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HS football: Riverside Military hoping to bring back glory days
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One of the biggest blessings for first-year Riverside Military coach Gary Downs may be a bye week right away on Aug. 31.

While most programs would despise having to use their coveted week off without having played a single game, Downs looks at it as another week to get his players at the private military school on the same page. Since Riverside Military (1-9 in 2011) doesn’t open the season until a game against Whitefield Academy on Sept. 7 at Maginnis Field, that gives Downs almost exactly a month to work with players from the time they reported to campus.

"I’m excited," said Downs, who expects to have between 40-50 players this season. "We’ve had a good summer of preparation. "My biggest goal right away is to restore the pride in the program and lay the groundwork for expectations."

Right away, Downs, an assistant coach at Riverside Military from 2003-06, sees some bright spots. He’ll have some size on the offensive line, good numbers in the backfield for his run-first offense and some good athletes on the perimeter to throw to.

However, he knows not to ride the roller coaster of emotions too hard when he sees some good athletes that may enroll. Just as soon as he has two players that enroll at Riverside Military, just as many may leave the next day who he was previously counting on playing in the fall.

Final football numbers will not be intact until school at Riverside Military starts at the end of the month.

Offense

Riverside Military will have options at the quarterback position. Downs plans to try returning starter Collin Pettell, Stephen Weschler and Christopher Howard to see what they can do under center. Last year, Pettell threw for 883 yards and seven touchdowns, but completed only 41 percent of his throws.

"Pettell is bigger and stronger," Downs said. "But the other two (Weschler and Howard) are more athletic."

At running back, Downs feels pleased with the skills that Gage Bolden, Joseph Garuba and Adrian Humphrey bring to the table. Again, he’ll let them battle it out during practice to see which is ready to take the starting job.

Riverside Military’s new coach expects to run an offense that starts out of the I-formation, but will gladly change it if it doesn’t suit his personnel.

Wide receiver is a position that Downs believes will be a particular strength. His three top candidates to catch the ball are Spencer Jackson and Ike Onwuanaibe at wide receiver and 220-pound junior Matt Jones at tight end.

On the offensive line, Downs plans to start Ben White (6-foot-4, 285 pounds) at left tackle, Harrison Summerhour at left guard, John-Mark MacFarlane at center, Taylor Hardin (6-2, 245) at right guard and Tucker Browning (6-4, 315) at right tackle.

Defense

The defensive line for the Eagles has Gabe Frazier at nose tackle, and White and Browning at defensive end. Downs will have three of his most athletic players at linebacker with Montana Ogbu and Summerhour on the outside, and MacFarlane at middle linebacker (53 tackles in 2011).

James Lovett and Bolden will also see playing time at middle linebacker. Michael Hilton will play at outside linebacker.

In the secondary, Austin Smith and Jackson are the Eagles’ two starters at cornerback. Anthony Reyes and
Weschler will start at safety.

Special teams

Handling kick- and punt-return duties for Riverside Military will be Humphrey and Onwuanaibe.

Olanrewja Shitta-Bey will be the Eagles’ kicker and Jonanthan Davis will punt.

Outlook

Downs knows that restoring Riverside Military’s football program will be a work in progress. However, he knows that the school has potential to be as successful, once again, as when it was contending yearly for state titles in the Georgia Independent Schools Association, during his first stint at the school.

Riverside Military’s new coach says that winning just one game again this season would be an unequivocal failure. He says that winning five games in 2012 would be a feasible goal. To do so, they’ll have to pick up a few region victories in the Eagles’ new setup in Region 8-AA.

"Maybe I’m overly optimistic," Downs said. "So much depends on the players."

 

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