By Nathan Berg
Riverside Military Academy head coach Nick Garrett joined the program at the beginning of last season, and according to Garrett, that first year — a 2-8 campaign — was primarily dedicated to “forming a platform” for the players to gain an understanding of his offensive and defensive schemes. This season, according to Garrett, the goal is different.
“Our expectation is to win,” he said.
The Eagles have had a losing record in each of the last four seasons, and they haven’t done better than break even since 2008. But Garrett said he plans on changing the culture of Riverside Military to a winning one. And despite losing Victor Pittman — last year’s leading tackler — and speedster Charles Dimnwaobi, now playing receiver for the Air Force Academy, to graduation, Garrett said he thinks he has the personnel this season to do just that.
Garrett said the returning upperclassmen have been instrumental in holding newer players accountable in practice, which is helping those younger athletes quickly get acclimated to the program.
And while Garrett did admit that it will be difficult to replace the production of last season’s leaders who are no longer with the program, he believes the players coming back have sufficient skill to step in and keep the team moving forward.
“I can’t talk enough about these kids, about their story and their background and where they come from and how they fit into Riverside Military Academy and how they fit into our program,” Garrett said. “So us as a staff, we’re completely jacked.”
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Garrett said he will continue to run an up tempo offense, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the team will be running plays at break-neck speed. He said he simply doesn’t see the need for huddling after every play, as it causes players to unnecessarily expend energy.
“For us, really just line up, pick what the defense is doing, get your play, and let’s go,” he said.
The Eagles offense will be headed by athletic returning starter Isaac Teasley. Teasley, a senior, has also had an excellent track career with Riverside Military, setting a number of school records. He will be a threat both with his arm and with his legs.
Teasley’s main target in the passing game could be do-it-all athlete Khalid Duke, a 6-4 track star with elite size and speed, as well as versatility. Garrett said Duke could even line up some at quarterback. Duke will be joined in the receiving game by Jacob Cook — a freshman who is also an undefeated wrestler — and Gainesville transfer Camron Dabney.
In the backfield, senior Stephen Aleandre, who Garrett called “the pulse of the team,” will man running back duties.
The offensive line will be book-ended by seniors, as Teyvon Carson-Payton will reprise his role at right tackle and Anthony Mason will take over on the left. Garret said Mason has taken on more of a leadership role this offseason, which has been a pleasant surprise to the second-year coach.
“Some eighth graders and ninth grader that are out there, (Mason) has really taken them under his wing, and we didn’t ask him to do it,” Garrett said. “He just did it on his own, which is kind of one of those things that you hope for.”
Garrett said he’s hoping to have a balanced offense, with his biggest worry being finding a way to get every playmaker on the team chances to get the ball in open space.
“Sometimes you wish you had seven footballs to make sure everyone could get a touch at one time,” he said.
Riverside Military will run out of a 4-2-5 base, bringing a fifth defensive back onto the field to combat the spread offenses employed by many high school programs. Garrett said the emphasis will be on organization and making sure players stay in position.
“We’re going to have a group of kids that are going to be extremely disciplined to the craft of a 4-2-5,” he said.
The defense will be headlined by a number of players who also have important roles on the offense. Aleandre and Duke will be playing both ways, as will tight end and middle linebacker Wookdong Harry Kim.
Garrett said Kim’s work ethic and high motor have set a standard for the rest of the team.
“The Wook only has one speed,” he said. “That’s 100 miles an hour.”
Along the defensive line, it will be primarily familiar faces for Riverside Military. Defensive end Ebube Alfred-Igbokwe is gone, but Tyrone Monday, Lamar Gordon and Wylie McDonald will all be back, and Mason will also play some in the defensive trenches.
“We’ll have a lot of guys back up front for us on defense, which again, makes everything exceptionally better,” Garrett said.
A year after kicking woes proved costly for Riverside Military, Garrett said finding a consistent option at kicker will be integral to improving the Eagles’ standing this season.
“Last year, we probably left on the field maybe about 35 points in field goals,” Garrett said. “I think that could have swayed some games for us if we were able to do it.”
Garrett said senior Eric Penney will compete with Sean Whitley as well as defensive end Michael Madichie, a two-sport athlete who also plays soccer.
In the return game, Randall Marable will likely get the most work, although several others, including Teasley and Aleandre, will compete for the job.
Riverside Military hasn’t had a winning record since 2008, but now that Garrett has had a full season to implement his system, there is room for optimism. Garrett said how the team finishes will come down to the little things the players do on a daily basis to prepare for the season.
“My expectation is to win at the finite details of film and being coachable and applying those applications to not only just football, everyday life,” Garrett said. “Everything we’re doing, we’re expecting to win at every day.”