Heading into the 2017 season, there was some uncertainty surrounding the Richmond football program.
New head coach Bryan Till was hired early enough to where he could build up trust and support within the program and around the community, but he still hadn’t coached an official game for the school with, arguably, the richest football tradition in the state — and he didn’t name a starting quarterback until the week of the season opener.
When he and quarterbacks coach Jay Jones finally came to a decision, they went with Caleb Hood — a freshman at time — over then-senior Kaleb Douglas and then-junior Jada Edwards, which most would consider a bold move for a first-year coach.
Till, who spent the four years prior at Terry Sanford, was hired as the 11th head football coach in school history — replacing former coach Mike Castellano — at a special school board meeting on Jan. 30, 2017.
His first few months in Richmond County were dedicated to getting familiar with the school, making sure he built relationships with the coaching staff and the players, and monitoring progression in the weight room.
From mid-May to early August were the most crucial months, though, seeing that Till was finally able to step out onto the field and get a glimpse of what the Raiders were going to look like in his debut season. And what he found, with the help of Jones, was a rising freshman who would eventually help him usher in a new era of Richmond football.
It was a solid outing for both coach and quarterback in the first game of the season, their program debuts, as the Raiders defeated Reagan 45-24 behind a strong running game and an 85-yard, one-touchdown performance from Hood. The defensive unit, coached by Till, grabbed two interceptions in the win.
Hood continued to improve as the season progressed and it showed in the regular-season finale at Scotland, where he threw for four touchdowns, tied the program record for most completions in a game (24) and fell just two yards shy of tying the record for most passing yards in a game (425).
He would wrap his freshman campaign with 2,095 passing yards, 16 passing TDs, six interceptions, 275 rushing yards and five rushing TDs and 70 carries. Hood was the only freshman named to the All-Sandhills Athletic Conference Team.
Till coached Richmond to a 7-4 overall record, a second-place finish in the conference, and a home first-round playoff game as the No. 8 seed in the 4AA West bracket. One of his favorite defensive performances of the season was against Seventy-First in late October, when his guys recorded two goal-line stands in the final minutes of the game to help set up the offense’s go-head score in the 25-19 conference victory.
Although the Raiders were bounced out of the playoffs two weeks later, Till believes they laid a new foundation for the years to come.
WHAT WAS SAID
“I just told him that we’re going with him because we trust him,” Till said of Hood being named starting quarterback. “We feel like this is what’s best and we trust him to get it done. He’s a very stable young man.”
“The future looks bright right now but if we don’t take care of the little things in the next eight months, it’s going to be very anti-climatic. It’s only bright if our guys progress,” Till explained after the season.
Till, Hood and the Raiders are in the full swing of things now that summer workouts have commenced.
The team’s skill players won five out of six 7-on-7 matchups at UNC-Chapell Hill’s “King of the Hill” tournament on Thursday. The offensive and defensive lines will make the trip to UNC for a camp on Friday.
Next Thursday, June 21, Richmond will host Cape Fear for a 7-on-7 scrimmage at 10 a.m.
Aside from the seniors who graduated, there aren’t as many changes this time around. And now that Till and Hood have a year of experience with the program under their belts, they’re expecting big things this fall.
Richmond’s Bryan Till coached the Richmond football team to a 7-4 overall record and a second-place finish in the Sandhills Athletic Conference this past season, which was his first with the program.
Caleb Hood (5) was the only freshman named All-SAC after throwing for 2,095 yards and 16 touchdowns, and rushing for 275 yards and five scores, during the 2017 football season.
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.