ROCKINGHAM — It all happened so fast.
He accepted the job in late January, got to know the coaching staff and players during spring and summer practices, kicked off his debut season with a victory at Reagan, experienced his first Richmond-Scotland rivalry earlier this month, and was then forced to give his final post-game speech of the season just a week ago.
Now, although he’d rather be planning for another playoff game, head coach Bryan Till has a little more time to sit back and reflect on his first year with the Raider football program.
“Some of the wins were really enjoyable, like the Seventy-First win and the first win of the year at Reagan. The win at Pine Forest was a lot of fun, too, because it was on a different day,” he said. “I enjoyed the experience of the Scotland game, obviously not the result, but going through the process that week was enjoyable because it’s such a big game.”
There were plenty of on-the-field moments that Till vividly remembers from this past season, but there were also a lot of things that happened outside of the lines that resonated with him.
The 39-year-old coach visited, and spoke at, the elementary schools around the county, spent time with the Rotary Club, became a part of the school’s culture and continues to learn about the community that loves to see his team win.
And even when the Raiders lost their first two home games or surprisingly fell to Jack Britt on the road, Till says, everyone still believed in the team and everything it was trying to accomplish.
“You didn’t hear a lot of discontent within the building, and I’m not even talking about the teachers. Even the other kids realized how hard our kids were working,” Till said. “I think that speaks to the quality of people that we have here in Richmond County.”
But arguably the most important part of his first season with Richmond was the relationships he built with the players, because it’s never an easy task trying to win over a locker room as a new coach.
What was even harder to do, though, was stand in front of the those same players after a first-round loss in the state playoffs and thank them for their hard work, knowing he won’t get another chance to hit the field with this year’s senior class.
It quickly went from practicing five days a week, and going to war every Friday night, to everyone going their separate ways once the season ended — whether that’s some of the seniors preparing to play other sports, all of them getting ready for graduation or Till getting an early start on next year.
“I enjoyed getting to know a lot of these kids, especially being able to get one year in with them — as far as the seniors,” Till said. “You really want something they learned here to make a difference later on in their life. Even if it’s only that they learned how to work hard or the way they carry themselves.
“Those things that’ll help them be successful in whatever they do, so that it’s not just a cliche sports experience,” he continued. “You really want it to be something that’s meaningful for those guys.”
Now that he’s got a full season under his belt, Till hopes the lessons learned from the 7-5 finish in 2017 will translate into more wins and a deeper playoff run in his second year. Both he and his players will have more experience and a better understanding of what one wants from the other.
“I think the learning curve is going to be huge. We won’t have to spend as much time in the offseason just learning (the system),” Till said. “We’ll be able to progress, defensively and offensively, and it’ll be more about understanding the game and not just our schemes.”
Reach sports editor Leon Hargrove Jr. at 910-817-2673 and follow the sports section on Twitter @RCDailySports.