Friday, 10 August 2018 00:27

Season Preview: Richmond football to "embrace eight year" in Till's second season

Written by
Rate this item
(2 votes)
Second-year head coach Bryan Till and the Raiders are embracing the "eight year" mentality this season. Second-year head coach Bryan Till and the Raiders are embracing the "eight year" mentality this season. Photo courtesy of Kyle Pillar.

ROCKINGHAM - The middle of August means one thing in Richmond County -- the official return of Raider football and Friday night lights. And this year, history, for lack of a better term, is on the Raiders’ side.

There’s little to no argument that Raider football is what powers Richmond County from late summer into early November. Second-year head coach Bryan Till and his crew of varsity players are starting a new chapter, and with it, he and many others hope to pen a storybook ending.

One that results in the program’s eighth North Carolina High School Athletic Association 4AA state championship.

Call it a coincidence, call it luck, call it skill -- but the narrative of the infamous “eight year” writes itself. Since Richmond Senior High School opened its doors in 1972, the Raiders have brought home the big time hardware in every year that has ended in eight (1978, 1988, 1998 and 2008).

The most recent of the school’s seven titles came in 2008, a 35-32 victory over now Sandhills Athletic Conference foe Jack Britt High School.

It almost sets up perfectly -- it’s an eight year, and a championship this year would be the school’s eighth. So, the question for Till and company is “why not us” in 2018.

“We expect to contend for a conference title and a state championship,” Till said in his office Thursday, game notes and formation sheets sprawled across his desk. “When I took this job, that was part of the expectation -- not just this year, but every year. That’s Richmond County.

“The team talks about the ‘eight years’ from the standpoint of if we’re going to win a state championship, we have to own it,” Till continued. “It’s our year every year, and now it happens to be an eight year. It’s an element that adds that much more belief for us to win -- we don’t shy away from it, and our kids and coaches embrace it. It’s even more of a reason to win.”

Earlier this week at the SAC’s official media day, Richmond was selected as the projected No. 1 team in the coaches poll, as well as the second team in the media poll. While the preseason accolades are a nice gesture, Till still feels like it’s his team’s job to prove it deserves the recognition come Week 12.

“We want to win no matter what, so there’s no real added pressure by being picked No. 1,” Till said of the coaches poll. “There are a lot of good coaches in our conference, and I appreciate what they think we’ve done in a year. But I ask ‘why do they think that’ -- we haven’t done it on the field, so it doesn’t mean a whole lot right now.”

The first step in the process for Richmond to bounce back from a 7-5 record in 2017 will be to end a seven-year drought without winning a conference title. The last conference crown for the Raiders came in 2010, when they went 5-0 against then Southeastern Conference opponents under former head coach Paul Hoggard. Since then, archrival Scotland High School has had free reign, winning seven straight conference titles. But again, Richmond’s mentality isn’t focused on the past.

“We won (the conference) for 16 straight years,” Till said with a grin. “It just comes down to us being able to beat Scotland on the field, and that’s the season finale, which is always a big game. For us, I think in order to win, we have to play well and stay healthy every week. We can compete with any team in the state when we are healthy and focused.”

Calling this year’s overall schedule “grueling,” Till and the Raiders will be without several players to start the season. As previously reported by ROSports, rising senior All-SAC wide receiver Malik Stanback will miss the entire season with a torn ACL, suffered during a 7-on-7 scrimmage this summer.

Rising junior linebacker Joerail White will also miss an extended period of time with an undisclosed knee injury, as he was expected to produce big numbers this year. Other Raiders out for Week 1 will be rising senior wide receiver Jordyn Wall (hamstring), rising senior defensive lineman Isaiah Ratliff (knee) and rising senior offensive lineman C.J. Goodwin (knee).

Offensive Breakdown

But there’s a lot more good news than bad, as the Raiders are returning two All-SAC starters from a year ago, as well as incorporating several players making the jump to the varsity level from a junior varsity team that went 10-0 and won the conference.

Most notably is starting rising sophomore quarterback Caleb Hood. As a freshman, Hood threw for 2,095 yards, 16 touchdowns, and had a passer rating of 109.9, which was best for all freshman quarterbacks in the state. He’s also a dual threat under center, as he rushed for 275 yards and five more scores. Backing him up will be rising junior Noah Altman, the leader of last year’s junior varsity squad.

Captaining a relatively young offensive line that lost two All-SAC selections from a year ago is two-time All-SAC selection and rising senior Jake Ransom, who will act as the team’s center. To Ransom’s left will be rising sophomore Jaleel Davis (left tackle) and rising junior Brian Bowden (left guard), and on the right are rising senior Caleb Ross (right tackle) and rising junior Austin Hart (rising junior).

