RIDLEY TWP. >> Dave Wood has been coaching football for the better part of three decades, so it’s safe to say that the Ridley coach has seen just about every situation that you can think of.
There’s a first for everything, though, and this fall, Wood will trot out the youngest team he’s ever had.
“I was very blessed my first year here (when the Raiders were Central League tri-champions) of having a lot of older kids and even last year, we had some older kids, but we’re very young this year,” Wood said. “I think we have two or three starters back on each side of the ball.”
It’s never ideal to have so much inexperience, but it’s particularly daunting with a schedule that opens with Father Judge and the Central League’s last two champions, Garnet Valley and Springfield, in the first three weeks.
“I’m expecting for us to grow together as a team,” said senior cornerback Elijah Yakpasuo, one of the returning defensive starters who will also add an offensive role as a running back and wide receiver. “The younger players will have to step up, but that’s football for you.”
Senior quarterback Jack Bakey takes over full-time under center. He played in five games last year, but enters the year with all of five passing attempts and 20 rushes to his name. Unlike past Ridley offenses, Wood’s preference is with the ground game and the triple-option offense, so Bakey will likely only have to throw a few times per game to keep defenses honest.
“It definitely helps to get the experience in there and it better prepares for you for future games,” Bakey said. “… Now that I’ve matured as a senior, the reads are like second nature to me and once you get that down, it’s easy.
“I’m excited. I’ve been waiting for this for a few years and I’m just happy that I got my opportunity, and I’m going to make the most of it.”
Ridley 2018 Schedule
Fortunately for Bakey, two of the three returning offensive starters are offensive linemen in Tom Bramwell and Vaughn Kertis. The former is a 6-5, 280-pound masher at right guard, while the latter will be a mainstay at left tackle and checks in at 5-11, 250. There’s a talented group of unproven backs, with senior Hassan Chandler and junior Dylan Staley leading the way.
The Green Raiders’ defense might have to carry the team until the inexperienced offense catches up to speed, and that’s just fine. Linebackers Jalen Hudson (5-11, 210) and Bryce Regan (5-10, 200) should make a big impact, with Yakpasuo and Evan Bosak (5-8, 150) manning the secondary.
Ridley also returns two senior specialists in punter Myles Turner and kicker Nate Warwick, and Wood feels that he’s got one of the best kicking games in Delco because of that.
“I think we have a strong defense,” Regan said. “We’re definitely strong. We can fill our gaps when we need to and we’ll be blitzing hard. Our defensive line is a brick wall. They won’t let anything through.”
It won’t be easy to do with such a young team, but Wood has shown that he can get the most out of his players and put them in a position to be successful. Will that be enough to get Ridley into the playoff hunt?
Offensive Player to Watch
Tom Bramwell >> The senior right guard is an imposing figure at 6-5, 280 pounds, and Wood thinks that the big fella can play at the FBS or FCS level. The Green Raiders will likely run a lot behind big No. 77, and that’s a recipe for success. Bramwell has the tenacity and aggressive mindset to get defenders acquainted with the turf, and he seems to relish contact.
“I like run blocking,” Bramwell said with a smile. “I like pass blocking, too. I’m a fan of both. Run blocking’s also fun because you get to hit a person. (Our offense) is clicking really well this year.
We’re clicking a lot better than last year and I think we’re going to be really good.”
Defensive Player to Watch
Jalen Hudson >> It doesn’t take long to notice that the senior linebacker asserts himself on the Ridley defense. As one of four returning starters, he’s at ease all over the field and communicates well with his teammates.
“I feel like the old man, but they’re still my young bucks, so I still take care of them and teach them the ways, show them how to get around and our plays,” Hudson said. “Our players are ready.”
At 5-11, 210 pounds, Hudson has the size and athleticism to do a little bit of everything. He can knife into the backfield, drop into coverage and track down ball carriers in space.
By Matt Chandik, For Digital First Media
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