Confident Rickards Looks to Show Improvements This Season
By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook Staff Writer
When Rickards High School finished the football season with a 7-4 record last year, head coach Quintin Lewis realized that the Raiders had several questions to answer.
Lewis was concerned because just a year earlier his football team ended the season at 9-2 and got to the playoffs.
But Lewis doesn’t have to wait until the season gets started later this month to find out just how much his team has improved. What he saw during the spring jamboree games was enough to give him reasons to be optimistic.
The Raiders rallied from 7-0 deficits in two halves each against Wakulla High School and Godby High School to go undefeated in the jamboree.
Lewis saw the confidence that his young team was lacking in each of their four losses last season.
“We knew when the guys came back and scored, they gained confidence,” said Lewis, who is in his fourth season with the Raiders. “They truly believe right now that they could beat any team that’s put in front of them.”
Of course, the verdict is still out on such a bold prediction. However, Lewis said that he and his staff are encouraged by improvements in the Raiders’ overall work ethic. So much so that they’ve done away with the basic run plays that dominated the Raiders’ playbook to simplify execution for last year’s young team.
This year’s team features 40 returning players – 15 of them seniors — after losing six to graduation last season. Their experience is obvious by the commitment he sees during the Raiders’ summer workouts, Lewis said.
“They are executing at a higher level now,” Lewis said. “Year two in the offensive scheme, they kind of understand through and through now.
“We talked about adversity and obstacles and to hit the wall ahead of you head-on; no matter what the challenge is.”
Offensively the challenge will be for senior quarterback D.J. Phillips and receiver Kalen Riles to consistently be on the same page, said Lewis, adding that passing will be the Raiders’ first option this year.
Senior linebacker Gabriel Kennon leads the defense, a unit that Lewis said is showing a different attitude when it comes to closing out games.
Kennon attributed the change of attitude to how the Raiders were able to rally for their two jamboree victories.
“Last year, we didn’t come out strong in the first half of the games,” Kennon said. “But this year we are going to be strong in the whole game.
“Throughout the summer we focused on the energy off of those (jamboree) games. We put that energy in the weight room and hopefully it transfers to us being better. We are just trying to get better every day. We have a different mindset than last year. We’ve got to be better, faster and stronger.”
That’s reason enough, Lewis said, for his Raiders to be in the conversation for a shot at the state championship.
And, that’s not just a coach having lofty expectations, Lewis insisted.
“All spring we talked about finishing (and) closing it out; completing the puzzle and making sure every piece is in place,” Lewis said. “Every down needs to be that way.”