[tps_title]Ridley Green Raiders [/tps_title]
Green Raiders will seek to find themselves in Florida
RIDLEY TWP. >> As everyone else in the Central League is set to begin the 2019 season at home, or somewhere within at least a routine drive of home, Ridley is heading to the Sunshine State.
“It’s a business trip,” senior lineman Mike McDonnell said. “We’re going there to win.”
The Green Raiders will get on an airplane this week and head south to Cooper City, Fla., to take on the Cowboys, members of the Florida High School Athletic Association 6A classification. Ridley then begins its Central League schedule with road games a little nearer to home, against Springfield and Strath Haven.
“I’m hoping the trip bonds our kids, I hope that it pulls us together tighter as a team,” coach Dave Wood said. “It’s a unique thing for us. We’re bringing about 80 kids down. Our traveling party is almost 150-160 people. We’ve been fundraising since January. The parents and kids have all done a great job. We’re playing two games, the JV on Friday at 4:30 and following up with the varsity game.”
Ridley returns only five starters from last year’s club that started 0-4 before reeling off six straight victories to qualify for the District 1 Class 6A playoffs. On offense, it’s lineman and captain Sean O’Doherty and running back Dylan Staley, both of whom are seniors. Varsity veterans on defense are senior linemen McDonnell and Tahmir Wilmore, as well as linebacker Nate Desmond, who is a junior.
“We have a very good group of younger kids. We have 12 true freshmen that are playing up, and they’re going to be factors on JV and maybe they could be playing a little bit of varsity football. But we do have depth issues,” Wood said. “My biggest concern is, right now, we only have O’Doherty and Staley back on offense. We have one lineman, one running back. We have some kids who played a little bit, but no one started.”
While offensive depth is a concern for Wood, he views his defensive line as a major strength. Last year’s defense hit its stride during the six-game winning streak, and Wilmore and Desmond were key components to the unit’s success.
“For this season we’re going to have (a tougher mentality),” Wilmore said. “We’re going up against a lot of tough opponents, especially Haverford and Garnet Valley right at the end of the season. We’re going to continue to get better each week.”
Wood, who has always been a defensive-oriented coach, thinks this year’s group has a chance to develop into something special.
“I’m expecting our front seven on defense to be very good. We have McDonald and Wilmore back and Nate Desmond as our inside linebacker who started as a sophomore last year. I feel good there,” Wood said. “But we’re still young in the secondary, we have a brand new kicker and a brand new punter.
“But we have inexperience at a lot of major positions.”
For decades Ridley was essentially the Quarterback High of Delco, but now is option oriented since Wood and offensive coordinator Scott Green’s arrival in 2016. Wood was not ready to name a starting quarterback in the first week of August practice. Vying for the position are juniors Shaun Kennedy and seniors Jack Grace and John Gallo.
“We’re very young in general and we have inexperienced quarterbacks,” Wood said. “The last two years here, we’ve started very slow with quarterbacks. Running what we do, they have to get a little dirty at times. That took (former QB Jack) Bakey and our offensive linemen a little bit last year, but once we clicked in we played really well. We hope that happens again this year.”
Ridley has embraced the underdog persona already. Not many are picking the Green Raiders to win the Central League. They don’t care.
“Last year there was a lot of moping around in the summer. This time we’re out here and we really want to get better,” Staley said. “We want to take the Central League by storm.”
“The best way to look at it is, we brought the momentum from the end of last year into here,” McDonnell added. “We started slow, but we got our stuff together. We remember what that was like and don’t want to feel it again.”
Offensive Player to Watch
Dylan Staley, Running Back >> The 5-10, 180-pound senior has the most varsity experience at the skill positions and is Ridley’s biggest playmaker. Last year Staley ran for 562 yards and four touchdowns.
Defensive Player to Watch
Tahmir Wilmore, Lineman >> The junior was a standout at linebacker on a Ridley defense that made gradual improvement last season. Wood is expecting a big campaign from the 6-0, 215-pounder converted lineman.
By Matt Smith; email@example.com