Monday, 19 August 2019 22:41

Raider Football Season Preview: Richmond seeks 500th win, state title in 2019

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Third-year head coach Bryan Till (center) is looking for his team to build off its success last fall. Third-year head coach Bryan Till (center) is looking for his team to build off its success last fall. Jimmy McDonald — The Richmond Observer.

ROCKINGHAM — In each of the past two seasons, the Richmond Senior High School varsity football team has made significant forward progress. And this fall, the Raiders are looking to make a giant leap under third-year head coach Bryan Till.


After a 2018 campaign that saw Richmond go 11-2 overall and tally a perfect 7-0 record against Sandhills Athletic Conference opponents en route to its first conference title in eight years, the Raiders came up just short of completing the magical “eight year” tradition.

But with the third-round playoff loss to Myers Park High School behind them, the mantra in the locker room is the same -- win a state championship. And this year the Raiders are “fearless” in their pursuit to make their link strong.

At practice, in the weight room, on hot August afternoons -- that’s all the Raiders talk about. But they’re looking to do a lot more than talking as the regular season gets underway Friday.

Richmond comes into the 2019 season a year older with a swarm of veteran players on both sides of the ball, many of whom have started at least two years. Last season’s record was Till’s best mark during his tenure at Richmond, and he believes this season can be even more successful, starting with the experience.

“The experience of our team helps us play a lot faster and control games,” Till said in his office Monday. “When we look at it, experience is great practice reps for the next situation, and a lot of our guys have been in big games before.

“We hope to find out what we’ve improved on, but athletically, we’re better at every position this season,” he continued. “Most of the guys have been with us a couple years so we’re seeing the strength and conditioning take affect.”

While winning a state championship is the ultimate goal, something Richmond hasn’t won since 2008, Till isn’t overlooking a rigorous regular season. The Raiders have switched out three of their non-conference opponents from the past two years, and will welcome in Clayton, Anson and Cardinal Gibbons high schools to the slate this year.

Richmond will also face David W. Butler High School for the third-straight year in one of the state’s most anticipated 4A matchups. But the real focus for the Raiders will be their seven SAC games, which features tough road games at Jack Britt and Scotland high schools this season.

“With our conference, we know we need to hit them in the mouth or they’ll hit us. Even teams with losing records play hard,” Till noted. “The SAC is very physical, so we need to stay healthy.

“We want to win the conference title not only from a pride standpoint, but for the playoffs, too,” he continued. “That helps by getting a higher seed which can give you a home game and a chance to defend your home field.”

Hoping to help the Raiders secure their second-straight conference title is junior quarterback Caleb Hood. Coming in with two years of varsity experience, Hood tossed 1,956 passing yards on 129 completions as a sophomore. 

He led the SAC with 21 passing touchdowns to just three interceptions, and enters the season with 262 career completions, just 54 shy of breaking the all-time program record (Leon Zeigler, 315 career completions).

Hood’s first completion of the season will move him into second place, surpassing Tedarius Wiley’s mark of 262 completions, set in 2009.

“The offense has a lot of confidence this year,” Hood explained. “Our routes, the receivers and the consistency have all been there. Things are going smooth and we’re confident we can win a state championship.

“We’re a lot closer and we have a stronger bond,” he added. “Commitment is important because we all have to have the same focus level. The offensive line is looking really good, they’ve been putting in extra work. And the receivers and I have a great connection on the field.”

Hood expects his offensive line to take care of him this season, as he and the guys up front spend one night a week going out to dinner to bond, talking football and preparing for upcoming games.

Of the offensive line, Till said they’ve been “battling extremely hard up front and there’s lot of depth.” With the departure of former all-conference center Jake Ransom, Richmond is working senior Bryson Sanders and sophomore Braxton Butler in the position, and Till said either could win the job.

Junior left tackle Jaleel Davis and senior left guard Brian Bowden, who are 6-5 and 6-3, respectively, are returning “veteran anchors” looking to protect Hood’s blind side.

“We’ve really improved our aggression and our chemistry,” Bowden commented. “Last year we had a lot of frustration, but we’re picking it up more this year. Jaleel and I are beside each other and we’re always pushing each other to get better.

“Right now we’re sticking to our assignments and not overthinking things,” he added. “We want to do our job the right way up front.”

