Matt Riggsbee says the first time he ever visited South Johnston, he thought it was the kind of place he’d like to see again.
The occasion was a first-round game in the state 3A playoffs two years ago. Riggsbee was head coach at West Craven, which embarrassed the Trojans in the first half by running up a 31-0 lead.
The final score was 31-29, and if not for a late two-point conversion attempt that came up short South might have had a chance to win in overtime.
“The first thing that stood out before the game even started was the big field house and the facilities,” said Riggsbee, South’s new head coach who took over for Hunter Jenks after Jenks moved to cross-county rival Clayton. “It was the first time I had ever been over here. We got great hospitality from the coaching staff and the AD. We got up 31-0, and most teams at that point would have just taken a knee. But their kids were fighters. It came down to a two-point conversion for a tie. It depends on which film you watch and which official you talk to about that play, but West Craven came out on top.
“After the game I remember the players and the people from their stands came over and congratulated me. I thought it was a really good environment. These kids are ‘country strong’ just like the West Craven kids.”
Riggsbee was 26-22 in four seasons at West Craven, including a 9-2 mark last year. That was his first head coaching job, following assistantships at McMichael, Northern Guilford, Southern Alamance and his first one at Winterville’s South Central that began when he was a student at East Carolina.
A blue-collar athlete, Riggsbee was an all-conference guard and defensive end at Burlington’s Williams High, where he also wrestled and launched the weights for the track team.
Riggsbee will be working with all his assistants for the first time, but it seems to be a loaded staff. Former Knightdale mentor Rob Senseney is the new offensive coordinator and quarterback coach, while erstwhile North Johnston and Triton skipper Ashley Ennis is the new offensive line coach.
Who are some players to watch?
The Trojans are stacked in the skilled positions on offense, including a three-way quarterback battle with experienced seniors DeParis Patterson and Landen Lockamy along with junior Zack Grady. Riggsbee said Patterson and Lockamy will be on the field no matter who’s calling the signals.
Senior wideout Fabian McDonald is an Elon commit. Big senior running back Caeleb Robinson – who also starts at safety – already has at least one FCS offer, while running mate and fellow senior Kavante Johnson (1,791 yards and 20 TDs) brings the speed.
Josh Bradshaw is a three-year starter who plays all over the offensive line.
Which players will they miss most?
Nine defensive starters are gone, including linebacker Chandler Johnson (66 tackles), and back Graham Swanson (52).
This time, senior safeties Robinson and Lawrence Reddick and senior tackle Daniel Morales – who moved from the offensive front – will provide key experience. Junior tackle Aric Harvey and linebacker Nathaniel Lucus should lead the new starters.
“We have a chance to be good defensively if they buy in,” Riggsbee said.
Tyreekus Reddick had 301 receiving yards in his final season last year.
How deep is the coaching staff?
Riggsbee said the presence of Senseney – who will call plays from the press box - and Ennis will allow him to focus on the young defensive corps.
“It makes a huge difference having two other former head coaches on the staff,” he said. “They can tell me what has worked and not worked for them. And they’re also able to offer me a new way of thinking and doing things. And at the same time they keep me from jumping off the ledge because they’ve been there with the stress. I really just step back and worry about defense and special teams – they take a third of it off of me.”
Can this be a championship season for the Trojans?
The Two Rivers 3A will be loaded at the top as usual, with about 10 plays deciding who’s the champion and who’s struggling for a playoff spot. South has half a dozen impact seniors at the skilled positions, and should be very explosive. How well Riggsbee gets the rest of the team to tackle will probably determine whether the team is decent or great.
More on the Trojans
Last year: 8-5 (2-3 Two Rivers 3A), 3A second round
Five-year average: 6-6 (3-2)
Preseason N&O rank: No. 18
Offense: The “I in disguise”
Coaches: Matt Riggsbee (head, DC), Rob Senseney (OC, QB), Dominique Manson (WR, head JV), Jim Abdalla (OL), Jimmy Abdalla (DL), Matthew Bishop (LB), Ashley Ennis (OL), Will Faircloth (RB), Brian Raber (DL), Lee Webb (DB)
Contributors: DeParis Patterson (Sr., QB/WR), Zack Grady (Jr., QB), Lawrence Reddick (Sr., DB), Fabian McDonald (Sr., WR), Kavante Johnson (Sr., RB), Caeleb Robinson (Sr., RB/S), Landen Lockamy (Sr., QB/WR), Nathaniel Lucus (Jr., DB), Arik Harvey (Jr., FB/DT), Daniel Morales (Sr., DT), Josh Bradshaw (Sr., OL)
The main number: 2 – number of returning starters on defense, one fewer than the number of men on the Trojan staff with head coaching experience.
Aug. 19 vs. Franklinton, 7:30 p.m.
Aug. 26 vs. West Johnston, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 1 at Clayton#, 7 p.m.
Sept. 9 at Southern Nash, 7 p.m.
Sept. 16 at Cape Fear, 7 p.m.
Sept. 22 North Johnston#, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 30 BYE
Oct. 7 *at Western Harnett, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 14 *Cleveland, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 21 *at Triton, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 28 *at Corinth Holders, 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 4 *Smithfield-Selma, 7:30 p.m.
Note: *conference game; #Thursday game.