The more things change on Wilson Pike, the more they stay the same.
Just nine months removed from a state championship, Ravenwood opens 2016 with not only new players, but a new coaching staff.
Will Hester’s unexpected resignation created quite a stir in Raptor Nation, but Ravenwood went out and claimed former Tennessee Titans assistant coach Richie Wessman to fill the spot.
Wessman knows the history and he accepts it as that.
“The reality is that game was played on December 5th,” he says politely, “but the next season started December 6th. Our job as coaches is to get our kids ready to compete and we’re going to do that.”
Wessman found solid building blocks in place, especially on the offensive line. The Raptors return four starters in Pat Leitten (6-7, 250), Connor Dodson (6-2, 250), Tavian Mills (6-0, 245) and Drew Harmon (6-0, 250). Leitten, Dodson and Mills are all seniors and though Harmon is a junior, all have extensive experience, as the team played thirty games in the last two seasons.
Replacing Andrew Rappe at quarterback could have been the biggest challenge, but Wessman says there has been great competition between seniors McCain Marrow (6-1, 187) and Blake VanLandingham (6-1, 175).
“We are putting a lot more on the quarterbacks than they have dealt with before,” said Wessman, “especially when it comes to making decisions. They are throwing the ball very consistently and making good decisions.”
With a receiver corps that is improving and very physical but without a great amount of experience, Ravenwood may depend more on the running game behind the big offensive line.
“We are probably four deep at running back,” the coach said, noting that senior Kyle Briggs and D’Angelo Rice (6-0, 180) can function either out of the backfield or at a receiver spot. He also called out linebacker Carter Nelson as one who would see time on the offensive side the ball, saying with a smile, “He’s a real physical presence in the backfield, too.”
On defense, the Raptors have only one starter returning in Tahj Williams (6-1, 214). The senior outside linebacker will be joined by Nelson, who was named the top linebacker at one camp this summer.
Despite a lack of experience, Wessman feels pretty good about the rest of the defense.
“We’re four deep at corner and we have four strong players in the line. We’re a little thin after that, but the rotation is getting stronger.”
On paper, the early schedule is not conducive to a rebuilding team. The Raptors open on the road at Siegel on Thursday night of Week One before traveling across town to face a resurgent Brentwood team that may be seeking revenge from the past two years. The third game has Ravenwood on road again to face a strong Mt. Juliet team to open defense of their Region 3-6A title.
Even the thought of opening with three straight road games, however, can’t take the positive out of Wessman.
“We cherish that opportunity. We’re looking forward to it.”