Out of the backfield, Richmond will be without its All-SAC and Shrine Bowl selection Dante Miller from a year ago (19 touchdowns), but a trio of tailbacks should fill the void. Returning for his second year on varsity is rising junior Jaheim Covington (475 yards, eight touchdowns), as Till expects him to be the No. 1 back. Joining Covington are rising senior Bobby Terry (who is also a wide receiver) and his half-brother Lacyrus Ellerbe, a product of the junior varsity team a season ago.

“The offense all starts with Caleb,” Till commented. “The offensive line is getting better, and we don’t want to be moving them around too much because they’re really gelling right now. The better they get, the better we’ll be. We have the tools at quarterback and running back.

“It’s no surprise for the rest of the guys at this point,” he added. “I’ll need to see how we match up in a run-pass option-based scheme. Jaheim, Bobby and Lacyrus are all different types of tailbacks, but they’ll each give us a different look.”

With Stanback down, offensive coordinator Brad Denson will look to the likes of Terry, rising seniors Preston Coker and Jahan Jones, rising juniors Hakeim Blue and Armond Martin, and rising sophomores Jakolbe Baldwin and Dalton Stroman to step up. The receiving core is young, but Denson has noted several players as standing out in practice and scrimmages.

Defensive Breakdown

Till also acts as Richmond’s defensive coordinator, and while the offense has some flash to it, the defense is equally as impressive. This year, the Raiders will operate in a 3-4 defense thanks to a strong core of linebackers, even without White in the starting mix.

“The linebackers are the strength of our defense, and that’s why we went with a 3-4 scheme this year,” Till explained. “There are a lot of guys who can play that position really well, and we’re three or four guys deep at linebacker.”

Setting up behind the defensive line at linebacker will be rising seniors Jada Edwards, Taveon Ellerbe, Jonathan Jones and Trevor Whittington, rising juniors Gavin Russell and D’Andre Bethea and rising sophomore C.J. Tillman. Russell and rising senior Nate Hudson will also double up as linebackers and tight ends.

The defensive line is highlighted by rising senior defensive end Rasheed Patrick, who Till noted “stood out a lot” this summer. He continued to say Patrick has “long arms and is explosive off the ball,” which makes him “tremendous at rushing the passer and following the ball.”

In the secondary, coached by Chris Campolieta, some names to watch this season are rising junior cornerbacks Zyier Baldwin and Xavion Lindsay. Safety wise, rising senior Eric Burke (strong safety) and rising junior Dereck Barringer (free safety) will see more playing time.

X-Factor

A season ago, Richmond was initially awarded a high seed in the NCHSAA 4AA brackets, but was later changed to a No. 8 spot after the Association had to readminster seedings. That put the Raiders at home against No. 9 North Mecklenburg High School, which ultimately resulted in a late-game 27-23 loss to the Vikings in the final minute.

Fast forward nine months, and all of that is in the past, with the Raiders aiming to go far beyond the opening round.

“Nothing has been really different this year in how we’re preparing, it’s just that we’re better at it,” Till noted. “Last year, we were figuring out what I needed and wanted, and what was best for the team -- this year, we’ve been able to work seamlessly together. That helps with continuity and chemistry with the coaching staff and the kids.

“Our x-factor will be our execution on offense and defense -- it’s as simple as that,” he added. “The experience and desire our kids have will be enough to do what it takes to win. These kids really have me believing, and I don’t really see any quit in them. If I continue to see that, that’s what will take us this year.”

Richmond opens its season a week from Friday, as it will play host to non-conference opponent Ronald Reagan High School. Last season, also in the season opener, the Raiders slammed the boys from Pfafftown, N.C., 45-24 for Till and Hood’s first win. The Raiders’ first big test comes in Week 2 at home against reigning 4AA state champion Wake Forest High School, which hasn’t lost a game since the 2015 playoffs.

“I’d really like to see the fans filling the stands and supporting our boys,” Till concluded. “They appreciate being attached to something bigger, and feel a great responsibility to the history of Richmond football. They’re ready to put their stamp on the program.”

Last modified on Friday, 10 August 2018 00:32
Kyle Pillar

Sports Editor. IUP alumni. English teacher, Ninth Grade Academy. Sports guru. Eagle Scout. Motorcycle enthusiast. Pretend golfer. Avid reader. Pennsylvania native. 

Submit local sports scores to: sports@richmondobserver.com

Email: kpillar@richmondobserver.com

Twitter: ROSports_

Instagram: ROSports