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By CHARLES RICHARDS
Rayce Guess, in his first year as defensive backs coach for the Paris Wildcats, recalls back in 1990, when he was a young coach at Denison High School.
That was when he met his wife-to-be, Regina.
“I was at a seventh grade game, and her son was playing and he was out there at running back, making plays. And I noticed the kid was wearing tennis shoes out there, running around people and making great plays,” Guess said.
“I thought, that kid is making those great plays and he’s in tennis shoes, and so I talked to the junior high coach and talked to the kid after the game and said, ‘Hey, I can get you some shoes.’ We had some shoes at the high school, and I got him some shoes.
“To make a long story short, she came to thank me, and we developed a relationship and started dating, and the kid ended up in pro football. He scored 40 touchdowns for us,” Guess said. Reggie Hunt was a high school all-America tailback and all-state defensive end.
Forgive his wife if she doesn’t root for Paris High School on Friday night in Denison, when both schools seek their first victories of 2012.
Regina Guess is in her ninth year as attendance secretary for a Denison middle school, and Reggie Hunt — that kid that Guess got football shoes for — is now the 34-year-old, first-year defensive secondary coach for the Yellow Jackets.
“I talked to my wife, and we’re trying to get her a shirt made — half Paris and half Denison,” Guess said. “But I bet she’s going to be cheering for him.”
Actually, it will be the first time Guess himself won’t be rooting for Reggie Hunt.
Guess was the Denison offensive coordinator while both Reggie Hunt and Aaron Hunt, three years younger, became two-way dynamos for the Yellow Jackets high school football team.
Both went on to become college all-Americans — Reggie at TCU, playing with LaDainian Tomlinson, and Aaron at Texas Tech, where playing under head coach Mike Leach he became the Red Raiders’ all-time sacks leader.
Both his stepsons went on to professional football careers in Canada — Reggie as an all-star linebacker for Saskatchewan, Aaron as an all-star defensive tackle for British Columbia. Reggie ended his playing days in 2011, and Aaron followed suit this year.
Guess, who is 51, becomes one of the Wildcats’ most seasoned coaches. Many will remember him as the offensive coordinator for Paris in 1991 under head coach Dennis McAdams, who followed Allen Wilson.
“I was here a year, and then a job on the Denison varsity came open, and I returned there,” he said.
“I was in Denison for 15 years and blessed to be on a great staff and had some great kids. We went to the state championship game three years in a row, and I really loved that. I coached both sides of the ball most years.”
Guess spent last season as head coach for Bells, where he attended high school in the late 1970s, becoming a four-year letterman in football, basketball, track and baseball before going on to play football for North Texas State.
“Being the head coach, that’s a different kind of joy,” Guess said. “It’s your problems. You’re running your stuff. The onus is on you.”
The Panthers went 1-and-9 last season and Guess voluntarily stepped down. About the same time, Paris had a couple of openings for assistants, and Guess was among the applicants.
“I interviewed nine people. He was the ninth one,” Paris athletic director Barry Bowman said. “It didn’t take 10 minutes, and I’m saying to myself, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing. I should have interviewed this guy first.’ He is just absolutely a great addition to our team,” Bowman told last week’s first meeting of the 2012 Wildcat Boosters Club.
“I can’t overemphasize how fortunate we are to have him. He has just tons of experience. He’s coached everything that you can coach, and he will be our head boys’ track coach next spring,” Bowman said.
“Plus, he’s just a first-class human being. I learned from my father, who coached forever, and my father-in-law, who coached forever. One thing I got from them when I got my first head coaching job was probably the best piece of advice I ever got.”
They told him: “Hire you some good quality men, who happen to be great coaches and love kids, shut up, get out of the way, let them do their jobs.”
Bowman said: “What an asset he is to us. The kids love him. You know, they just respond to him really well, and now that I’ve got him, the chore is to hold onto him, because he certainly is qualified to do a lot of things.”
Guess smiled when he was asked during an interview last week how he ended up with a name like Rayce (“RAY’-cee).
“Actually, I asked my mom that, and she said one of my aunts saw it in a baby book. It turned out to be an opportune name once I got into sports and athletics. Somebody must have foreseen the future for me, I guess, because I was a sprinter and a running back,” he said.
North Texas State offered him a football scholarship out of high school, and it turned out to be kind of a rocky experience — the Mean Green had four different coaching staffs in as many years, each with a different system.
“There wasn’t a lot of continuity, but it was a blessing in disguise because I learned a lot of football. One year we were an option team, one year we were an I-formation team, one year we were a passing team. No matter what, I’ve seen it,” he said.’’
Guess said he’s excited about coaching in Paris and his role with the Wildcats.
“Coach Bowman does an outstanding job, and we really have a lot of the same philosophies — on how to do things, how to treat kids and coaches. I feel pretty blessed to be here right now,” he said.
“I love our kids. It’s hard for me to not compare them to the Denison kids that I was blessed with. I coached about five or six kids that ended up playing pro ball.”
Guess said he has quickly come to appreciate the defense that Bowman brought to Paris from Daingerfield, where he won state championships in 2008, 2009 and 2010.
“I think the uniqueness of the defense is going to be something that’s going to help us. We’ve got the kids who can play well, and they’re starting to understand. The talent is here, and if we can keep that mindset and stay healthy, I think we’ve got a chance to be pretty good this year,” Guess said.
“I’m impressed with how quickly the kids make adjustments when we put things in. Especially Donte (Bills), Jailon (Garvin) and Ray-Ray (Deante Robinson) — they are really veterans from last year and they do a great job also in helping us see things and in leading the younger players.”
Having said that, it’s the defensive line and linebackers that make a secondary better, Guess said.
“The people up front — Sed Ellis and the linebacking crew, they do a great job. The pressure they put on the quarterback makes our job that much easier.”
Robinson is the team’s only two-way player so far. He’s a returning starter in the secondary, and is expected to be in the game for at least 65 to 70 percent of the time offensively.
At quarterback, Robinson helped rally Paris from a 50-0 deficit in the second half of last week’s season opener against Mount Pleasant. Robinson scored twice on the ground and threw two TD passes in the 57-27 loss.
“He’s a threat, he really is, once he gets the ball in his hands. He’s one of those kids — you can teach them a lot, but those special instincts, they’re hard to coach. It’s just innate with some guys.”
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