Richmond Senior used to be the heavyweight high school football bully in North Carolina.
From 1978-98, the Raiders won six N.C. 4A championships. They won three in a row from 1988-90 and then two more in 1997 and ‘98. It was a one-school town in a football-crazy county, and Richmond seemed to be stocked with star players with college potential.
Second-year Raiders football coach Bryan Till wants to return to those glory days.
“I love going to work every day,” Till said. “I tell you that. These kids are great kids and they do what we ask them to. They’re excited to play football and we’ve got a good staff, and it’s just fun.”
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Richmond Senior has not won a state championship in 10 years, but it’s also hasn’t had a losing season since 1973. Since its heyday ended in the ’90s, national powers from Independence, Butler, Wake Forest and Mallard Creek have emerged in North Carolina, schools from larger zones with more potential football players to chose from.
But Till said he has a plan to get the Raiders back to their old perch.
He’s started a development leadership council that identifies younger Raiders players who could become team leaders and captains and has them work with staff members to develop leadership skills.
“It’s 11- or 12-week process,” Till said. “We want guys to develop leadership qualities instead of it just being expected. You get in the real world and a guy may be your boss, but there’s a difference between being a boss and being the type of leader that people want to follow.”
Till also has the team more involved in the community, greeting younger kids - and potential future Raider football players - at elementary schools and volunteering at camps organized by former players.
He challenged some of his team’s current leaders to encourage teammates to attend summer workouts. The goal was to have 90 players - from the freshman team to the varsity - not miss any days in the offseason.
Richmond had 96 with perfect attendance.
That has Till excited about the season. He’s lost star receiver Malik Stanback to injury. Stanback, whom Till said had seven Division I scholarship offers, tore a ligament in his knee in a non-contact drill at a 7-on-7 tournament. He’ll miss his senior season. But Till returns 6-foot, 185-pound sophomore quarterback Caleb Hood, the son of former Raiders and UNC player Errol Hood.
Caleb Hood threw for 2,095 yards and 16 touchdowns as a freshman.
“He’s a phenomenal young man,” Till said. “He’s a great student of the game. He works extremely hard on everything we ask him to do. He watches a ton of extra film. You can’t say enough good things about Caleb Hood. It seems like such a cliche’ thing, but I can’t think of anything he doesn’t do well. He is just a good student, a good kid who is blessed with tremendous athletic ability.”
Joining Hood in the Raiders’ backfield will be two dangerous athletes - senior receiver/running back Bobby Terry and junior tailback Jahiem Covington.
Counting two-way players, Till returns 12 starters from last season’s 7-5 team. That was the fewest wins for the Raiders since 1994. Till is working hard to improve on that.
“It’s a process,” he said. “You’re not going to jump back and do that overnight. Yeah, we can have a good year and vie for a state title. Does that make it the program it was? In order to do that, you need continued support and we have to do things different from other school in bigger areas.
“We need to have the infrastructure here. We have love of football here, but we have to train kids. If we want to get back to the glory days, your kids have to buy in at an early age and love it. The advantage we have (on some of the other traditional powers) is we have our kids the whole time (because all elementary and middle school students in Rockingham attend the same high school), but it’s only an advantage if we take advantage of it early on.”
Editor’s Note: The Observer is previewing all 16 teams in its preseason Sweet 16 poll. The order will be revealed before the season kicks off Aug. 15.
RICHMOND SENIOR RAIDERS
Coach: Bryan Till (2nd year as Richmond Senior head coach; 8th year overall, 49-39 overall).
2017 record: 7-5 (5-2 in the Sandhills’ Athletic conference).
2018 conference: Sandills’ Athletic conference/4A.
Key players: Caleb Hood, So., QB (6-0, 185); Bobby Terry, Sr., WR/RB (5-11, 195); Jake Ransom, Sr., C (6-3, 270); John Jones, Jr., ILB (6-0, 200); Joerail White, Jr., ILB (6-0, 220); Jordan Wall, Sr., WR (5-10, 170); Jahiem Covington, Jr., RB (5-10, 190).
Storyline: The Raiders return 12 starters, including two-way players, but will be without star receiver Malik Stanback, who tore his ACL this summer and will miss his senior season. But there’s lots of talent (22 returning lettermen), and every year ending in “8” in the past 40 years, Richmond Senior has won a state title (2008, 1998, 1988, 1978).