ROCKINGHAM — Part of playing football is getting knocked down and having the resiliency and toughness to get back up and push forward.
That’s one way the Richmond Senior High School football team is approaching its new season, which will be the seventh year of head coach Bryan Till’s tenure.
After a disappointing 2022 season that resulted in just the program’s second losing season since its inception in 1972, the Raiders’ confidence is high as the final week of preseason practice winds down.
Another year of growth, several returning players and Richmond’s deep-rooted pride of tradition and success are all tools the Raiders hope to use to bounce back this fall.
While the team saw its four-year run of winning the Sandhills Athletic Conference championship come to an end after a 5-6 overall record and a 4-2 mark in conference, returning to that standard is just the start.
Till emphasized that winning a conference championship isn’t something that’s won by looking at the broad picture. Instead, it’s a task that goes week-by-week, play-by-play, all grounded in intense preparation and a desire to win.
With the sub-.500 season and a first-round playoff exit still relatively clear in the rearview mirror, the Raiders will face a gauntlet of non-conference teams through the first four weeks of the season.
Opening with Seventy-First, David W. Butler, Cardinal Gibbons and Myers Park high schools, all programs Till called “state powerhouse type teams,” Richmond will see its talents tested early.
The goal is to see the Raiders progress week in and week out in preparation to face SAC opponents. Till said the easy answer to winning another conference crown is to win all six games, but that he and the team understand the effort required to do that.
Having been at work in the weight room and on the practice field all spring and summer, the Raiders will see a mix of returning starters from last fall coupled with an influx of players in new positions and roles.
For the third time in four seasons, the Raiders will have a new starting quarterback. The decision has yet to be made who will get the job between sophomores Evan Hodges and Domonic Tillman.
Hodges was the junior varsity quarterback as a freshman and Tillman had a strong season at wide receiver. Till expressed that the competition is still “even” at this point.
Just two of Richmond’s eight All-SAC selections from a year ago return — senior defensive end Jacoby Martin and junior linebacker Joe Parsons. Martin, who suffered an injury in the spring, will be out of the starting rotation for at least the first part of the season.
Parsons, who has played a big role as an interior linebacker since his freshman year, is a player Till expects to lead the defense. In 2022, Parsons led the Raiders with 78 total tackles (7.1 per game) and added three sacks.
Also tucked at inside linebacker is junior K’Mauri Morgan (tied third with 49 tackles), who is back for his second season on varsity.
A change to the Raiders’ offensive scheme, which is co-coordinated by Patrick Hope and Kemp McSween, will see the team run the triple option. The playmaking ability from the running backs and slot receivers is something Till has been impressed with.
Senior running back Jaliel Green will look to fill the shoes left by former All-SAC player Taye Spencer. As a junior, Green was the third leading rusher, and second-best tailback, with 423 yards on 52 carries and three scores.
Till noted there is a lot of depth out of the backfield, which will include juniors Jordan Bostick, Joseph Patterson, Javion Smith and Ali Tyson. All, with the exception of Bostick, are playing varsity for the first time.
At wide receiver, a host of players will look to help the passing and running game. Senior Linden Garcia (15 catches, 212 yards) and sophomore Jayden Hamilton (8 catches, 86 yards) are going to be key pieces in the option game from the slot.
Junior Travion Smith (9 catches, 153 yards) is a deep threat who brings size and experience to the outside. Also with an impressive preseason has been senior Javian Drake, who can catch and run the ball, and is back for the first time since his freshman year.
Three players also return to the offensive line after playing significant minutes last fall. Senior Johnny Lunceford is back at center, flanked by fellow senior left guard Konner Carter and junior right tackle Gray Maultsby.
Richmond’s o-line will be without multi-year starters Tyson Holloway (Brown) and Jeffery Linton (Tusculum), who were also All-SAC picks as seniors.
The defense will be led by second-year defensive coordinator Chris Campolieta and mirrors the offense with new players stepping up in 2023.
Aiding Morgan and Parsons will be sophomore linebacker Terande Spencer, who Till said has a knack for making big plays. During Wednesday’s scrimmage, Spencer had a sack and a strip sack.
Other linebackers who will look to contribute will be juniors Zy Martin and Fred Isaac III, along with senior Darius Harris, who is switching from the secondary.
Seniors Jamison Jones (49 tackles) and Marquan Martin (51 tackles, 1 interception) will hold down the top cornerback and safety positions, respectively.
Other defensive backs Campolieta said have had a good summer are seniors Jarah Cook, Isaiah Lockhart, David McNair and junior Chris Covington.
The only returning regular on the defensive line, save for Jacoby Martin, is junior defensive end Zach Gardner (33 tackles, 1 sack).
Junior Tate Simpson is set for his first varsity season at nose tackle, while sophomores Demonte Marton (nose tackle) and Timothy Sloan (defensive end) will help solidify the line.
Helping Gardner set the edge, Sloan had two sacks in Richmond’s playoff game last year, his first varsity appearance.
Rounding out this year’s squad on special teams is junior Billy West, who enters his third varsity season. West made 27-of-30 point-after attempts as a sophomore and kicked four field goals, including three under pressure in the playoffs.
Within the SAC, the Raiders will have to contend with reigning conference champion and 4A rival Pinecrest High School. Scotland High School, Richmond’s oldest rival, finished second in the standings in 2022 and defeated the Raiders for the first time in three seasons.
Richmond will scrimmage Pine Forest High School on Friday at 6 p.m. The scrimmage will be played at Douglas Byrd High School.
The Raiders kick off their official 10-game campaign on Friday, Aug. 18, at home against Seventy-First. Game time is set for 7:30 p.m.
The Richmond Observer will publish a game preview next week.
The Richmond Observer will continue its award-winning coverage of the varsity and junior varsity football teams this fall.