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Posted: Thursday, August 15th 2013 at 10:17am

Football 2013: Lessons learned, Riverside ready to improve

By Katie Davis Staff


MASCOT: Eagles

TEAM COLORS: Blue and White


HEAD COACH/RECORD AT SCHOOL: Gary Downs, second season, 2-8


KEY LOSSES: RB Adrian Humphrey (first team all-region), WR/DB Elijah Holyfield (first team all-region at DB, honorable mention at WR), DL Montana Ogbu (honorable mention all-region)

OFFENSIVE STYLE: Spread option -- RMA wants to get its bevy of skill position players out in space and let them make plays

KEY OFFENSIVE PLAYERS: Sr. QB Collin Pettell, Sr. OL John-Mark McFarlane, Jr. FB Joseph Garuba, Jr. RB Raleigh Brewer, Jr. RB Malik Faulk, Jr. RB Chris Risotto, So. RB Chris Tidwell

DEFENSIVE STYLE: 3-3 -- Athleticism again plays a key in this style, the Eagles want to let their athletes loose, allow them to run to the ball and make plays

KEY DEFENSIVE PLAYERS: Sr. DL Jake Whitton, Sr. LB John-Mark McFarlane, FS Sage Jordan, S CJ Howard

SPECIAL TEAMS: So. PK Chris Rosato, Jr. P Richard Hendricks

STRENGTH: Experience -- According to Downs, strengths of this year’s team are having more players who are game ready and having great depth at quarterback and running back.

QUESTION: Size in the trenches -- The offensive and defensive lines are question marks for Riverside. Speed and athleticism aren't a problem, but size is, and if you can't block up front, you can't pass or run downfield nor can you get pressure on the opposing quarterback.

KEY GAMES: Riverside lost its first three games in 2012 to the same three opponents it plays in the first three games of this season. With a revamped offense and experience on both sides of the ball, the first three opponents will be a great litmus test for the progress Downs program is making.

TRENDING: Coach Downs decided mid-season of 2012 to change his team's offensive scheme from multiple to spread to better suit his personnel, and the change paid off. The Eagles didn't win a lot of games, but they did put up points -- something that was missing at the start of the season. The team also ended on a high note, earning its second-highest point total of the season en route to win No. 2 in game No. 10. The offseason was spent reinforcing the aspects of the spread and with the athletes on the roster, Riverside could be a dangerous team this season.

Sept. 6 at Whitefield Academy
Sept. 13 vs. Georgia Military Academy
Sept. 20 vs. Washington-Wilkes
Sept. 27 vs. Oglethorpe County
Oct. 4 at Rabun County
Oct. 11 vs. Union County
Oct. 18 vs. Social Circle
Oct. 25 at Glascock County
Nov. 1 vs. Jefferson
Nov. 8 at Greene County
GAINESVILLE –- It’s fitting for the Riverside Military Academy football program, and second-year coach Gary Downs, that it was Colin Powell who once said, “There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work and learning from failure.”

Downs was the coach of the Eagles well before spring practice began in 2012 but -- with hindsight being 20-20 -- regrets not coming in earlier.

His Eagles suffered through their 2012 campaign, going just 2-8 while averaging 14 points and giving up 33. Riverside didn’t score its first touchdown until the third game and got win No. 1 in game No. 7.

2013 Riverside Preview from WDUN TV on Vimeo.

“I should have come in January because preparation is that important,” said Downs. “Any team, every team needs that preparation. We prepared a lot more this year; had a great summer program and did some 7-on-7’s. We worked hard this offseason.”

The hope for Downs and his Eagles’ program is that the extra preparation, the hard work and the failures of 2012 will lead to success in 2013.

Midway through last season, Downs switched offenses in a rather drastic fashion, going from the wing-T to the spread. The gamble paid dividends, yielding more yardage and points for the Eagles’ attack.

“Our personnel dictated that we had more skill guys than big guys, and that’s the case again this year,” Downs said. “So coming into spring, I made a couple of different coaching hires. I hired a spread coach and a spread offensive line coach.

“I’ve got two or three new running backs that I’m going to plug in, and, hopefully, we’ll start where we finished last season,” said Downs, referring to his team’s 35-3 win against Greene County to end the 2012 season. “The runners we have have an outstanding opportunity to move the ball.”

With the graduation of first-team all-region running back Adrian Humphrey and the transfer of 2012 offensive star Elijah Holyfield, running backs Raleigh Brewer, Malik Faulk, Chris Risotto – all juniors – and Corey Tidwell, a sophomore, will all be asked to contribute this year. The bevy of runners will be led by returning fullback Joseph Garuba.

Collin Pettell started at quarterback for Riverside as a junior last year, but five others are now battling Pettell for the starting spot: Avery Cagle, Sage Jordan, Nick Moss, Lyle Lopez and C.J. Howard.

“We’ve got a lot of guys competing for the (starting quarterback) job,” said Downs. “It’s a little different when you don’t have competition, but having this competition is helping us look at a couple of different things and making our players a lot better.”

Riverside’s offensive line is a cause for concern because, according to Downs, there’s a lack of big bodies.

Defensively, the Eagles will use their athleticism in 3-4 and 4-4 schemes. As much as Holyfield will be missed offensively, it was as a defensive back that he made his first-team all-region name, and those are some big shoes to fill. Downs is certain, however, that he has the components to do just that.

“Leading the way for our defense is middle linebacker and three-year starter John-Mark McFarland, then we’ll have Sage Jordan, who is competing for the quarterback position as well, start for us at free safety and C.J. Howard starting at safety,” said Downs.

Defensive lineman Jake Whitton will also be key to Riverside.

While no other positions are set in stone, Downs is excited about the prospects of his team’s defensive improvements.

“It’s a lot better than last year,” he said. “Last year (our key defensive players) were sophomores coming right out of freshman ball. This year, about half the guys were with us last year, but they’re juniors, which means they’re a year older and a year stronger. I’m really happy with the kids right now.”
Associated Categories: Friday Game Night

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