ROCKINGHAM — It’s no secret that the Richmond Senior High School varsity football team is younger this season than it has been the last handful of years.
But supporting the cast of players and coaches is a mixture of depth and some returning experience, coupled with a strong foundation rooted in the program’s culture and tradition of winning.
When the Raiders and sixth-year head coach Bryan Till open their season on Friday, they’ll be in the hunt for their fifth-straight Sandhills Athletic Conference title.
The fight won’t stop there, as Till, the SAC’s reigning “Coach of the Year,” said the expectation for Richmond football is always to win an NCHSAA 4A state championship.
A season ago, the Raiders posted a 10-2 overall record and swept conference play, extending their SAC-winning streak to 23 games. During that span, dating back to 2018, Richmond has outscored SAC opponents 1,027-231, for an average of 44.7 points per game on offense.
While conference play has been corralled, the Raiders will look to snap a two-year playoff streak that has ended in the second round. Leesville Road upset Richmond on its home field in 2021.
As a new era of Raider football shuffles in following five seasons with either Caleb or Kellan Hood under center, both of whom now play for UNC, Richmond is focused on the present and the skilled players in a variety of new roles.
Commonplace during Till’s tenure as the Raiders’ head coach has been the mantra of the “next man up.” Whether it’s graduated players or injury, the coaching staff and players have embraced whoever is thrust in the limelight next, and this fall is no different.
“It’s going to be big for us this season,” Till said of players developing into new roles. “Our guys have really bonded together to embrace that next man up.
“And it even goes beyond that, as they’re now the next group up,” he added. “They can say it’s our turn, we’re the next team up and together we can carry the torch. The guys have bought into that mindset and have brought it up in the weight room. They really understand what it means and thrive on each other.”
A pair of upperclassmen quarterbacks will captain the offense this season, with senior Emoni McBride named the starter earlier this year. A four-year member of the Raider program, McBride will see Purnell Swett High School transfer Zaviar Lowry back him up.
They’ll look to fill the shoes of Kellan Hood, who was named the SAC’s “Offensive Player of the Year” in 2021. He passed for 1,548 yards and 18 touchdowns during his senior year, and added 1,024 rushing yards and 15 scores on the ground.
McBride, who described himself as a “dual threat quarterback,” played in seven of Richmond’s 12 games last year. He had 82 passing yards and one touchdown, paired with 80 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
Another versatile player for the Raiders is returning All-SAC running back Taye Spencer, a senior who has impressed during the preseason. Noting he’s a “power and a speed back,” Spencer can muscle his way through the line or skirt past the secondary with bursts of speed.
Spencer was the No. 1 running back in 2021, collecting 792 rushing yards on 117 carries (6.8 yards per rush). He found the end zone 10 times and also caught 15 passes, three going for scores.
Also lining up in the backfield this fall for Richmond will be senior Brandon Askins, who carried the ball 20 times as a junior with two scores. Junior Jaliel Greene and sophomore Jordan Bostick will make the jump to varsity and provide depth at the position.
The Raiders’ wide receiver corps lost its top three receivers to graduation — Cason Douglas, Javares Stanback (All-Conference) and Chris Ellerbe. The position group with the least amount of returners, the receivers have talent according to Till, and will look to showcase it.
Senior Jadden Jenks and junior Jada Zimmerman combined for seven catches and 45 yards last year.
Varsity newcomer sophomore Raymond Knotts brings junior varsity experience and height to the outside, as senior Jamarion Bryant returning from injury, junior Linden Garcia and sophomore Travion Smith will also be potential targets.
The protectors of the ball along the offensive line showcase two returning All-SAC selections in seniors Tyson Holloway and Jeffery Linton. They’ll look to fill the gaps left behind by Braxton Butler (Fayetteville State) and Jaiden Covington (Lenoir-Rhyne).
Coached by Kemp McSween, who is also serving in his first year as co-offensive coordinator with Patrick Hope, the offensive line boasts a physical presence that should slow down opposing defenses.
Holloway will play left tackle, while Linton will play at center and right tackle. Junior Johnny Lunceford is expected to see time at center, while senior Joey Cook and junior Konner Carter will hold down the right and left guard positions, respectively.
