ROCKINGHAM — A new era of Richmond football is set to begin this fall.
The Raiders have new leadership, new schemes, new uniforms, new scoreboards and a new opportunity to prove why they belong on the field with some of the best teams in the state.
And first-year head coach Bryan Till is doing his best to prepare his team for a tough schedule.
“Most of my job is preparation and organization. I’ve got to make sure I’ve got all the pieces in the right place,” Till explained. “And in order to do that, I’ve got to continue to evaluate. You can’t ever rest on your laurels.”
Till has been tasked with breathing life back into a one of the most dominant high school football programs in state history. Richmond hasn’t been able to make it past the third round of the state playoffs since winning its seventh state championship back in 2008.
The Raiders have also lost to conference rival Scotland for six straight years.
When he accepted the position in January, Till understood the expectations and pressures that come with leading a program with such winning traditions. The former Terry Sanford coach — a two-time Cape Fear Valley champion during his four-year stint in Fayetteville — isn’t feeding into the outside influences, however.
He’s more focused making sure the players aren’t getting caught up in the hype.
“It’s not about me, it’s about how it affects our kids. From the community, from family, from school…that’s where you worry about pressure,” Till explained. “And with their lack of experience, I’ve got to help with that kind of thing. What am I doing to help control it?”
This season, Richmond won’t have a ton of familiar faces in its starting lineups.
Only six returners (three on offense, three on defense) were in the starting lineup last season. Those guys, a few other seniors and a some underclassmen are being counted on to continue to lead by example.
All of their on-the-field experience is going to be “paramount” in the development of this year’s team.
“The great thing is our team is extremely competitive. We’re inexperienced but guys are excited and very driven to compete. Most of the time their mistakes are happening with effort…and we can fix that,” Till said. “But we’re starting to have some leadership emerge, that process just has to continue throughout the season. You can’t overstate how huge (having that leadership) is.”
One of the bright spots for the Raiders this season will be their speed on both sides of the ball. They may not have the size or strength of some of the teams in the past, but opponents will have to spend a lot of time preparing for how fast the offense can move the chains or how quick the defense can get to the ball.
Offensively, guys like Dante Miller (running back) and Jaleen Baldwin (wide receiver) have the ability to separate themselves and make plays when their numbers are called. They’ll be important to the team’s new offensive scheme — which is tailored to getting its skill players into space.
Defensively, Till wants to bring guys from a lot of different angles in order to confuse the opposing team’s offense. He’s also expecting the secondary to cause problems with its recent switch to more of a press-man coverage.
Richmond still hasn’t named its starting quarterback yet, but plans to do so soon.
Coaches narrowed the race down to just two candidates a few weeks ago: senior Kaleb Douglas and freshman Caleb Hood. Neither has any varsity experience under center, but both had solid showings throughout the summer.
Whoever earns that starting position has to be ready to lead a team that’ll play in some big games.
The Raiders welcome reigning 4A state champions Wake Forest to Richmond County in Week 2 (Aug. 25) and will then look to avenge last year’s heartbreak when they host Butler two weeks later (Sept. 8).
They’ll play in two new Sandhills Athletic Conference games at Jack Britt (Oct. 6) and versus Seventy-First (Oct. 27) before closing the regular season out at Scotland (Nov. 3) — hoping to break the six-year drought.
“Our schedule is challenging because of the opponents, but also because of the way it kind of undulates up and down. It’s really easy to overlook somebody…and then you get your butts handed to you on a Friday night,” Till said.
“People talk about it as a coaching cliche but we really have to play one week at a time,” he continued. “That’s why every year in college football you see teams get beat by someone they’re not supposed to lose to a week before playing a big rival. We have to keep our focus so that we can play Raider football and that doesn’t happen to us.”
Although a lot of the production from a season ago may have walked across the stage in May, Till expects his team to play with a lot confidence. Richmond still has established athletes like Miller, Baldwin, Jake Ransom (offensive lineman), Savion Streeter (linebacker), Bobby Terry (wide receiver) and Delon Wall (defensive end) — and some new talent in guys like Taveon Ellerbe (wide receiver) and Joerail White (linebacker).
Where the team ends up when it’s all said and done depends on how hard coaches and players work to turn the lack of experience into growth and understanding on and off the field.
“I expect us to be competitive in every game,” Till said. “We’ve got some areas where we can grow, so inexperienced may the best way to describe us right now, but you want that to turn into experience by the time Weeks 10 and 11 get here.”
Richmond will kick off the new season — with its new coach and its new look — at Reagan High School this Friday, Aug. 18.
Reach sports editor Leon Hargrove Jr. at 910-817-2673 and follow the sports section on Twitter @RCDailySports.
The Richmond Senior football team poses during its picture day on the school’s practice fields on Thursday, Aug. 10. First-year head coach Bryan Till is looking forward to see how his team grows from week to week. The Raiders open their season at Reagan on Friday, Aug. 18.