ROCKINGHAM — Two local youth football programs are joining together this spring.
Following a “trial run” during a 7-on-7 league this past fall, John Carter and Errol Hood have decided to combine their two independent programs to create the Raider Elite football program.
The coronavirus pandemic has kept Richmond County’s youngsters off the football field for over a year, and now Carter and Hood hope to return tackle football to the community in the coming months.
Carter will act as the organization’s president, with Hood serving as an advisor who will help with recruiting, training, league planning and sponsorships.
For 11 years, Hood operated the Raider Youth Football Program, and Carter ran the Richmond Warriors Elite program the last five years.
“For the past year, I have been pushing for one program,” Carter explained. “At the end of the day, all of the kids are going to be Richmond Raiders. Now we won’t be splitting talent, resources and coaches, and it’s important that we are now unifying our programs.
“In order for the kids to have the best experience and support system, this is the best option,” he added. “Coach Hood had a long successful run with running his football program, and I think he’s directly influenced the success of Richmond Raider football.”
Many of the current high school football players were members of Hood’s program, which started in 2009. Carter said that these players have shown the importance of future high school players all playing for the same team at a young age.
The new Raider Elite program will play in an independent spring league outside the umbrella of the Amatuer Athletic Union. There will be five age brackets — 6U, 8U, 10U, 12U and 14U — and March 21, 2021, is the cut-off date to determine which team players will be assigned to.
Carter said the biggest concern right now is to sign players up for all five teams, and added that there are several coaching vacancies, too.
The cost per player is $150, which includes equipment rental (helmet, shoulder pads and pants), a jersey players get to keep, socks, a compression shirt, a duffel bag and a backpack. The cost also includes each player’s insurance to play in the league.
The Raider Elite program is also mirroring the COVID-19 protocols that local high school teams are following. Carter said masks are required, each player must bring his own water bottle and that sanitation and social distancing measures are being taken to ensure player safety.
“We need kids on all the teams and registration is still open,” Carter commented. “And we’ve already started working out since the third week of December. The teams practice every Saturday at noon on Richmond’s practice fields.”
The program also hopes to establish a 501(c)(3) nonprofit fund, complete with a new board of directors, Carter explained. That community support, Carter said, will help bolster the program and continue building Richmond County’s depth in youth football.
Fourth-year Richmond head coach Bryan Till is supportive of the idea to have one youth development league. Since he took over the Raiders in 2017, Till has been a big advocate for the community coming together and backing all local athletics.
“I definitely think as a one high school county that building unity earlier on and creating one identity is good,” Till said. “Unity is a big thing in high school athletics, as well as youth, and I’ve always thought the community is a big part of what we’re doing.
“It’s huge for them to do this,” he added. “If we can get the community involved at the youth level and running that program well, it will help everyone.”
The spring league has yet to iron out its official game day details and schedule, but Carter anticipates each team playing five or six regular-season games and one or two postseason contests. The season will begin sometime in March.
The Raider Elite program is in need of local sponsors, Carter noted, and said he can be reached at 910-995-0385. Funds will go toward new equipment for players and other team needs.
“I’m excited that we’re unified working toward one common goal,” Carter closed. “Unity is the best decision, and hopefully we can bring our strengths of running programs together to accomplish the goal of getting kids to the next level with a scholarship.”