Riverside Military Academy will have an aggressive defense built on speed and bolstered by size, according to first-year head coach Kelly Davis.
Davis’ line will be led this season by rising juniors Emmanuel McNeil and Elijah Watson, who both attracted interest from the University of Louisville after attending a recent on-campus showcase in Kentucky. McNeil (6-foot-4, 280 pounds) picked up a verbal offer from Todd Grantham, the Cardinals’ defensive coordinator, while Watson “turned heads” in Louisville, according to Davis.
“(Grantham) liked what he had seen on tape of them,” said Davis, who took over as Riverside’s head coach following Gary Downs’ departure for East Tennessee State University. “He likes the way they compete and get after it. Against some of the top rising juniors in the South, both of them did extremely well.”
Grantham had been in Georgia on a recruiting trip this summer and had stopped by Riverside on the advice of local coaches, according to Davis. McNeil and Watson have both showed promise in front of camps at Louisville and Georgia Southern over the summer.
McNeil will head to a camp at Clemson University next Friday before attending an evening camp at the University of Georgia on July 18. Davis said he expects McNeil to pick up at least two more offers by the end of the summer. He recorded 10 tackles for loss and four sacks last season.
“He’s very similar to (South Carolina’s) Jadeveon Clowney,” said Davis. “He’s got the size, the speed, he can run, do all those things.”
Meanwhile, Watson has spent the last few weeks working closely with the rest of his Riverside team as the Eagles look to bounce back from a 3-7 season in 2014. Davis said last year’s defense, which allowed 16.7 points per game, was ranked No. 12 in Class AA.
Watson (6’3”, 250 pounds) was tight-lipped on his coach’s plans for this fall, but said the team is looking to emulate the achievements of Riverside’s undefeated 2005 team, which finished with a 12-0-1 record in the Georgia Independent School Association (GISA).
Davis plans to use both Watson and McNeil as opposite defensive ends in order to effectively pressure the quarterback.
“When you think of defense, you think of smash-mouth football,” said Watson. “He’s definitely a defensive-minded coach, but he’s also one of the smartest people I’ve ever played under. The way he thinks is very unorthodox.”
McNeil and Watson are expected to link up with experienced rising seniors like Maxwell Mcginnis and Tevarris Hooks.
The Eagles athletic department recently released its new official logo this week, a move that was in the works for the last “couple years,” according to Davis. The coach said the logo was designed by Gainesville-based graphic designer Hal DeLong.
“We really like the sleekness,” said Davis. “The fast and strong, the angry-eyed eagle look, (the kids) love it.”