ROCKINGHAM — Usually when Richmond Senior begins its football season, there is a description placed in front of them — defending.
The Raiders are normally trying to hold onto their state championship or at least another conference title.
Not this year.
Richmond has joined the ranks of the hunters instead of the hunted.
After finishing behind Southeastern Conference foe and defending 4A state champion Scotland last year, the Raiders are looking to return to their perch atop the league. In the coaches’ preseason poll, Richmond received four first-place votes to edge its rival to the east by one point. The Fighting Scots were second with 29 points and a single first-place selection. Hoke County grabbed the other top pick and was third.
No one could fault the other SEC coaches from tabbing the Raiders to get back to their normal position in the conference. Since the SEC was reformed in 2009, Richmond hadn’t lost to a league foe until Hoke County ended its 34-game losing streak to the Raiders with an upset victory in the SEC opener last fall.
Toss in a handful of Division I prospects sprinkled across the roster and Richmond coach Paul Hoggard could have visions of adding state championship No. 8 to the trophy case.
“We are more talented than we have been in a number of years,” Hoggard said. “Depth is a bit of a concern. We are going to be top heavy at several positions.
On offense, Richmond will have three players ranked in CarolinaPreps.com Top 100 players in the state and defensively sport one in the top 100.
Even with all of this talent, Hoggard is cautious about his expectations for the team. He realizes having a lineup of skilled individuals doesn’t necessary equal success.
“Sometimes the most talented teams don’t always win,” Hoggard said. “The ‘08 team didn’t have a lot of talent, but they had chemistry and heart.”
Richmond opens the season with two road games — Sun Valley and Lee County — before battling Anson at Raider Stadium on Aug. 31. The Raiders first SEC contest is scheduled for Sept. 28 when Hoke County visits Raider Stadium.
Raiders on offense
With a sophomore quarterback under center all of last season, the Raiders were a little more run heavy in their spread offense than Hoggard would have liked to have been. Richmond rushed 453 times and attempted 97 passes.
So when the Raiders had the ball, a little more than 82 percent of the time the ball was staying on the ground. Richmond rushed for 3,462 yards as a team, while passing for 755.
“In ‘09, we rushed for 4,000 yards and had 2,000 yards passing, that’s what we like to do,” Hoggard said. “We need to find out what we can do as a team this year. It was no secret that we couldn’t throw it in the ocean last year. I believe we will throw the ball this year because we are better at it than last year. If we had a choice, we would run it 60 times and throw it 40.”
Last season’s starting quarterback junior Brent Flowers was locked in a battle with senior Antonio Edens for the nod this summer. Flowers passed for 712 yards and seven touchdowns, while rushing for 504 yards and six scores. He completed just over 57 percent of his passes last fall and had eight interceptions. Edens, who at the beginning of last season was moved to defense, saw limited action as a junior. Against Scotland, he tossed for 25 yards and the Raiders’ only touchdown.
“Both of them are much improved,” Hoggard said. “There’s a legitimate race for the quarterback position. You couldn’t ask for a kid like Antonio to have a better attitude. He’s worked extremely hard. He’s done everything in his power to put himself into a position to start.
“With Brent, we have never asked a guy as a sophomore to do what we asked him to do. He’s improved his throwing ability and he has a great feel for the option. He’s more athletic, faster and more explosive this year.”
One of the weapons either Flowers or Edens will have at their disposal is senior running back Dakwa Nichols. The N.C. State commitment is the CarolinaPreps.com’s 53rd-ranked prospect in the state. Until a broken bone in his foot sidelined him for the final two games of the season, Nichols was Richmond’s leading rusher and scorer. Nichols finished his junior campaign with 945 yards and 15 touchdowns. He was also a weapon on special teams adding another two scores.
Expected to join Nichols in the starting backfield is senior Jaleel Stancil, who was Richmond’s fifth-leading rusher last season with 168 yards. Others expected in the running back mix are: Diquon Cox, Elijah Goodwin and Cy Andrews.
“Dakwa has improved from a year ago,” Hoggard said. “I think he will get a bunch of touches and he can get the ball a number of ways, he can catch it, run it to the outside, run it up the middle. He’s going to get the ball 2o to 25 times a game. Jaleel is not going to be the fastest, quickest or the strongest but he is going to give us a lot of things. We don’t have to bring in an H-back or a tight end when he’s in there. He’s like a running back/tight end all in the same guy. We don’t have to tip our hand as much with him in the game.”
Richmond may have one of the deepest groups of wide receivers not only in the SEC, but in the region. The leader of the bunch is Trent Bostick, who is being recruited by a handful of in-state schools including East Carolina, Elon and Appalachian State. Bostick grabbed a team-high 21 receptions and had two touchdowns as a junior. Also returning at wide receiver are: Raheem Bowden, Al Waldon and Kole Stanley. Bowden and Stanley tied Bostick with a team leading two scores.
“Trent is a very good player,” Hoggard said. “He’s a WR/RB type player. We have a bunch of guys like that including Raheem. The thing about all of these guys is that they can all catch, run and block. They have all bought into our system.”
Looking to give either Flowers or Edens time to throw the ball or to open holes for Nichols and others is an offensive line which has two members of CarolinaPreps.com’s Top 100, including the No. 3 selection — Tyrone Crowder. The senior tackle is being recruited by the likes of Auburn, Alabama, Clemson, Florida, Florida State and Stanford amongst others. Joining Crowder on the list at No. 75 is guard Alex Norton, who is drawing interest from Air Force, Navy and Duke.
Richmond on defense
Richmond lost its top tackler and two starting tackles off a unit which surrendered at least 20 points eight times last season, including 41 to Purnell Swett and Scotland, but defense could be the strength for the Raiders this year.
“Our kids have short memories, I remember things a lot longer then they will,” Richmond defensive coordinator James Johnson said. “Expectations are set high, but we have to eliminate mental mistakes.”
The Raiders have one of the best defensive ends in the state in South Carolina-commitment Devant’e Covington, who is ranked 24th by CarolinaPreps.com. Covington led the Raiders with five sacks, had 70 tackles and was second on the team with 11 tackles for loss. Shydamion Ellerbe will line up opposite of Covington. Ellerbe notched 44 tackles, seven for loss and he had a team-leading six quarterback hurries.
The secondary is expected to be much improved as well, anchored by senior safety Robert Williams. Mikey Steele will start next to Williams at the other safety position. Thomas Calhoun, Tyree Jamison and Devontae Watkins are also expected to see considerable time in the secondary for the Raiders.
Williams was second on the team with 92 tackles and snatched three interceptions, including a game-clinching snag against Lumberton. Williams is receiving interest from East Carolina, Western Carolina, UNC Pembroke and Liberty. Calhoun recorded one interception, which was against SEC player of the year Scotland’s Kwashaun Quick.
“Guys were forced to play before they were really ready last year,” Johnson said. “Even with that, Thomas Calhoun played one of the better games against Scotland. A lot of times last year and I’m not pointing fingers, the older guys didn’t respond well to adversity. The younger guys stepped in and did a good job for us.”
The biggest question mark for Richmond could be at linebacker as Johnson will be forced to replace Jordan Pierce and Chris Diggs. Pierce had 128 tackles to lead the team, while Diggs was fourth with 77. The roster lists only six linebackers but Johnson expects two-year starter senior Rashard Holiday to step up and fill part of the void. Holiday registered a team-high 13 tackles for losses last season and finished with 68 total tackles.
— Sports editor Shawn Stinson can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 14, or by email at email@example.com