ROCKINGHAM — The Richmond Raider football team has upped its intensity and taken time to focus on itself, as well as its next opponent, during practice this week.
As Friday night and their Week 2 game approaches, the Raiders are hoping that a full week of practice will help them rebound from last Thursday’s season-opening loss to Mount Tabor.
Continuing a string of four tough non-conference games to start the season, the Raiders will host familiar foe David W. Butler High School.
Last fall, the two teams met at Memorial Stadium in Charlotte and played in the Carolina Panthers’ “Big Friday High School Football Series,” which ended in a late-game stand by Richmond for a 32-29 win.
The annual meeting between the No. 9 Bulldogs and No. 22 Raiders, according to the latest HighSchoolOT rankings, dates back over a decade. Playing one another 11 times since 2010, Butler holds a 7-4 overall record, but Richmond has won the last three meetings.
Head coach Bryan Till explained that Richmond’s loss to Mount Tabor was a learning experience for players and coaches alike, which allowed the team to address specific needs throughout the last couple days of practice.
“Last week we had an indoor practice on Monday and then we played a shortened week on Thursday. This week we’ve been able to get into a regular routine, which I think will help us,” Till said. “We need to work on finishing plays, making tackles and adjustments and making calls on defense to adjust to certain formations.
“We’ve also been working on getting our offense in rhythm, including getting the play calls out more quickly so the guys have longer to digest,” he added. “We like to be able to freeze and read the defense and adjust.”
As each snap counts and builds more experience for the Raiders, Till said “the kids have really responded well to more intensive practices.”
He added that the offense continues to grow and show improvement with new quarterback Emoni McBride, new center Johnny Lunceford and a host of new wide receivers.
Another area Richmond has been focusing on is cutting down big chunk plays allowed on defense. Against Mount Tabor, Richmond allowed three plays of 40+ yards and five plays of 20+ yards.
“The big thing for us is making sure we don’t have as many missed tackles,” Till explained. “On one of the long runs last week, we had two guys hit him early and he scored.
“We didn’t adjust to formations properly and gave them an extra gap, which part of that is because of a new defensive alignment. Chunk plays normally happen because of a mistake, and we’re working to minimize those mistakes.”
When Butler and head coach Brian Hales roll into Rockingham, the Bulldogs will carry a 1-0 record after shutting out West Charlotte 27-0 to open the season.
Although some key playmakers, like former senior quarterback Xavion Brower, have graduated, Till said there is a heavy resemblance between last year’s Bulldog roster and this year’s.
Noting Butler’s year-in and year-out success, Till said a lot of that has to do with being a well-oiled machine in how the Bulldogs run their schemes on both sides of the ball.
“They’re almost the exact same scheme as last year, just with some new faces in new places,” Till said. “Butler is well coached, and they are the definition of a very multiple team.
“Playing them early prepares us for the rest of the season because we have to have so many checks in order to be ready for them.”
Offensively, the Bulldogs are led by sophomore quarterback Zach Lawrence, who stands at 6-2 and 178 pounds. Till said from watching film, Lawrence “has a really strong arm and has good awareness for a sophomore.”
In the backfield, senior D.J. Horton and junior Tyquan Rankin do the bulk of the work for the Bulldogs. Rankin is also a linebacker who is a threat on defense.
Richmond’s linebackers and secondary have been getting ready for senior wide receiver Eli Sylvester, a wideout they saw in last year’s meeting. Other potential Lawrence targets include Horton, Makhi Carr and Dequadre Currence.
Till explained that the Butler offense can come out in a variety of different formations, including the spread, under center, wishbone, bunch set and wing-t, which adds depth to trying to defend the Bulldogs.
On the other side of the ball, Butler runs a 3-4 based defense, called by coach Tripp Stone. Richmond’s offense will also be on the lookout for a 4-3 scheme, which Till says uses the “same personnel and walks down to change looks and run multiple coverages.”
“They have a lot of athletes who run to the ball,” Till said. “The d-line is also athletic despite being younger. The nose tackle (Jadyn Farmer) is a tough kid.”
Kickoff from Raider Stadium is set for 7:30 p.m. on Friday. Following the game, the Raiders will play four straight road games before returning for homecoming on Sept. 30.