Following a reinvigorated season in 2018, Riverside Military Academy’s football team is looking to pick up right where it left off as the Eagles vie for a second consecutive playoff appearance.
Head coach Nick Garrett led the group to a third place Region 8A-A finish last season, as well as an upset victory over George Walton Academy in the first round of the Class A playoffs — the Eagles first playoff win since joining the GHSA.
Now, the secret is out about Riverside Military Academy, and Garrett is expecting a more difficult road ahead with better prepared opponents this time around.
“I don’t think we’re going to have the ability to sneak up on anybody anymore,” he said. “Everybody’s going to be prepared for us. They know who we are. They know our
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Passing the torch at QB
Losing Isaac Teasley to graduation after last year was certainly a blow for the Eagles, but thankfully for Garrett, the team had a similarly-gifted athlete waiting to take over. Junior Shad Dabney, who played at multiple positions a season ago, is expected to get the nod at quarterback.
Like Teasley, Dabney is a track and basketball star for Riverside Military Academy, with the capabilities to carry the offense in a similar fashion to Teasley. But Dabney’s best attributes may even come off the field, according to Garrett.
“Not only is he dynamic with the ball in his hands, he has a very high football IQ, and he’s a very influential leader, on and off the field and in the classroom,” Garrett said. “He has kind of the combination of the all three, which is a rarity. In the many years that I’ve done it, I can only say maybe a few have had that capability.”
Forming a family
One of the keys to Riverside Military’s turnaround last season, according to Garrett, was the closeness of the team, and this year’s edition of the Eagles is already seeking to replicate that factor. It all starts with the team’s captains, one of whom has been taking advice from one of last year’s team leaders, now graduated.
“I was driving to camp the first day, and one of the captains from last year called me, and he said make sure everybody’s a family from Day 1, so that instead of having the Game 8 results, we can have that in Game 1,” senior captain Lamar Gordon said.
Guarding the middle of the field
While Riverside Military will feature several new faces among its starters, the Eagles will have a couple of reliable players in the middle of the field to make sure opposing offenses don’t get out of hand.
It starts with linebacker Nick Haley, who Garrett dubbed “the human ball of energy” and who is returning from a torn ACL last season. Over top of him, captain Sean Whitley will be a reliable ballhawk, working to prevent opponents from going deep.
Between the two of them, Garrett said he hopes to have a strong base for the rest of the defense to lean on.
“Those two guys in the middle of the field makes me feel extremely safe,” Garrett said. “They know where everyone’s going and everyone’s assignment. They don’t miss plays. They don’t miss tackles. They are just really just all over the place.”
Opportunity to step up
With less than half of the team’s starters returning on both sides of the ball, Garrett believes this season is the season of opportunity for Riverside Military Academy football.
And while many coaches would take the departure of many of their team’s key players as a negative, Garrett remains focused on the positive. With mainstays such as Teasley and linebacker/wide receiver Khalid Duke now off to college, Garrett is hoping for new stars to emerge from lower down on the depth chart.
“This year, we’re embracing opportunity,” he said. “We have opportunities across the board on every single position, offensively, defensively and special teams-wise for kids to step up and to fill those voids from last year and really make a big splash this year.”
Building a brand
While many of Riverside Military Academy’s students come from out of the area — many even hailing from outside of the country — Garrett has made it a point of emphasis to create a culture his athletes can be proud of.
Garrett said he and his coaching staff have simply started with “mastering the relationship” — showing his players that he and the rest of the Eagles coaches truly care about them. The results, so far, have been able to speak for themselves.
“I think we understand the value of student athletes or just students in general, and I think when coaches master that and kids know that they’re loved and appreciated, they understand that they could become better with your assistance,” Garrett said. “It attracts students to want to play for us.”
Aug. 23 CHRISTIAN HERITAGE
Aug. 30 at King’s Ridge
Sept. 13 at Johnson
Sept. 27 at Prince Avenue*
Oct. 4 at Towns County*
Oct. 11 PROVIDENCE CHRISTIAN*
Oct. 18 LAKEVIEW ACADEMY*
Oct. 25 at Hebron Christian*
Nov. 1 COMMERCE*
Nov. 8 Region play-in game
2. Shad Dabney Jr. ATH
84. Lamar Gordon Sr. OL/DL
60. Yaoxiam Liang Sr. OL/DL
1. Adriel Clark Jr. WR/DB
45. Jackson Aiken Jr. TE/DE
75. Orlando Mayweather Jr. OL/DL
65. Lauren McDonald Jr. OL/DL
8. Kayman Jeffley Sr. WR/DB
55. Nick Haley Sr. TE/DL
3. Nick Hester Jr. RB/DB
67. Austin Berry Sr. OL/DL
14. Dylan Spinks Sr. QB
12. Jermaine Harris Sr. WR/DB
2. Zion Johnson Sr. WR/DB
12. Jonah Skipper Sr. WR/LB
15. Nick Walsh Jr. TE/LB
54. Cole Smith Jr. OL/DL
60. Tarik Schmidtke Jr. OL/DL
63. Mark Sanders Jr. OL/DL
17. Sean Whitley Sr. WR/DB
7. Jordan Thomas Jr. WR/DB
28. Dawson Brown Jr. TE/LB
50. Eduardo Scully Sr. DL