The offensive line will also need to create time and space for a loaded backfield and receiving corps. Senior tailback Jaheim Covington returns for his third year on varsity after racking up 1,174 rushing yards on 157 carries and an SAC second-best 22 rushing touchdowns as a junior.

On the perimeter, junior wide receivers Jakolbe Baldwin and Dalton Stroman return for their second season on varsity. Baldwin exploded onto the scene last fall by snatching a team-high eight touchdowns, while also leading the team in catches (35) and receiving yards (548).

Stroman reeled in three scores on 19 receptions for 307 yards. Besides his quick hands, Stroman also stands at 6-4 and is looking to use his height to beat opposing defensive backs. 

“The offense so explosive, but more importantly, they understand football so much better than last year,” Till explained. “These guys can tell you what’s going on and that goes so far when they can make adjustments during games.”

The Richmond offense will look to top its scoring average of 38.5 points per game last season, as well as scoring 40 or more points six times.

On defense, the secondary is the team’s most complete unit, seeing all four starters from a year ago return. Seniors Zyier Baldwin, Dereck Barringer, D’Marcus Harrington and Xavion Lindsey helped shut down opposing offenses last year, as Richmond held other teams to just 12.8 points per game, including four shutouts.

“Our mentality is to be focused and physical,” Barringer, the team’s returning leader in tackles, said. “We want to be the most physical secondary in the state. The vibe right now is for us to get out there and hit hard.”

Till noted that with the entire secondary coming back, they are a “tight-knit group that is extremely athletically gifted.”  Lindsey had a team-high two interceptions last season, his biggest coming against rival Scotland on third-and-goal to help secure the conference championship. Barringer had 74 tackles a season ago.

The linebacking group will be without leading tackler Jonathan Jones, but three seniors and a junior are looking to provide pressure and hit the gaps. This season’s inside linebackers are seniors Gavin Russell and Joerail White, who is 100 percent healthy after missing last season with a knee injury. On the outside, Till expects senior Dre Bethea and junior CJ Tillman to carry the weight.

Running a 3-4 defense, Till said the inside and outside groups compliment each other really well and have improved their ability of “reading their position.” 

“We’re trying to prove we’re better as a team than we were last year,” White said. “We want to win the state championship and help make our community a better place. Right now we’re very excited to get out there and ready to hit somebody.”

The defensive line is what Till said still has the “biggest question mark” around it, but says that the depth of six players should help the group be successful. Among those getting reps this pre-season have been senior defensive end Javon Little, senior defensive tackle Xavier Harrington and sophomore nose tackle JD Lampley.

Last season’s d-line consisted of seniors Antonio Isaac, Divine Nicholson and Rasheed Patrick, which saw the trio combine for 20 of the Raiders’ 42 sacks. The rotation this season, Till noted, should help with the line’s stamina. 

“There are a couple of things we need to do to get past the third round,” Till said. “We have to play with energy but without the frustration and tightness that comes with those big games. Last year we had a lot of emotion (against Myers Park), but we didn’t handle that well.

“When you get to that level, everybody has good players,” he added. “We have to be able to answer back and keep slugging it out. I think having been there before will be a big plus.”

As the clock winds closer to Richmond’s season and home opener on Friday, Till and the Raiders are putting the final touches on all facets of the team. Another milestone Richmond fans should be on the lookout for this fall is the program’s 500th career win. Should the Raiders win 10 games this season, they’ll reach the historic mark.

The earliest Richmond could reach it would be in its 10th game of the season against Seventy-First High School on senior night, which is scheduled for Friday, Nov. 1. 

Friday’s game will feature Clayton High School, making it the first time the two programs have met on the gridiron. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. and will feature Drew Henderson singing the National Anthem, as well as the Richmond cheerleaders hosting their annual “cheer night.”

Richmond has not lost a season opening game since 1985, when it fell 38-25 to East Mecklenburg High School.

“The biggest thing that has to happen for us to win a state championship this year is to have players who step up and make the big plays against other great teams in the spotlight,” Till said. “We talk all the time about Raider Magic and what it can do. But the kids have to embrace that role.  

“We’re ready to play on Friday night,” he closed. “And we’re excited for the chance to play.”

Last modified on Monday, 19 August 2019 23:04
Kyle Pillar

Sports Editor. IUP communications media and journalism alumni. English teacher, Ninth Grade Academy.

Submit local sports scores to: kpillar@richmondobserver.com

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