Pinecrest Academy at Riverside Military
When: 7:30 tonight
Where: Maginnis Field
Coaches: Riverside Military, Chris Cotter; Pinecrest Academy, Charles Wiggins
Key players: Riverside Military, RB/DE Marlan Edwards (6-2, 212 Sr.), QB Collin Pettell (6-5, 200 So.), K/P/DL Victor Salcido (5-11, 222 Sr.). Pinecrest Academy, LB J.P. Metz (Sr.). RB Jacob Carr (Jr.), QB Jimmy Strom (Jr.).
Prediction: RIVERSIDE MILITARY. After a solid preseason outing last Friday, the Eagles look primed to improve on last season’s 2-8 mark.
Riverside Military football coach Chris Cotter streamlined Thursday's practice as much as possible.
He knew fresh legs for the Eagles were more important than a cram session preparing for tonight's season opener against Pinecrest Academy at 7:30 p.m. at Maginnis Field.
"As they say, the hay is in the barn at this point," said Cotter, the second-year Riverside Military coach. "If we're not ready by this point, it's too late."
The only things Cotter wanted to work on during the final practice before the season got going were special teams, two-minute drill and specific game situations.
He got a positive indication of where the Eagles stood already when they won 6-0 in a scrimmage against Hebron Christian last Friday in Gainesville.
Riverside Military is the only Hall County football program opening the regular season tonight, making the job of being the Eagles coach even tougher considering cadets that played football didn't report to campus until the end of July, and first work together on the same field until Aug. 1.
"Playing in Week 0 is just another bullet we've got to dodge," Cotter said. "Our coaches knew it was going to be tight this summer and worked at a fever pitch getting the team ready to play.
"The kids knew that too, and I've been pleasantly surprised based on what I saw in the scrimmage."
But playing a week early could also be a blessing as well for Riverside.
The Eagles, who during the last decade were consistently successful in the Georgia Independent Schools Association and their first couple years in the GHSA, are eager to get the nasty taste out of their mouth of last year's 2-8 record.
Last season was the first year Riverside Military missed the playoffs since 2001, a fact not lost on returning starters like seniors Marlan Edwards and Victor Salcido.
"The first year I was here (2009) we had really good seniors that led the team like Aaron Gambrah and Brandon McKinney," said Edwards, a defensive end and running back. "Now, it's our turn to lead."
"It would mean a lot for us to have a strong senior season," said Salcido, a kicker and defensive end.
To prepare for opening day, the majority of Riverside's players only had about 30 practice sessions together. To bridge the gap of less time together, Cotter had Riverside go sometimes three-a-day during the first week on campus and when it wasn't too hot.
Now that school is in session, they've pared it down to one every afternoon when they get out of class. The Eagles' coach knows that his football players have other responsibilities on campus that take a chunk out of their time.
"The coaches have had us working really hard," Edwards said. "There were days when I woke up and couldn't move I was so sore."
But all the hard work will be rewarded for Riverside with a win. Already, Cotter is encouraged by his defense that pitched a shutout against Hebron in scrimmage play.
Except for one long run in that game, he was thrilled with what the defense was able to accomplish, especially the defensive line led by Edwards and Salcido, both three-year starters, and Avery Ebanks on the end.
"Our defense is quite stingy," Cotter said.
Like most schools, Riverside's season opener has nothing to do with beating a subregion opponent, and thinking about the playoffs is a still a long way away. The Eagles just want to get that first taste of getting in the win column.
"That will be critical for our success," Cotter said.