Time is never on the side of Riverside Military Academy football coach Chris Lancaster.
It’s a constant battle against the clock to field a football program at a private military school, with cadets enrolled from all corners of the country.
Riverside’s second-year coach doesn’t have the luxury of working the players through the summer in the weight room, or the ability to make a smooth transition into practice. When cadets report to RMA on Aug. 1, it’s a matter of exchanging pleasantries, and then buckling up the chin strap on the helmet. He says it’s a constant grind from the time players get on campus to try and build team chemistry and instill a winning program with little room for error.
And so far, it’s worked.
Riverside Military (1-0) is looking to tackle its next challenge with the first game in Region 8-AA against Banks County on Friday night in Homer. The Eagles are playing their first season back in the Georgia High School Association, after spending the past six seasons playing in the Georgia Independent Schools Association.
"We have to be brothers on this team," Riverside Military quarterback Julian Suber said. "Bonding is key."
Riverside is already off to a good start this season with a scrimmage victory against Class AAA’s East Hall, and a win against Elbert County in Week 1 of the regular season. The Eagles coach says that the newness of playing in the GHSA for the first time since 2001 has now worn off for the program.
"We’re a lot more confident since we’ve won against two Class AAA opponents," Riverside senior linebacker Diego Osegueda-Weiner said. "We know we have to just go out there and prove ourselves on the field every week."
From the time Eagles football players wake-up in the morning their day is already planned. From sun-up to sun-down with morning drills, march, school, practice, dinner and study hall in the evening, there is no time to kick back and relax.
Lancaster, a former Clemson tailback compares the life of a Riverside cadet to that of a student-athlete at the college level.
"Our kids are in a structured environment and the time management is difficult," he said. "But I take pride at coaching at the best military school in the country, and the vision the school has for the kids."
Lancaster has a fresh perspective about playing against new opponents in the GHSA. He doesn’t know what to expect from week-to-week during what he describes as the "nine game season" of the region schedule. Riverside’s coach is well aware that Banks County has a highly talented running back in senior, and Times Elite 11 selection Justin Beasley.
But is he the best running back in Region 8-AA?
"I don’t know," Lancaster said. "That’s the thing, we don’t always know what’s out there ... we’re just taking it week by week, and that kind of makes it fun for us."
Riverside Military football is dependant on new players each season making an impact right when they get on campus. This season is no exception if the Eagles are going to reach their goal of a region championship.
Lancaster has already been impressed with the contributions of new players, including starting quarterback Julian Suber, back-up quarterback Lucas Bersin, Taylor Peterson and Victor Frick.
And just as expected with players from all across the country, they all have a different story. Bersin, from Tulsa, Okla., enrolled at RMA with no family ties to the school. He’s emerged as a "savvy player" that will have a chance to play. Suber and fellow junior Brandon McKinney enrolled at RMA from Brookwood for summer school and have stepped in as starters for the Eagles.
Suber credits Lancaster’s system for building success around the program. His acclimation to Riverside Military was quite unique.
He stepped into two-a-days with his new teammates on Aug. 1. Then the former tailback was asked to play quarterback.
"I think my eyes got kind of big," Suber said. "But coach Lancaster has a system and my job is to do what I can to help the team win."
Suber said he was sore at first when he started practice, as he had never thrown a football that much before taking to the field with his new team. He found out quick that his coach wanted him behind center with a set of plays designed to take advantage of his running abilities to keep the ball in his hands.
Suber says there isn’t any added pressure playing the first game in the region schedule against Banks County. He trusts the bond of his teammates to tackle the new challenges ahead this season with a winning attitude.
"What we have to focus on is improving as the season goes along," Lancaster said.