RIDLEY TWP. >> Zach Wagner pointed to the ‘R’ on his football helmet.
The senior offensive lineman was discussing what it means to be a Ridley Green Raider early Wednesday evening. Wagner and fellow senior co-captain Brock Anderson are the sons of Ridley football players. Their dads were teammates under legendary coach Joe McNicholas in the mid-1980s.
“Just to have a parent that wore the helmet, it means a lot,” Wagner said. “When you see the ‘R’ on the side of the helmet, it goes so much deeper. It’s a legacy.”
The Green Raiders are writing their own legacy this year. Friday night they host No. 12 Plymouth Whitemarsh in the opening round of the District One Class 6A playoffs. For senior captains Anderson, Wagner, John Sheldon and Ryan Gricco, this will be their first postseason game. Before now, Ridley hadn’t made the district playoffs since 2012.
“This is obviously the biggest game we have ever played as a senior class. We just want to go out and give the town what they deserve,” Wagner said. “It’s been a long time — too long, in my opinion — and I think all these guys agree with me. It’s time to get the job done and move on.”
The Ridley community was waiting, too. Ask anyone that goes to Ridley about the passionate fanbase and they’ll tell you it’s like nowhere else in Delco. Ridley fans, young and old, live and die with their hometown football team.
Anderson heard it a few days ago when he was out and about in nearby Media.
“I’m always wearing a lot of Ridley gear, so I stand out,” Anderson said. “The other day we were out in Media and some guy came up to me and asked me about football. Just by seeing Ridley on my shirt, he knew I was a part of this and he knew this was big. That goes to show what Ridley football is about and how big this was to our town.”
What’s big is the Central League championship the Green Raiders celebrated last week. They earned a share of the title with Springfield and Marple Newtown.
And what’s bigger is what awaits — a chance to make noise in the playoffs. It’s been seven years since Ridley won a district championship, with Daily Times Player of the Year Colin Masterson running the show at quarterback. Now it’s two-year starter Cade Stratton’s turn.
Actually, it’s everyone’s turn to show the community that this isn’t the same underperforming Ridley program it’s been accustomed to seeing.
“There’s doubters, though, who will be like, well, we only played Central League teams and you’re about to play a Suburban One team,” Sheldon noted. “We still have that chip on our shoulder.”
But the passion (and haters) of the home base is precisely what inspires Ridley to reach heights the likes of which haven’t been seen in a long time.
“We’ve been talking about it. You know, it’s like we’re a small Texas high school. This community is diehard football in that way,” Anderson said. “You know when it’s high school football, you know when there’s a game Friday night. Everyone is here at the game. You got the younger kids standing by the fence and the older men who don’t even have anyone related on the team, they just come out and support us. That’s big for us.”
And, of course, the decades-long fans at the top of the bleachers chirping away at each play.
“That’s the crow’s nest up there,” Anderson said.
So what’s so unique about this Ridley team? It starts with the cerebral preparedness of coach Dave Wood, who came over from the college ranks to restore honor and pride in the program.
“Coach even told us, from the first time we ever met him, that this wasn’t a rebuilding year,” said Gricco, the team’s bone-crushing star linebacker.
“He came to the job interview at Ridley with a 20-minute powerpoint, with every practice, every game… everything set up,” said Sheldon, a dominant offensive guard. “He’s all business.”
Wood has instilled a “cultural change,” said Wagner, and that has permeated throughout the locker room.
“The real difference, I see, is the way this practice is run. Last year it was very lackadaisical, and I’m not trying to throw shade over anyone,” said Anderson, who leads the team with 647 rushing yards. “But this year it’s so different. It’s almost like we’re playing a game every single day. (Wood) told us ever since we met him that his motto is ‘Win the day.’ His motto is to get better on this day and it will carry on throughout the week. This is our job and we have stuff to get done.
“You can tell from the first moment with him that it was all business. It’s not high school football anymore. This is his job and he takes it very seriously and does a very good job. He’s a genius. He’s in there 24/7. If you drive by on your way to school, you’ll see his car up in that parking lot and the locker room door is open. He never stops working.”
All of the hours in the weight room and on the practice field have led to this moment. Ridley knows it’s the favorite, but it still considers itself an underdog in some respects.
“Hey,” Wagner said, “nobody at the beginning of the year expected us to get here.”
Maybe so, but here they are. The Green Mystique is back in business.
“To bring this back to the community is very big,” Anderson said. “We’ve been waiting four years to get here. We’re too talented of a football team to be stopped short of our goals.”