ROCKINGHAM — The face of high school football has changed a lot in the last year, but the standard that is Richmond Raider football hasn’t.
And it’s that mindset the Raiders and fourth-year head coach Bryan Till plan to use en route to a hopeful state championship in 2021.
Richmond, which went 13-1 a season ago, is approaching the 15-month mark since it last played a game in Dec. 2019. That came on the heels of having made its deepest run in over a decade to the 4AA West regional championship against Vance High School.
No one knew at the time of the fourth-round exit that Raider football would kick off its season over a year later in March, a week later than already anticipated.
Richmond was supposed to start last Friday, but games against Purnell Swett and Scotland high schools were postponed because of both programs having to quarantine due to COVID-19 protocols.
The shuffling of the team’s schedule has been frustrating, but now the Raiders are on the home stretch of hitting the gridiron for the first time of their hopeful seven-game, conference-only regular season.
With new health and safety concerns coming into play this season with the pandemic, Till said the guidelines are being taken seriously in order to play as many games as possible.
“The biggest impact moving forward will be in the mask mandate and managing that with our guys,” Till noted of players being required to wear masks while playing. “We are so used to all the other protocols at this point that there will not be much of an impact in how we practice.
“However, trying to avoid quarantine, and if we were to have to, affects the season a great deal,” he continued.
Within the last week, Gov. Roy Cooper increased seating capacities for both indoor and outdoor venues, and now Raider Stadium can seat approximately 1,800 fans following the 30 percent capacity rule. No information on ticket sales have been made public at this time.
Also different for the first time in three seasons will be who is under center for the Raiders, as former quarterback Caleb Hood skipped his senior season to enroll early at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Former teammate and wide receiver Jakolbe Baldwin did the same for North Carolina State University.
But there’s no reason for Raider fans to worry, as seasoned playmakers are expected to fill the roles left open. As the Richmond Observer first reported, junior Kellan Hood was named the team’s starting quarterback, and brings with him experience at that position.
Kellan Hood is making the transition from slot receiver, where he caught 24 passes for 262 yards and one touchdown as a sophomore. Familiar with the Raiders’ run-pass option offense, Kellan Hood is tuning up to be a great fit as a dual-threat quarterback.
“Kellan has shown he understands our offense and has been a quick learner in terms of his reads, progressions and all the things we ask him to do at quarterback that he didn’t have to do as a wide receiver,” Jay Jones, the team’s quarterback coach, explained.
“Kellan is a savvy football player who understands the game and has great instincts on the field. He understands defenses and is able to process things on the field really well.”
With the loss of Baldwin, offensive coordinator Brad Denson and wide receiver coaches Greg Williams and Andy Shuler are expecting a wealth of Raiders to step up and keep the team’s passing game strong.
Seniors Dalton Stroman (Appalachian State signee) and Tremel Jones (Wingate University signee) will be the top two targets for Kellan Hood. Stroman, Richmond’s leading receiver from the 2019 campaign, snagged 31 receptions for a team-high 716 yards and led Richmond with nine touchdowns through the air.
Jones also had 31 catches, going for 485 yards and three scores. Stroman brings the outside threat with his 6-4, 200-pound frame, while Jones’ speed allows him to be shifty over the middle of the field.
Two receivers who will look to do some damage this season as varsity regulars will be senior Jarod Morrison and junior Trey Thomas.
Junior QB Kellan Hood hands the ball off to senior WR Tremel Jones during practice earlier this preseason.
The Raiders’ backfield will also be without Jaheim Covington, a three-year varsity starter at running back. Now playing at South Carolina State University, Covington’s departure opened the door for senior Jaron Coleman to carry the load at tailback.
As a junior, Coleman was Richmond’s secondary back and carried the ball 70 times for 740 yards and 10 rushing scores. He averaged 52.9 yards per game and impressed with 10.6 yards per carry.
Additional running backs like sophomore Brandon Askins and junior Nasir Crumpton are also expected to see playing time.
“Jaron’s role will increase a great deal along with Kellen’s,” Till said. “We will also have several guys like C.J. Tillman, Gabe Altman, J.D. Lampley, Jaleel Davis and Caleb Wilson possibly playing on both sides of the ball in certain situations.”
Tillman (Campbell University signee) and Atlman (junior) are traditionally linebackers for the Raiders, while Lampley started the majority of games as a sophomore at nose tackle last year. Davis (N.C. State signee) and Wilson are returners to a well-stacked offensive line.
Davis (left tackle), Wilson (left guard) and junior center Braxton Butler all protected the line last season, and newcomers Jaiden Covington, Austin Moore and Jeffery Linton are expected to help keep defenses away from Hood and company.
Defensively, the Raiders are moving to a 4-3 scheme this year as James Johnson enters his first year wearing the defensive coordinator hat. No stranger to Richmond football, Johnson will also implement a 4-2-5 scheme to widen what the Raiders can do on defense.
“The 4-3 fits our personnel better,” Johnson explained. “Our 3-4 scheme the last few years was unique, and it had a lot of 4-2-5 principles already in it. The alignments won’t change that much, so it should be an easy transition.
“Our third linebacker will be a hybrid guy out in the box,” he continued. “We see the spread (offense) a lot, so we may run more of a 4-2-5. I’m trying to build a system that’s complex looking to opposing coaches, but I want to keep it simple for our guys.”
Joining Lampley on the defensive line will be players like senior Kaleel Brown, Derrick Everett, Ahmad Morrison and Jayme Allen. It will be Tillman, Altman and Ke’Sean Ingram, among others, who will headline the linebacking group.
Tillman was the Raiders’ leading tackler in 2019, collecting 105 total tackles, including 86 solo tackles. He was also second on the team with five quarterback sacks as a junior.
Richmond’s next 11 leading tacklers were lost to graduated seniors or players not returning this year, so Brown (29 tackles) and Lampley (25 tackles) are the next guys up.
Till said which players will get starting reps on the defensive line and at linebacker will depend on the week of practice, as well as where Lampley plays, either at tackle or defensive end. Altman could play at end, as well as linebacker.
Junior defensive lineman J.D. Lampley (right) works against junior offensive lineman Braxton Butler.
The position group to see the biggest change is the secondary, as all four starters from a season ago have since graduated. Many of the newcomers are players who have fulfilled second-string roles or are making the jump from the junior varsity level.
Likely to contribute at the role of safety will be senior Isaiah Jones, junior Kelay Lindsey and sophomore Emerson Wall. Jones played six games as a junior, had one interception and recorded 10 tackles.
Playing cornerback for Richmond will be a pair of juniors in Jamari Broady and Cason Douglas, but Till said “the secondary will be a very interesting area for all of us to see who has matured and plays the best.”
The Raiders enter the pandemic-impacted season as the two-time defending Sandhills Athletic Conference champion, having held off rival Scotland each of the past two seasons. The hope this year is to go all the way and win the program’s eighth state title and its first since 2008.
“We always expect to compete for a state title at Richmond,” Till said. “The key here is to uphold a high level of play throughout the year just as we’ve done in the past.
“I think we are more thankful than we have ever been to have an opportunity to play this game we all love,” he closed. “It still doesn’t seem real, but I expect there to be a ton of emotion from players and coaches when we run onto the field for the first time on Friday.”
The Raiders will travel to Pinecrest High School (1-0) on Friday to open their season. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m.