Monday, 02 December 2019 22:43

In the Trenches: Raiders' D-Line ready for physical Vance in regional championship

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Javon Little (45), JD Lampley (95) and Omarion Mason (40) are three of many key contributors on the Raiders' defensive line. Javon Little (45), JD Lampley (95) and Omarion Mason (40) are three of many key contributors on the Raiders' defensive line. Kyle Pillar — Sports Editor.

ROCKINGHAM — The four things that Milton Swinnie looks for in his defensive linemen are quick hands, steady feet, sharp eyes and a powerful boost off the snap. And the Raider alumni and current d-line coach has a lot of that on this year’s team.

Richmond Senior High School’s football team is riding a 13-game winning streak this fall and began preparing for its next opponent during Monday’s practice. The top-seeded Raiders will continue their “chase for eight” when they host Vance High School in the 4AA West regional championship this Friday.

Playing a big role in Richmond’s success this season has been the defensive line, a unit grounded in the belief that through hard work, anything is possible. Through 11 regular-season games and two playoff wins, the defense as a whole has allowed just 13.2 points per game, while keeping six opponents to 10 points or less.

Coached by Swinnie, who was a two-time state champion linebacker for the Raiders in 1997 and 1998, the defensive line gets its coaching from a 14-year veteran. Currently in his fifth season working with the defensive line, Swinnie is best known around the playing field for his high-tempo energy, fierce intensity and love for the game.

“I try to bring a level of intensity to them so their play can mimic that on the field,” Swinnie explained. “I want them to be an extension of me on the field. I want to bring the energy they will need because there’s a lot of nasty stuff goes on in the trenches. If I don’t have that mentality, they won’t have it.”

This year’s defensive line is a revolving door of experienced upperclassmen and a few younger players, and has molded itself into an aggressive unit that gave Myers Park High School and quarterback Drake Maye fits all game during the Raiders’ third-round playoff win.

Among those veteran leaders are senior defensive ends Javon Little and Joerail White, the latter of whom made the switch from inside linebacker to the three-point stance the past couple of games. Getting quality reps this season have also been senior defensive tackles Omarion Mason and Xavier Harrington and junior defensive end Derrick Everette.

Anchoring the middle of the 3-4 defense has been sophomore nose tackle JD Lampley, whose 6-3, 260-pound frame provides opposing offensive lines with one of the biggest bodies to block. Fellow junior nose tackle Kaleel Brown has also split reps with Lampley this fall.

Little is tied with linebacker Gavin Russell for the team lead in quarterback sacks (5), while White has four sacks. Mason and Little both lead the d-line with 13 tackles for loss.

“What makes us really click is we all know what we want, and that’s to get into the backfield,” Little shared. “Whatever our assignment is, we know it and we get there. I think we all have the same goal in wanting to be successful. Our strongest asset is our mentality.”

For White, who has had a productive senior season after missing his entire junior campaign, sliding up from his linebacker role to mirror Little on the edge has been a smooth transition.

“It’s been a lot like my sophomore year, when I started at defensive end,” White explained. “These past couple weeks have been about getting back in that routine and working on my techniques to get better. 

“We’re all so fast and physical getting to the ball, and that’s been making us really successful,” he added.

It’s no secret that in order to be undefeated 13 games into a season, a lot of things have to go right. According to Swinnie, his players’ success comes from being “old school, lunch pail guys” who like to clock in every day at practice, work hard until the final whistle, hold one another accountable and who “love to compete,” which is a key aspect to dominating opposing lines.

“We like to play fast and play intense,” Swinnie explained. “What we base out of up front allows us to rotate (players), and we have the ability to go either way on the snap.

“Having guys who aren’t the strongest, but who are quick to get off the line, that’s a bonus in terms of how we move,” he added. “We give an illusion pre-snap and may be somewhere else after the ball is snapped.”

A shifty line that is explosive with its hand-eye coordination, footwork and speed off the ball comes in part thanks to the repetition of practicing fundamentals throughout the week ahead of games. 

Swinnie noted that while the flashy plays, quarterback sacks and pressure in the backfield are obvious to fans, one thing that isn’t as visible is the d-line’s mental toughness. At this point in the season, jammed fingers, sprained wrists, blackened or missing fingernails and swollen knuckles are commonplace injuries that are only outmatched by his players’ mental toughness.

That mindset was evident against Myers Park, especially when the Raiders’ defense amplified its aggressiveness in the second half to compliment a 22-point scoring run by quarterback Caleb Hood and the offense. 

“We tried to treat it like just another week against another good team that was in our way,” Swinnie explained. “The guys didn’t underestimate Myers Park’s capabilities, and we knew Maye was a pretty solid quarterback.

“What we did was match their schemes with more focus,” he added. “And there was more emphasis on winning the one-on-one battles. We were physical and quick to the quarterback.”

For Lampley, who is in his first varsity season, Swinnie’s coaching style and expertise, along with assistant coach Chris Dennis, has paid dividends for him and the entire line.

“Coach Swinnie and Coach Dennis both work really hard to make us better during our individual group during every practice,” Lampley said. “They really makes sure we get our hands right and perfect our technique.

“We do pass rush drills, work on hand placement, hip explosions and work on staying low under the chute,” he added. “Both do a good job of coaching us during games to make sure we make adjustments and execute our assignments.”

Admittedly, the defensive line is often a thankless job, Swinnie said. Players’ names may not get called by the public address announcer, but that doesn’t take away from how vital they are in crunch time when trying to protect or regain a lead. 

He also tipped his cap and said he was “really proud” of his second team players who don’t see a lot of game time, but who are assets on scout team and game preparation during practice.

Against the Mustangs, Swinnie mentioned Mason “had a great game,” while Harrington, White and Little “played well off the end.” Lampley “had a big night by getting off the line and causing havoc” despite picking up double coverage from the offensive line.

“Kaleel is a gritty player and does a lot of physical work,” Swinnie said. “JD and Kaleel are a one-two punch which is very positive for us because the nose guard has to command the double team.”

Up next are the No. 10 Vance Cougars, an 11-win team that is being heralded as the team to beat coming out of Charlotte. In what is promising to be another physical game for the Raiders, this time a trip to the state championship is on the line. And for Swinnie and company, that means no backing down now.

“We’re looking forward to playing Vance,” Brown said. “All of us are focused on maintaining our gaps, doing our job up front and doing our best with what our coaches want us to do.

“They have a lot of speed and a mobile quarterback,” he continued of the Cougars. “Their offensive line is strong. But we’re really excited because we’re in the fourth round looking to go to the state championship. It’s a really special experience for the whole team.”

“They come from a very solid conference, and their coaches do a phenomenal job prepping them,” Swinnie observed of Vance. “There are players all over the field who are athletic, fast and strong.

“Mentally they seem to be in tune with their execution,” he closed. “It should be another fun outing at Raider Stadium. 

Kickoff between No. 1 Richmond and No. 10 Vance is set for 7:30 p.m. on Friday. Pre-sale tickets to the game are now on sale at local pharmacies, and the price has gone up to $10 per seat. ROSports will continue its West regional championship coverage this week.

Last modified on Monday, 02 December 2019 23:39

Kyle Pillar

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

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