While the offense has been electric the last few seasons at Richmond, the defense has been equally impressive in helping win games. A season ago, the Raiders limited opponents to 18.1 points per game (11.5 PPG against SAC teams) and recorded 15 fumble recoveries and 13 interceptions.
During the offseason, Chris Campolieta was promoted from solely coaching the secondary to defensive coordinator.
Gone to more purple pastures is former nose tackle J.D. Lampley, a two-time All-SAC selection and current freshman lineman at East Carolina. His eight sacks and 22 tackles for loss were team-highs last year.
Stepping up to the plate will be senior Urijah McDonald, who got some reps as nose tackle last season (nine tackles, one TFL). Flanking him will be junior defensive end Jacoby Martin, who was All-Conference and had 34 tackles, four TFL and one sack.
Richmond will primarily run a 3-4 defense, and Till said the other defensive end will be senior Ethan Clayton. Sophomore Zack Gardner will also fill in at defensive end in games.
Campolieta said speed will be a factor in what he called “one of the deepest” linebacking groups in the state. Despite being made up of young players, he expects four or five players to emerge as key contributors.
Gabe Altman (Randolph-Macon) and Mikey Baldwin, two All-SAC linebackers from a season ago, have since graduated.
Returners include senior outside linebacker Frazion Steele (32 tackles, two interceptions, one fumble recovery) and sophomore inside linebacker Joe Parsons (25 tackles, two sacks, two fumble recoveries).
Senior Zyion Baldwin and junior Marquan Martin (both with 18 tackles last year) will serve as outside linebackers, with sophomore Bobby Little making the jump to the middle from JV.
Richmond’s leader in tackles last season was senior safety Emerson Wall, an All-SAC player and now a three-year starter. He had 73 total tackles to go along with his one interception, and now he hopes to serve as a vocal leader for a secondary with a lot of depth.
Former All-Conference players Kelay Lindsey (safety) and Jaleak Gates (cornerback, Georgia Military College) have graduated, leaving the door open for junior safety Jamison Jones and Askins to make plays.
Askins, one of several two-way players, had 20 tackles, one pick and one sack last year. He’ll post up on one side of the field at corner, while senior Messiah Shaw will cover the other. Shaw (25 tackles) will also play some safety, and Green will serve as a backup corner.
A trio of kickers will round out the Raiders’ primary roster spots, as sophomore Billy West “can do a little bit of everything consistently.” He tied the program record with nine made PATs in a single game last year.
Also kicking off and doing extra points will be senior Ayden Mabe, and senior Luke McCormick will punt. Both are members of the Raiders’ soccer team.
“The togetherness of this team has really impressed me,” Till said. “They work hard together, there’s been no locker room issues and the guys hold each other accountable. Everyone is a good teammate and does all the little things right. That stands out because they seem to get the importance of that.
“I want our community to know that our best football is in front of us,” Till closed. “We can compete with anybody. We are very talented and young, but we’ll get better and better. The product will get better week to week, and we appreciate our fans’ support physically, monetarily, emotionally and spiritually.”
A host of other assistant coaches are also new this season, including former Raider quarterback Derrick Wiley, who will serve as the QB coach. John Rich will work with outside receivers and Taivon Jones is set to coach the defensive line.
The Raiders will officially open their 10-game regular season on Friday at home against non-conference Mount Tabor High School. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.
Richmond won last year’s season opener 56-41. A preview article will be published later this week.
VIDEO INTERVIEWS: OFFENSE
VIDEO INTERVIEWS: DEFENSE
The Richmond Observer will continue its coverage of the Richmond varsity and junior varsity football teams this fall.
A complete schedule is listed below. Home games are bold and SAC games are marked with an asterisk.
Aug. 19 vs. Mount Tabor, 7:30 p.m.
Aug. 26 vs. Butler, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 2 @ Cardinal Gibbons, 7 p.m.
Sept. 9 @ South View, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 16 @ Southern Lee, 7:30 p.m. *
Sept. 23 @ Pinecrest, 7:30 p.m. *
Sept. 30 vs. Hoke County, 7:30 p.m. * (homecoming)
Oct. 7 @ Union Pines, 7:30 p.m. *
Oct. 14 @ Lee County, 7:30 p.m. *
Oct. 28 vs. Scotland, 7:30 p.m. * (senior night)