ROCKINGHAM — Senior Daryn Mason arguably drew the biggest laugh of the night once he began making his way to the podium before principal Jim Butler was able to finish his sentence.
Three players before him — freshman Thomas West, sophomore Noah Altman, junior Trevor Whittington — had all waited until Butler called their names to accept their plaques for having the highest grade point average in their respective classes.
Mason, however, made sure everyone in attendance knew that he knew his 5.21 GPA not only topped the senior class but was also the highest of every football player at the school.
“It’s really important. Not for me, but to set an example for the ones that look up to me — like my nephew and my little cousins. It’s to show them that they can do what they want athletically and academically,” Mason said. “It’s just hard work and dedication. You’ve got to stay persistent, because it’s going to get hard and it’s going to be difficult.
“And most of all, you’ve got to pray because sometimes you’re going to want to quit,” he continued. “So you’ve got to keep God in your life and keep working towards it.”
The Richmond football program hosted its 46th annual banquet Monday evening in the school’s cafeteria.
There was a familiar opening to the ceremony, with a prayer over the food, a few welcoming words from Butler, comments from a member of the county’s central office — Associate Superintendent Dr. Jeffery Maples — and a special recognition of all coaches who contributed to every Richmond team this past season.
Things were done a bit differently following the round of applause for the coaching staffs, however, as players were honored alongside the team they played on this past season instead of with their classmates.
The Ninth-Grade Academy football team, coached by David Lee, was the first squad called up and received praise for its progression throughout the season. Lee said his team’s two best games were played at the end of the year, when it suffered a tough loss Pinecrest but then ended with a hard-fought victory over Northwood.
Junior varsity head coach Patrick Hope took the stand next to tell the audience how much of an “honor and privilege” it was to lead the JV team to another undefeated season and the inaugural Sandhills Athletic Conference championship. His team averaged 29.4 points per game while only allowing 5.9 points per outing.
Bryan Till took care of the varsity team, saying “as a first-year head coach, I can’t think of a better group of young men to work with.” Till, who mentioned that he has yet to have children of his own, also told his players “you’ve made this job a family for me.” The varsity team finished 7-5 overall and came in second place in the conference.
Also new this year were the Special Teams Award, the naming of four captains, the recognition of the 11 players who made the All-SAC team and presenting letters to Raiders who played in “eight meaningful quarters.”
Senior wide receiver Clint Snipes received the award for his contributions on special teams, while Mason, senior running Dante Miller, junior wideout Malik Stanback and senior defensive end Delon Wall were named the captains.
“I look back at the things that I thought were special about high school football … and I just want to honor those things that I feel like will go forward with these guys after (they graduate),” Till said. “That’s really why I wanted to highlight some things — from captains to letters — because it’s a team concept and (they can learn) what it takes.”
Senior running back Jeremy Wall was the recipient of the William E. Eustler Award, which is annually given to the player who is well-rounded, puts the team first and performs well in the classroom.
“He’s so unselfish and he practiced hard every single day,” Till said of Jeremy Wall. “He didn’t play very much, from the standpoint of pure minutes, but everything he did, he did at such a high level.
“He just worked so hard,” Till added. “While there were several guys we considered, it was almost a unanimous decision.”
Reach sports editor Leon Hargrove Jr. by phone at 910-817-2673 or by email at [email protected] For stories, scores and updates, follow the Daily Journal’s sports section on Twitter @RCDailySports.