This is the first of a two-part series on the Richmond Senior football team. Part two will appear in Friday’s edition. — Editor
ROCKINGHAM — For the first time since 1993, the Richmond Senior football team will not be playing a game in the second round of the playoffs.
Since the 28-14 loss to Northwest Guilford, the social media world has been filled with disappointed fans looking forward to rebounding next year to others calling for the immediate dismissal of the current coaching staff.
With the defeat at home to the Vikings, the Raiders finished the season with an 8-3 mark. It was the fewest number of wins since 1994, when that squad went 7-4.
And because of this, some of the fans believe Richmond coach Paul Hoggard is playing his fiddle while the Raider Nation is burning.
Rural vs. Suburban
In the 40-year history of Richmond Senior High School, the program has had only one losing season — 1973, it’s second year of existance. Since then, the Raiders have won seven state titles, were runners-up once and have averaged more than 10 wins a season.
An incredible accomplishment for a county school in a state where the majority of state titles have been won by teams from metropolitian areas.
Since 1972, the North Carolina High School Athletic Association has crowned 49 4A or 4AA state champions. Using the criteria of a city having a population of less than 25,000 or being a county school like Richmond, pulling students in from more than one town, only 11 teams that fall into this category at the end of the year, have hoisted the trophy during this 40-year period.
That figure includes the seven championships won by the Raiders, which leaves four titles won by similar teams able to accomplish this feat. Crest won two, while East Forsyth and South View each captured one crown. During this same stretch, only five schools in this same category lost in the title game — Davie County, Harnett Central, Richmond Senior, South View and West Forsyth.
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system has developed five state championships schools, led by Independence and Butler. The Patriots reeled off seven straight titles from 2000 to 2006 and were the runners-up in 2007. Currently, the Bulldogs are the two-time defending 4AA champions and are looking to add a third title this season. If Butler is unable to repeat, another school from the Charlotte area could bring the trophy back — Mallard Creek. The Mavericks have been on top of the polls all season and handed Butler its lone loss in the season opener.
The emergence of Independence and Butler shifted the 4A power base from Rockingham down Highway 74 and into Charlotte. The move didn’t occur overnight, it took several years for the change to develop.
“Richmond coach Daryl Barnes introduced West Charlotte’s Tom Knotts to his weight program and year-round training during the ’90s when the schools were rivals,” said Langston Wertz Jr., who covers prep sports for the Charlotte Observer. “West Charlotte was up 26-7 to Richmond in ‘97 I think in the fourth quarter and Knotts wouldn’t stop passing and Richmond rallied to win, 27-26. That was one game that really stuck in Knotts’ craw. He changed his style after that, incorporating more balance, which in turn changed a great coach into a legendary one.
“Since then Knotts brought a lot of Barnes’ ideas to Charlotte, matched them with his own and joined up with a once in a generation talent, Chris Leak, at Indy. The Patriots beat Richmond 36-10 in the 2000 playoffs, when Richmond was No. 3 or something in the country. Richmond stopped being the team folks shot after. It became Indy. Folks in Charlotte emphasized football as never before turning Charlotte from a basketball place into a football place. Kids lifted year round and a stream of former pro athletes started moving here thanks to the Panthers.”
He’s not the only one who believes Knotts is responsible for raising the bar in high school football in the Charlotte area. John Teal, a writer with CarolinaPreps.com, agrees that the shift occurred right around the time the Panthers were created.
“The kid that was in fourth grade when the Panthers came to town was a sophomore in 2000. That kid had the NFL in his backyard and all the coverage and excitement that goes with it,” Teal said. “From that came numerous NFL players, many of whom did not play for the Panthers, but made the Charlotte area their home. Players had kids that would be strong players. Players had camps for the kids. Retired players became personal trainers and coaches. It was everywhere.”
Creating the better player
Knotts began to use the “Richmond Way” of running a football program to beat the Raiders. In addition to the weight lifting and the year-around training, Knotts also had more athletes to choose from while coaching Independence. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the population in Mecklenburg County increased by 224,174 people from 2000 to 2010. During the same time, Richmond County added 75 people.
Independence and Butler were two of the largest schools in the state, which forced the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system to build two addition high schools — Mallard Creek and Rocky River. Despite the loss of students, Independence and Butler were still the 19th and 20th largest schools in the latest ADM numbers released by the NCHSAA this year, while Mallard Creek was 12th.
With this influx of new residents, Knotts created a dynasty at Independence which had never been seen before at the state 4A level. Independence reeled off seven consecutive titles and lost in the title game gunning for No. 8.
“Knotts really began to push the wide-open offense and extreme physical fitness through weight lifting and speed coaching. One of the top speed coaches in the U.S. is located in Charlotte and Knotts had him at Indy spring practices,” Teal said. “The development of Chris Leak made people realize that passing the ball was a quicker way to get down the field and the passing game really picked up in Charlotte.
“The quaterbacks were getting excellent private coaching from the likes of David Green and Maurice Flowers among others. As for players, Chris Leak brought huge attention to the game and kids love the passing game. Indy had players that could run it also and I think they proved that if you were going to be one dimensional you had to be really special to win it all.”
Suddenly, the game changed in North Carolina. Teams had to no longer match the physical play of a Richmond Senior to win a state championship. It had to have better athletes to match Independence’s strength, speed and quickness.
As the publisher of the NCPreps.com, Deana King followed the rise of football in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg high schools.
“Charlotte has always had great players. Independence raised the bar in 2001 by winning seven straight titles and 109 straight football games,” King said. “They produced stars like Chris Leak (Florida), Joe Cox (Georgia), Mohammed Massaquoi (Georgia) and Hakeem Nicks (UNC). Then Butler took over when Coach Tommy Knotts left Independence for a South Carolina job by winning two straight titles.
“Butler has produced arguably the most kids to play at the next level from Jarrett Boykins (Virginia Tech), Robert Blanton (Notre Dame), Christian Lemay (Georgia), and Kris Frost (Auburn). This year’s team features several top football prospect in the senior and junior class. Mallard Creek has risen to the top this year after its earlier win over Butler in the first game of the season. The Mavericks have a roster loaded with Division I players.”
While Independence and Butler have produced several of the most highly recruited players in the state, Richmond Senior has only sent Melvin Ingram, Dannell Ellerbe and Justin Jackson to top Division I programs in recent years.
Unable to match the talent being produced in Mecklenburg County, the Raiders have made one championship game appearance since winning back-to-back titles in 1997 and 1998 — a 38-35 victory over Jack Britt in the 2008 finals for the school’s seventh title.
— Sports editor Shawn Stinson can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 14, or by email at email@example.com