Countdown to kickoff: Richland Rebels
By Shawn Smajstrla
Special to the Star-Telegram
Richland High School
District: 7-6A

Last season: 4-6 (3-4 in District 4-5A)

Key players: OLB Hayden Davidson (6-1, 200), WR Adrien Itoka (6-0, 185), LB Jonathan Okello (6-0, 220), OL Cason Clark (6-0, 225), CB Kenny Frances (5-9, 170), QB Eddie Thomas (6-0, 185)

The big picture: When Ged Kates came over from Fort Worth Arlington Heights two seasons ago, he inherited a young Rebels team. In Kates’ first year, a dozen sophomores played on the varsity squad and now that group is seniors. “When it comes to both ability and experience, I think we’ll have more than most we’ll play,” Kates said. There will be a new quarterback, though. Eddie Thomas won the competition. He’s a dual-threat athlete who played cornerback last season while serving as the backup QB. As much as his abilities, Kates is excited by the leadership he’s shown in taking the reins of the offense. Behind him is a backfield that will see three experienced runners. CJ Hicks, Stephon Jackson and Deandre Clark combined for more than 1,300 yards and 11 scores a year ago and all are capable. They’ll be used to their strengths in different situations. Offensive tackles Brad Herd and Cason Clark return as veteran bookends on the line, having played every offensive snap in 2013. The interior line will feature some new guys in starting roles, including junior Rafael Ramirez, who at 6-foot-3 and 275 pounds, will likely draw some attention from scouts if he progresses this season. Both receivers are three-year starters and Adrien Itoka is the top returning WR in the district after catching nine touchdown passes last season. OLB Hayden Davidson, an all-state honorable mention last year, highlights a defense that returns nine starters. Jonathan Okello quarterbacks the defense from the MLB position and is another three-year starter as is fellow LB Austin Salinas. CB LeDarryle Bryant is a third-year player and he’s just a junior. He’ll join Kenny Frances to patrol in the secondary. The Rebels will need to decide on a pair of defensive ends but feel they have plenty of worthy candidates, including Cole Burgess, who may be the strongest player on the team. Kates admits the biggest question mark is the kicking game.

Quotable: “It’s a senior-laden group. It’s exactly the kind you hope to have every year. Not only just because they’re seniors but because they’re talented. It’s an exciting time, it really is.” — coach Ged Kates

“I can’t really speak for anybody else, but I look at it like we go out there and play our hardest, give it all you’ve got, if you come out with a victory you have a victory, if you come out of it with a loss, you go on and move toward the next week and keep working for it.” — QB Eddie Thomas

Notable: Richland is the smallest school enrollment-wise in District 7-6A, and is fewer than 100 students over the cutoff figure for determining Class 6A teams.