ROCKINGHAM — Offensive linemen are often the unsung heroes of a football team’s offense, which helps fuel a greater bond between the protectors of the ball down in the trenches.
Year to year, the offensive line changes at Richmond Senior High School as players graduate and new guys fill the gaps. For four former Raider offensive linemen, all of whom were never on the same team, strengthening the bond of today’s teams and enriching the tradition of Richmond’s program is something they do with pride.
Kevin Alfonso, Patrick Hope, Taivon Jones and Kemp McSween are all current members of the Richmond football coaching staff who held the line for the Raiders at some point from the early to 2000s through 2012.
The quartet all studied under the tutelage of former position coach Paul Hoggard. Defining themselves as a part of the “HOGS” community, it’s an acronym that stands for “honor our great strength.”
Piggybacking one another as players, then as coaches, the four former Raiders all went on to play offensive line in college. Now they are giving back to the program that helped shape them as young men and role models in the community. Currently, all are employed as educators for Richmond County Schools.
Hope, who is the current head coach for the junior varsity team, played left tackle as a junior and senior in 2001 and 2002. Also an emergency center, Hope became the starting left tackle as a senior and earned all-conference honors. He capped his Richmond career with a selection to the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas.
Following high school, Hope earned a preferred walk-on at UNC Chapel Hill for three years. He played for the Tar Heels from 2003 to 2005, playing various positions on the offensive line, starting out as a tackle then a guard. During the 2006 and 2007 seasons, he served as a student coach.
An injury ended Hope’s playing career at Carolina, and even then he knew coaching would be his next step. Now with 11 years of coaching experience, with six of them being at Richmond, Hope is entering his fourth year at the helm of the JV program. He also acts as the team’s offensive skill position coach.
“Head Coach John Bunting gave me the opportunity to be a student coach in 2006, where I spent a lot of time helping young players learn the offense,” Hope explained of his time at UNC. “It was there I started seeing the game from a big picture perspective.
“I had a lot of teammates and coaches who are still friends of mine to this day who taught me quarterback, running back and receiver play,” he added. “It also helped me develop different skills on how players learned. Some did well when we drew it up on a board, while others could see it better on film, and some could get it by doing walk-throughs before or after practice.”
Hope said he was encouraged by a professor to pick up a minor in coaching education along with his exercise and sports science degree. Those classes taught him that “coaching is a lot more than what you do in practice and on the field. It’s about caring for your players and preparing them to be successful long after their time on the field.”
When asked what’s special about the history and tradition of so many former Raider players returning to their old stomping grounds to coach, Hope said it’s a lifetime of memories rooted in Raider football that serves as the driving force.
“A lot of us on the staff have either witnessed or been a part of Raider football’s brightest moments from childhood to adulthood. We very often tell players how it was when we played, so that they know the tradition that they are adding on to,” Hope said.
“Many of us have accomplished what the current players want to achieve, like state championships and playing college football. We feel it’s up to us to help put Richmond back on top as the premier high school football program in the state of North Carolina.”
Personally, Hope said it’s an opportunity to continue a family legacy, as his dad, Leon Hope, taught and coached at Richmond three different times. The senior Hope, who was a running back at Clemson University, coached on the 1988, 1989, 1990, 1997,and 1998 state championship teams.
McSween joined Richmond’s varsity ranks in 2003 as a sophomore, spending two seasons on the defensive line. During the spring of his junior year, he switched to left tackle on the o-line, where he played as a senior in 2005. McSween was also named all-conference his senior year.
After graduating from Richmond, McSween became a part of the Catawba College program from 2007 until 2010. While an Indian, he played right and left tackle as well as left guard.
McSween is now the go-to guy for the Raiders’ offensive linemen, as he enters his sixth year of coaching at his alma mater. He’s the varsity offensive line coach and gets assistance from Alfonso.
Despite the four of them not playing together on the same high school teams, McSween said it’s impressive to have so many former players give back to the program.
“The best thing about the four guys who are currently on staff is our love for this position group and this school,” McSween shared. “None of us had the opportunity to play together, but we all speak the same language.
“We sound the exact same whether we’re discussing technique or bragging about who was better,” he added with a laugh. “It’s a trait that is shared between any offensive lineman that played for Paul Hoggard. We care about this program as a whole, and we want to see this position group be the best in the state year in and year out.”
Taking the bond shared between offensive linemen one step further, McSween referenced the HOGS mentality and how it influences the way Raiders play today.
“There have been multiple o-line guys who returned to coach at Richmond. Trey Coan, Dustin Braddock and Matthew Poston all came back to this program before us,” McSween said. “We’ve also had Kevin Norton come back as a coach this year.
“There are also several other guys that ask me about the current HOGS every chance they get. The reason is because there is a mutual respect that we all share for each other, knowing the work that comes with the position and knowing the only reward you’re looking for is a win.”
Alfonso was the next Raider to come along, getting moved up to varsity near the end of the 2007 season as a sophomore. Of the four players, he’s the only one to earn a 4AA state title ring with Richmond during the 2008 season, in which he was the team’s starting left guard.
In 2009, Alfonso returned as a senior who started again at left guard. He concluded his time as a Raider with his second consecutive all-conference nod, as well as a roster spot in the Shrine Bowl. The summer of his graduation, Alfonso also played in the East-West All-Star Game.
Playing stints at two different colleges, Alfonso joined McSween at Catawba for his freshman year in 2010. He played both guard positions for the Indians until his sophomore year before transferring to Fayetteville State University for the 2012 and 2013 seasons. He started all of his games there at center.
Now in his fourth year helping coach Richmond, Alfonso works as the JV offensive line coach and works with the varsity players, too. Alfonso, like those who have played and coached before him, understands the program’s rich tradition with the position group.
“Richmond’s offensive line coaches have always been highly praised from what I’ve heard,” Alfonso said. “I didn’t move to Richmond County until I was in eighth grade. Paul Hoggard was the only offensive line coach I had any knowledge of.
“As far as students and athletes seeing hometown guys coming back, I think it helps build some confidence within themselves. Seeing someone who grew up in the same area as you, who goes off to college and comes back to make a difference is huge,” he added.
“Not just coaches, but teachers as well. As a high school football coach, we get one new class every year, and we automatically have something in common with them.”
A New Jersey native with lots of options following his college career, Alfonso said the decision to return to his high school program was an easy one. He also wanted to foster the same types of relationships with current players as the ones he made with his coaches.
“What made me come back was the relationships I made as a student and an athlete,” Alfonso explained. “Having a well-organized football program such as Richmond helped mold me into the man I am today.
“It definitely gave me all the tools I needed both mentally and physically to earn a scholarship to play football in college. I would like to give the same tools and confidence to any student-athlete I have the privilege to teach or coach.”
Jones, the youngest of the group, played varsity football during his sophomore, junior and senior seasons. He suited up for the Raiders from 2010 through 2012, playing right guard during his tenure. Following his final year, Jones also played in the East-West game.
In 2013, Jones played one season of college football at Wingate University on the offensive line. He returned to help coach Richmond and is in his fourth season as the ninth grade team’s head coach, offensive coordinator and offensive line coach.
Growing up, Jones said he was “inspired” by his family members who played offensive line. He had family members play in the trenches on several of Richmond’s state title teams, including Dion Gardner in 1997 and 1998, as well as Charles Crank in 2008.
“The best part of coaching with these guys is the stories we share and how well we all relate to one another,” Jones said. “It’s about 10 years between me and Hope and all four of us have memories that are almost identical.
“Being HOGS is something we all take great pride in. It’s like a brotherhood inside of the Raider family.”