ROCKINGHAM — Exactly five weeks from today, the Richmond Senior football team will get a chance to show Raider Nation what it has been working on ever since spring practice began.
On August 19, the Raiders kick off the 2016 season at Rocky River High School.
Richmond has defeated the Ravens in the teams’ season-opening matchups since 2013, but that fact alone has not changed how the Raiders will attack the weeks heading into the first game. Head coach Mike Castellano applauds the progression that he has seen, but still believes his team has a long way to go.
“No coach is ever going to think that his team’s ready,” Castellano explained. “We’ve got to build a lot of depth and we’ve still got competition to figure out who’s going to play where and who’s going to start — do those type of things. We’re pleased with the effort, but we’ve just got to have better execution.”
Thursday morning, Cape Fear and conference foe Purnell Swett made the trip to Rockingham to compete against Richmond in 7-on-7 competitions. The Raiders were able to make plays throughout the day, on both sides of the ball, and that’s essentially what Castellano wants to see from his team at the moment — the desire to compete.
“We want to see who will continue to compete against good competition, Castellano said. “Cape Fear was here with probably one of the best quarterbacks in the state — and that was a good opportunity for us to compete.”
Cape Fear’s quarterback, Justice Galloway-Velazquez, is a rising junior who threw for more than 1,600 yards and ran for more than 1,100 yards during his sophomore campaign.
“Any time you can a chance to work against a Division I quarterback — which in my opinion, he is — things happen a lot faster. And it makes our guys have to react a lot faster,” he said. “You have to compete against him, who’s trying to make his teammates better, and it makes us have to compete at a higher level to be successful.”
After four days of activity this week, the team is off today and will have what they call a “dead week” next week — meaning there will be no coach-led workouts.
Upperclassmen will return to Richmond Senior’s practice fields at 9:30 a.m. on Monday, July 25, while freshmen are expected to report to the Ninth-Grade Academy on the same day at the same time.
Castellano and his coaching staff are hoping to have everyone at their respective sites “healthy, back and ready to go”.
“When we come back on the 25th, basically, we’re not going to have another break until the season ends,” he said. “So, for us to have that long season, we’ve got to come out here on that Monday and the tempo has got to pick up…We need more guys to understand what we’re trying to do and not fall into the back, looking for somebody else to lead.”
And while the Raiders are still searching for players to step up and take a more defined leadership role, guys like Leon Zeigler (quarterback) and Steven Jones (safety) — both rising seniors — will likely be called on to lead the way.
Last season, Zeigler passed for 35 touchdowns, while Jones picked off four passes on the defensive side of the ball.
“Well, you hope you have a ton of leaders. You hope you have guys that are developing and holding each other accountable,” Castellano said. “You would hope it’s your (Steven) Jones and your Leon (Zeigler). You hope it’s those guys, but a lot of times it’s also some guys you don’t even realize.
“Dante Miller is a guy who’s really stepped it up and he’s got to develop some of that (leadership),” he continued. “We need some big guys — OL, DL guys — to assume that role as well. And then you’ve got some other guys that are sophomores and juniors that have got to be that guy. They’ve got to assume some responsibility.”
When they take the field 35 days from now in Mint Hill, the Raiders hope to have too many leaders to count.
“We don’t care who a leader is, we just want a bunch of them,” Castellano added.
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Damontre Bennett tries to escape the outstretched hand of a Cape Fear defender during Richmond Senior’s 7-on-7 scrimmage Thursday morning.
Leon Ziegler throws a pass during Thursday morning’s 7-on-7 scrimmage against Cape Fear at Richmond Senior High School’s practice football fields.