A seismic shift in Williamson County football is taking place, with one coach leaving and another returning.
Williamson County Schools shared on Friday that Ravenwood football coach Matt Daniels was resigning from his position as head coach and that he would be replaced by none other than Will Hester, the team's former coach.
"Our family is extremely excited to have the opportunity to come back home to a place that means so much to us," Hester said in a statement. "We want to congratulate Coach Daniels and his staff for continuing to build on the tradition of great football at Ravenwood, and we look forward to the challenge of what the new region 7-6A holds for us. It's Great to be a Ravenwood Raptor!"
Hester has been with Florence High School in Alabama since 2018 after leaving a brief stint at Nolensville High School from 2016-17 as its first head coach and athletic director. His first year with the Knights, the brand-new, senior-lacking team upset the one seed in the playoffs.
Before that, he was with Ravenwood for three seasons from 2013-15.
He went 38-4 during his three years with the Raptors and won a 6A state title in 2015 with a team boasting NFL players Van Jefferson (Rams) and Chris Rowland (Falcons). That state game snapped Maryville's 44-game win streak at the time. Ravenwood had already made the state game the year prior under Hester in his second year with the program.
He is credited with establishing a culture of winning at Ravenwood. Before he was hired, Ravenwood had gone 8-22 from 2010-12 and had not had a winning season since 2008. In his first year in 2013, the team went 10-2 and made the second round of the 6A playoffs. He was the region's coach of the year that year.
At Florence, where he's been since 2018, he led the Falcons to their first-ever playoff appearance in Alabama's notoriously tough Class 7A and made it to the quarterfinals in 2019.
Before being hired at Ravenwood in 2013, he was an assistant at Brentwood.
“I am looking forward to working with Coach Hester again," RHS athletic director and assistant football coach Andy Elrod said in a statement.
"He will continue the tradition of excellence that he began 8 years ago and that has been continued ever since. Coach Hester will keep a vibrant energy flowing with our program and brings great experience and expertise along with him as he comes back to Ravenwood. I am excited to welcome Will Hester back to the Ravenwood community!”
He inherits a Ravenwood team that went 7-5 this year, albeit with a loaded schedule featuring IMG Academy, the top team in the U.S., and Arkansas powerhouse Pulaski Academy.
Hester will be taking Ravenwood through its first year in the TSSAA's newly designed Class 7A, too, where the team's new region will gain 5A state winner Summit as a regular opponent on top of archrival Brentwood, Franklin, Independence and Centennial.
"We look forward to Coach Hester continuing the story of Ravenwood football history in yet another exciting chapter," Ravenwood principal Pam Vaden said in a statement.
The school says Hester will begin his teaching and coaching role at RHS in January.
Daniels departs after banner four years with program
With Hester's hire comes Daniels' departure, ending a four-year run with plenty of success.
"It is with a profoundly bittersweet feeling that I officially resign my position as head football coach at Ravenwood High School," Daniels said in a statement from the school, citing a desire to spend more time with family.
"After experiencing the constant pull to find a way to spend more time with my family over the last 2 years, I've come to the conclusion that the only way to truly prioritize raising my daughter during this important part of her early life is to step down at this time.
"I want to thank the administration at RHS, especially Dr. Vaden, as well as the coaching staff, players, parents, students, faculty and Ravenwood community for the amazing amount of support over the years.
"We embraced a very uncertain time at Ravenwood 4 years ago, and not only steadied the ship, but raised the bar. Coach Hester knows what a special place Ravenwood is and I have no doubt that the program is in amazing hands."
Daniels had a strong four-year run at the helm of the Raptors program. He went 39-13 overall including the playoffs, and posted a 16-4 regular season region record. His Raptors had a 6A state berth in 2019, falling short of the championship to Maryville, 42-21.
Under his tutelage, players like quarterback Brian Garcia, tight end Jake Briningstool, linebacker Junior Colson, wideouts Andrew Mason and Anthony Holmes, defensive lineman Bryan Rice and kicker Luke Akers had stellar careers, among others.
Daniels also scheduled IMG Academy, the nation's top football team, in 2020 as a fill-in game, and has scheduled notable Arkansas prep football team Pulaski Academy, known for their trick plays and lack of special teams. Those games gave Ravenwood national recognition, with the team's IMG Academy game playing on an ESPN channel.
Ravenwood officials expressed their gratitude for his time at the top of one of the county's premiere football teams.
"We thank Coach Daniels for elevating our program in an unstable time and creating fun-filled Friday nights by including the student section, band, cheer and dance teams and the whole community in the celebration," Vaden said in a statement of Daniels.
“Coach Daniels has done a great job for us an assistant and head coach in the last five years," Elrod said in the statement.
"We will miss him as a Head Coach and wish him and his wonderful family the very best moving forward. I count myself lucky to have worked with Matt and hope that I can continue working with him in the future. Coach Daniels has blessed so many students and athletes since coming to Ravenwood.”