As a former assistant at Riverside Military Academy, first-year head coach Chris Cotter wasn’t caught off guard when practice began more than two weeks before the boarding school began its school year.
That doesn’t mean he liked not having his entire roster at practice, but he dealt with it. And after several two-a-days and three-a-days, Cotter is confident in his young and inexperienced squad.
“We don’t have any bad habits,” Cotter said. “And I expect to win region and hope to be a contender at the single A level.”
After a few years of playing in Class AA, the Eagles will play in Region 8-A this year and will face a formidable schedule that includes former Georgia Independent Schools Association foe George Walton Academy, Commerce, and a pair of schools from higher classifications, Class AAA’s Lumpkin County and Class AA’s Banks County.
“I want to face the best right out of the gate,” Cotter said.
Not only is the head coach new, but the starting quarterback and running back are as well. But unlike their experienced coach, those two are freshman and have never played a snap on a Friday night.
Cotter doesn’t care.
“I didn’t have a whole lot of choices, but I’m confident they can get it done,” he said of quarterback Michael Gallup and running back Justin Martin, who runs the 400-yard dash in 49 seconds.
That speed will come in handy in Cotter’s gameplan of “running it down your throat.”
The Eagles also have a viable option at receiver in senior Billy McCoy, and Gallup has proven he has the ability to get the ball to open targets. Riverside suffered a key loss on offense during the offseason when wide receiver Tyler Pluhar suffered a possible season-ending shoulder injury.
Gallup will be protected by a solid offensive line, which includes Kameron Clingman, Tarvin Dukes and Mason Pope.
With less access to great athletes, Cotter knows the talent he has on his team will have to contribute on both sides of the ball.
“We’re playing ironman football,” he said. “For the most part, you won’t see a transition from offense to defense.
“Fatigue is a factor, but we’ve emphasized conditioning a lot and I don’t think we’ll wear down like in years past.”
Clingman and returning sack leader Marlan Edwards will anchor the defensive line, and with linebackers Dukes and Pope solidifying the middle of the field, the Eagles have the ability to slow down the vaunted running games they’ll face this year.
Pluhar and McCoy are the team’s cornerbacks.
Cotter is expecting a lot in his first year at the helm, but he’s expecting the most from his kicker and punter, Victor Salcido.
“He’s much improved this year,” Cotter said. “He’s automatic inside the 50 (yard line) and I expect that to continue.”
The speedy Martin will handle the kick return duties, while McCoy will field the punts.
With the amount of athleticism on their roster, the Eagles should be in position to contest for a playoff spot. With teams like Commerce, Athens Academy and George Walton in the region, winning an 8-A title might be tough.