arms,” Coffman said. “He treated me like I had been a Kewpie forever. We had many long talks over his tenure as the head football coach. He meant a lot to me as a friend and as a colleague.”
The idea of the pavilion began with Hickman’s touchdown club. The school had to ask permission from the Columbia School District to do a naming. The board voted to approve the naming in October, and from there Hickman went to work on building the structure.
When it was finished, the plan was always to open it against Rock Bridge.
“We felt like doing it on a Rock Bridge night would mean more to the community than if we did it against Jackson, on our opening night,” Coffman said. “At least some of these coaches out here may have had a connection with Coach Monroe.”
At last year’s jamboree, which was hosted by Rock Bridge, each Columbia coach wore a shirt honoring Monroe.