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‘More than just football’: Raider Elite Youth Football holding registration for upcoming season

ROCKINGHAM — The Raider Elite Youth Football program is centered around building the next generation of local high school and college football players.

John Carter, a local business owner and the program’s director, has been working with and developing Richmond County’s youth on the gridiron for the past seven years.

For several years, Carter operated the Richmond Warriors Elite travel football program. In the fall of 2020, he joined forces with former youth football coach Errol Hood to create the Raider Elite program.

With the success of the youth development team, Carter has also placed a strong emphasis on helping young student-athletes excel off the field and in the classroom.

“The program has grown a lot since we started and we’ve definitely been putting in a lot of work,” Carter said. “We’re trying to build future (Richmond) Raiders, and all of our kids are going directly into middle school and high school football. The goal is eventually helping them get to college.

“In February, we had a class on finances for kids, we offer tutors and have two coaches on staff who are teachers in Mike McRae and Crystal McDonald,” he added. “We’re about more than just football.”

A non-profit organization, Raider Elite is currently holding registration for the upcoming season. 

The AAU program fields three age group teams — 8U, 10U and 12U. Carter said the 8U (7 and 8-year-olds) and 12U (11 and 12-year-olds) squads are the two that need the most players.

The cutoff date to determine which team players will be on is July 31. Carter coaches the 8U team, Laron Ellerbe heads up the 10U squad and Derrick Wiley is the head coach for 12U.

Registration for each player costs $175 for the season, which includes three interchangeable uniforms (black, green and gold). Players also receive equipment rental and insurance.

Carter noted that he’s “never turned anyone away” because of the cost, and said the program will find a sponsor if necessary.

Last season, both the 8U and 10U teams “had great success” and finished the campaign with winning records. Carter and the 8U team played in the AAU nationals in Florida, placing sixth overall.

This past spring, the Raider Elite 10U and 12U teams also competed in a 7-on-7 league hosted by Greater Charlotte Youth Football. Geared toward helping develop the passing game, the 12U squad finished fourth overall and the 10U team was fifth.

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One aspect of the program that Carter is really proud of is his coaching staff. That includes Deangelo Davis, whose son Jaleel Davis plays for N.C. State, and former Raider football player Derrick Watkins, among others.

The variety of knowledge and experience brought by the coaches “helps get the kids ready for the next level.”

Carter said there’s also a strong “who’s who” involved with the program, from Raider legends to coaches, teachers, law enforcement officers and guidance counselors.

Raider Elite will open its season the third week in August and play through October. Regionals will be held in November, followed by nationals in December. Carter said one of the many goals this fall is to get as many of the teams to qualify for nationals.

There will also be several preseason events Raider Elite players will compete in, including the “Only the Best” tournament for the 8U and 10U teams in Charlotte the last week of July.

Carter and company will also host a showcase tournament on Richmond’s practice fields on August 6. A total of 16 teams will play in that jamboree, with roughly 10 games being played that day.

Calling Richmond head coach Bryan Till “a blessing,” Carter said the sixth-year Raider coach has helped provide anything the Raider Elite program has needed.

“My initial interest in youth football was to get the ears of the kids,” Carter explained. “I wanted to give them advice and teach them lessons, and to build that bond we’ve used sports to do that.

“Once I’ve built that bond, the kids are more likely to absorb what I’m saying,” he closed. “The majority of our kids are on the right track, and we want to keep it that way. It’s a pleasure seeing players get scholarships or graduate. We’ve lost a couple of players to gun violence and the more we do with our program, the more we can help our community.” 

Currently in a three-week dead period, Raider Elite practices will resume on July 5 at the high school practice fields from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. 

Any player interested, or anyone interested in sponsoring the program, can contact Carter at 910-995-0385.

Below are photos of the three interchangeable uniforms players will wear this season. Contributed by John Carter.

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Kyle Pillar is a nine-time North Carolina Press Association award-winning sports editor with The Richmond Observer. Follow the sports department on Twitter @ROSports_ for the best in-depth coverage of Richmond County sports.