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New cadets part of Riverside's playoff run
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Riverside Military head coach Chris Lancaster discusses the Eagles' first-round playoff match against Pepperell on Friday.


Riverside Military linebacker Diego Osegueda-Weiner, quarterback Lucas Bersin and running back Julian Suber discuss their playoff game against Pepperell on Friday.

Class AA state playoffs
Riverside Military at Pepperell

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday

Where: Lindale

Records: Riverside (7-3); Pepperell (9-1)

Tickets: $8

It was only about two weeks before the start of the regular season that Riverside Military Academy quarterback Lucas Bersin set foot on the Eagles’ campus for the very first time, let alone their football field.

The 6-foot, 200-pound junior enrolled at the private military school from Tulsa, Okla. when his father talked to a friend whose son also went to Riverside. When the decision was made that RMA was a good fit for Bersin, he made the 835-mile journey to become a cadet.

Fast forward three months later, and Bersin is leading the Eagles (7-3) to their first GHSA playoff match, against Pepperell on Friday in Lindale.

Talk about a seamless transition.

“The first couple of weeks (the coaches) gave me a play sheet and the coaches worked with the offense on getting all the plays down,” Bersin said.

Playing on a new team halfway across the country didn’t slow the former linebacker down. In fact, Bersin flourished at his new position, completing 115-of-175 passes for 1,439 yards and 14 touchdowns, despite not being the starting quarterback at the beginning of the season.

He wasn’t the only new face.

In their first year back in GHSA since 2001, the Eagles’ hopes for a playoff run were strengthened by first-year cadet Julian Suber, who enters Friday’s game with 1,663 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns on 184 carries.

Junior tight end Brandon McKinney, another newcomer, is second among Eagle receivers with 349 yards on 29 receptions and leads the team with five receiving touchdowns.

Together, the three starters have given Riverside Military playoff-caliber talent that it didn’t even know it would have when football season began.

“Our goal, like everybody’s goal, is to make it to the state championship,” Suber said. “If we go over there (to Pepperell) and play physical and play our game, I think we can pull it off.”

But even the fact that the Eagles are battle-tested Eagles and average 34 points per game won’t make Friday’s contest any less challenging.

Class AA’s sixth-ranked Pepperell (9-1) still averages four points more per game than Riverside Military and is allowing only eight points per game, compared to the Eagles’ 19.

And like Riverside, which utilizes all of its skill players with passing and running plays, the Dragons have options as well. One thing the Eagles can count on is a tough running game to stop, led by junior Brandon Whitaker, who finished the regular season with 1,594 yards and 28 touchdowns on 167 carries.

When running is not an option, the Dragons can turn to 6-3, 180-pound junior quarterback Jonathan Watters, who is already pulling in interest from several SEC schools.

“Their offense is very physical,” Eagles coach Chris Lancaster said. “They’re going to try to win the game up front and utilize their backfield.”

Defensively, Pepperell lines up in an eight-man front, which could give Suber problems breaking open on running plays, but could open up the backfield for Bersin to create passing opportunities.

“We’re going to do what it takes to win,” Lancaster said. “We have a big ball game over there.”

But what Lancaster believes could be the biggest challenge for his team is the fact that every player in the Dragons’ program has been built from the ground up to play a certain style, unlike the Eagles, who have numerous players that played for other schools before enrolling at Riverside.

“What you see on film from them is a bunch of kids that have been in a program, and that’s where we fall behind,” Lancaster said. “They have an offseason with weight lifting and kids that have been there since elementary to high school ranks.”

But the Eagles’ lack of a unified offseason training program or players that obtained all of their football knowledge as a cadet still hasn’t been enough to keep them from finding success in their new home, the GHSA.

“It’s going to be a challenge, and we’re looking forward to it,” Lancaster said. “It’s going to be fun and exciting.”
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