Monday, 07 May 2018 07:02

Raiders football's leadership council paving the way for player-led success

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Richmond leadership council members Joerail White (left) and Caleb Hood (right) cautiously work through a blindfolded obstacle course aimed at improving communication and listening skills. Richmond leadership council members Joerail White (left) and Caleb Hood (right) cautiously work through a blindfolded obstacle course aimed at improving communication and listening skills. Photo courtesy of Jay Jones.

ROCKINGHAM - Eleven weeks ago, 11 of Richmond Senior High School’s varsity football players began a journey that would test their grit, determination, teamwork, trust and most importantly, their ability to be leaders.

During head coach Bryan Till’s “State of the Program” address that drew hundreds of Raiders supporters to RSHS’ cafeteria on February 22, he introduced 11 rising players (five seniors, four juniors and two sophomores) as members of the inaugural Raiders Leadership Council.

In the time since that meeting, rising seniors Jonathan Jones, Jr., Jake Ransom, Isaiah Ratliff, Malik Stanback, Bobby Terry, rising juniors Noah Altman, Brian Bowden, Jaheim Covington, Joerail White and rising sophomores Caleb Hood and CJ Tillman have been hard at work completing the first phase of the program, which Till described as a training phase which will properly equip his players with exquisite leadership abilities for the upcoming football season.

During his address in February, Till noted that there were several reasons why each player was selected to be a member of the leadership council. While he didn’t explicitly discuss the details, it should be noted that Ransom is a two-time all-conference selection, while Hood and Stanback earned their first honor this past season thanks to breakout seasons at the quarterback and wide receiver position, respectively.

And all the other players made substantial contributions at either the junior varsity or varsity level, and TIll hopes for them to carry their newfound knowledge and skillset into the 2018 season.

“This Monday will be the final week of the training process,” Till said. “There was an introductory meeting, and then there have been 10 Mondays that the guys have gotten together for a lesson.

“Coach (Jay) Jones has exceeded my expectations for planning and executing it,” Till continued of his quarterback coach who he gave the council’s responsibilities to. “And so far, the guys have met my expectations. The first half of the training was focused on being a leader by example, and in the second half, the guys are learning on how to be vocal leaders.”

While the rigorous course has proven to have had its moments where players have struggled to succeed at first, Till has seen tremendous growth from all 11 players. The goal of the council, according to Till, is to “combat mediocrity” on and off the field.

“The guys have done well for the most part, but they’ve fallen in some areas,” he said of the progress. “But that’s just like in life. We want them (the council) to practice these skills and get more and more opportunities. They are being assigned roles like helping make uniform decisions and talking to eighth graders during workouts.

“They’ve accepted the responsibility that comes with being a part of this special group,” Till continued. “There have been times where some guys deal with failure, but they pick up and move forward. As humans, we don’t like to talk about our faults. And these guys are having conversations with teammates that they never would have had before. We’ll see if they achieve it, but they have a great grasp on things and are brave enough to do it.”

After completing his first full season as the Raiders head coach in 2017, Till wanted to implement some type of player leadership program. Noting that he’s “mauled over the idea for several years” while spending time at Cape Fear and Fayetteville Terry Sanford high schools, Till explained he designed his own program out of a framework of ideas. He also said he felt “very comfortable delegating” this assignment to Coach Jones.

When asked how this program, which is still in its infancy, has helped or will help create leaders inside and outside of the Raiders locker room, Till said the focus is on a plethora of topics that rely on giving “practical examples” and “role playing” opportunities. By setting up different scenarios that are leadership-based, this is a “drill period” for the 11 members, and Till said he has seen them “be successful” while feeling out the process.

While each of the training sessions is centered around a specific leadership development quality, the Raiders are also finding it to be a time to bond and revel in one another’s successes. What Till wants them to realize is that football “isn’t always about winning on Friday nights,” and that these newly learned skills “can help them in all areas of life.”

Some of the more invigorating meetings have come over the past couple of weeks. In one session, the Raiders players completed an obstacle course while blindfolded, which caused them to work on better, more detailed communication and listening skills.

Coach Jones also lined up the University of South Carolina’s football strength and conditioning director Jeff Dillman to speak to players about the importance of properly taking care of their bodies. Also speaking to the Raiders about his successes and journey through the United States Air Force Academy, via a live video stream, was current Atlanta Falcons defensive backs coach Charlie Jackson. Till expressed his gratitude to Coach Jones for lining up the meetings, and said his players “were very attentive” to the messages and “saw what it takes to make it to a different level.”

Other activities have been centered on character building, which Till said has helped with his players working on addressing teammates about “missteps in class and off the field.”

So, what’s the end goal of this program? What’s the purpose of spending 11 Monday nights together? The answer for Till is simple -- he wants to set a standard of what it should mean to be a Raider football player under his tutelage and continue to grow the program’s community involvement.

“The end goal is for all 11 of these guys to take take ownership of what they’re doing,” Till commented. “We want them to obviously lead on the field and be productive in their communication.

“We also want them to realize, and be a part of, the beacon of light that the Raiders football program is in our community,” he added. “We want people to see how special our community is through the impact and change of this group of guys. It’s all about setting a standard.”

And while the Richmond football program has been privileged to sustain such a high-level of tradition for the last four decades, Till wants this new standard to take Richmond to a whole other level. He believes that the leadership skills his players are learning now will help them lead the Raiders to its eighth state title. It’s a goal that Till explained has been discussed by his coaches and players, and hopes that some hardware will be coming back to Rockingham in the near future.

In terms of the future of the leadership council, the 11 players will continue to meet and complete seminars throughout the summer and the 2018 season. Till wants them to be actively involved in helping make team decisions and addressing needs and issues on and off the field.

“We’d like to continue this year in and year out,” Till concluded. “We’ve got a great group of guys now who can do big things this year. And when it comes time next year, they’ll help select the new council. We really want being on this council to mean something to all of our players.”

Last modified on Monday, 07 May 2018 08:24

Kyle Pillar

Three-time award-winning sports editor. Indiana University of Pennsylvania communications media and journalism alumni. English teacher, Ninth Grade Academy.

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