ROCKINGHAM — It has been 20 years since the 1997 Richmond football team capped off its undefeated season with a dominant victory over Douglas Byrd in the state championship game.
And to celebrate their team’s accomplishment, which was the first of back-to-back title runs, former players Brad Denson — now the Raiders’ offensive coordinator — and Wesley Jackson help put together a reunion for the 20-year anniversary.
The reunion will be held prior to the current Richmond football team’s homecoming game next Friday, Oct. 20, from 5:30-7 p.m to the left of the baseball fieldhouse entrance. The championship squad will also be recognized at halftime.
“It’s going to be great just to see those guys,” said Denson, who was the team’s starting quarterback as a junior. “Just the adversity we overcame that year — a lot of people don’t realize it but we had quite a few significant, season-ending injuries that year.
“You felt terrible for them, but we had that determination. It was just the next guy up,” he continued. “We had a goal in mind and we were going to do what we could to achieve that goal. And that’s what ultimately happened.”
The ‘97 Raiders had limitless weapons — on both sides of the ball — to help Denson get the job done, with players like Marcus Ellerbe, Eric Little, Willie Quick, Charles McNeill, Chris Terry and Michael Waddell.
And those were only a handful of names that were intergral parts of the team’s success.
“When you got those guys out there on the perimeter, some big guys upfront and a defense that you can trust, you just go for it. You get them the ball and let them make thing happen,” Denson said. “My job was the keep everybody calm, get them in the right position and get them the football. I understood that I wasn’t the playmaker.”
Jackson, who was the team’s kicker, echoed that sentiment.
“That team was just completely stacked with unreal athletes. Every position was stacked on that team. I mean, all four defensive linemen went to Carolina and played football,” he said. “It would’ve almost been embarassing if we didn’t win it with the athletes we had.”
Among those in attendance next week will be Darryl Barnes, head coach of the 1997 team, who led Richmond to five of the program’s eight state championships and was named NCHSAA Football Coach of the Year in 1997 and 1998.
With his guidance, not only did the Raiders finish as the No. 1 team in the state that year, they came in at the No. 8 spot in the final national rankings.
“Coach Barnes is kind of an icon around here. It’d be interesting to talk to him as an adult and kind of get some of his feedback on what he thought about the team,” Jackson said. “I’m interested to see how he feels and what he thinks because I’m sure it’s a completely different perspective.”
Jackson said approximately half of the players from the championship team have confirmed they will show their faces next week, but he’s still looking to get the word out to every player who was a part of the team’s historic run.
Any former Raider who was on the 1997 squad, and has not already, can RSVP with Jackson by this Friday, Oct. 13. He can be reached by phone at 252-412-0648.
Reach sports editor Leon Hargrove Jr. at 910-817-2673 and follow the sports section on Twitter @RCDailySports.
The 1997 Richmond football team will celebrate the 20-year anniversary of its state-championship run next Friday, Oct. 20, at the homecoming football game.