Riverside football coach Chris Howell is a glass-half-full kind of guy.
The Pirates have enjoyed one winning season in the eight years after their appearance in the 2006 state championship finals. But Howell notes that Riverside has been to the playoffs for two straight years, and he thinks they can do better.
“We’ve had some bad things happen, but we’ve been to the playoffs in back-to-back years,” Howell said. “We can build on that.”
Riverside must replace some major players off last year’s 4-8 (3-2) team, notably four-year lettermen Deon Yarborough and Dionte Strothers in the backfield, both of whom had starred on the Pirates’ 2013 team that finished 8-4.
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Riverside also is replacing assistant coach Cory Lea, who left Durham to become head coach this year at Northern Vance.
Armani Owens, former running backs coach at Southern Durham, will step in as Riverside offensive coordinator.
Here’s the full half of the glass: Riverside has tremendous talent up front.
Defensive end Justin Thomas (5 feet 11 inches, 230 pounds) was the PAC-6 Lineman of the Year in 2014, and he’s expected to see some time at fullback.
Other Pirates along the defensive front who also play offense include: all-conference outside linebacker Marcus Willoughby (6-3, 230); all-conference defensive end Jordon Riley (6-6, 285); and all-conference defensive tackle/offensive guard Deante Mcquaig ( 6-5, 315).
Riley has drawn ACC recruiting interest.
“Defense will be our strength early on,” Howell said.
Returning running back Frank Adams is expected to carry the ball more this year, and Howell is turning to a pair of rookies to supply depth in the offensive backfield: freshman DeAnthony Thomas and sophomore Khalagia Murrell.
Howell is optimistic that he’s found Riverside’s next quarterback, and he found him on a basketball court. Sophomore Sadek Johnson was playing hoops when Howell convinced him to join the football team.
“He’s never played varsity football,” Howell said, “But his athletic ability fits exactly with what we want to do.”
Starters returning: Offense 5; Defense 8.
Contributors: DE/FB Justin Thomas; LB Marcus Willoughby; DL/OL Jordon Riley; OL/DL Deante McQuaig; RB Frank Adams; QB Sadek Johnson; RB DeAnthony Thomas; RB Khalagia Murrell.
Player they’ll miss the most: QB Deon Yarborough. “He brought a lot to the table and we’re really going to miss him,” Howell said.
Expected team strength: Howell: “The team’s willingness to compete and get better every day.”
Question mark: “We have to learn to overcome adversity. When bad things happen, and bad things will happen, we have to fight through it.”
Game to watch: Oct. 16 vs. Hillside. Until somebody in the PAC-6 beats the Hornets, they’re the kings of the hill.
The quote: Howell: “We throw the ball, and that’s what we’re gonna do.”
Last five seasons
2014: 4-8 (3-2), 4A first round
2013: 8-4 (4-1), 4AA first round
2012: 1-9 (1-5)
2011: 2-7 (1-5)
2010: 1-10 (1-5)