Riverside ended years of frustration in 2019 by getting back to the Class AAA playoffs — its first postseason spot since 2007.
Now, reality has hit the Warriors square in the shoulder pads as they embark on the new season minus several standout players who helped get the program over the hump — all-conference honorees or multi-year starters such as running back Caden Easterling, lineman Austin Chapman, linebackers Charlie Pierson and Austin Stephenson and quarterback Javante’ Elzy.
Easterling, a first-team All-State selection, led the Mountain State Athletic Conference in rushing last year and three times went over 1,000 yards on the ground, making him the school’s career rushing leader.
Third-year coach Alex Daugherty tips his hat to the team’s departed seniors, but vows to press on with Riverside’s makeover. The Warriors, 4-7 last season, still haven’t posted a winning record since 2007.
“I think that class is going to be awful hard to replace,’’ Daugherty said. “They set the foundation for what, in my eyes, it takes to even sniff success in our conference.’’
The Warriors were one of nine MSAC teams to get to the Class AAA playoffs last season.
“We’re still trying to get our way to the top,’’ Daugherty said, “and they’ve done a real good job of starting to build something here. Those kids who are sophomores now are going to be asked to play a lot of games and they’re going to have to step up and mature really quick. ’’
There are some returning starters sprinkled throughout the lineup and Daugherty hopes that adding some promising newcomers to the mix will keep Riverside afloat.
Three offensive line starters return in seniors Tanner Clark (6-foot, 230 pounds) and Chase Tucker (6-1, 250) and junior Elijah Williams (5-9, 170). They’ll likely be joined by senior Michael Bailey (5-11, 195) at one spot and either Nate Peters (5-6, 160) or Eric Pierce (5-9, 185), a pair of juniors, at the other.
Two players are competing at quarterback — junior Braxton Jones (5-9, 150) and sophomore Jake Walker (6-0, 160). The top running backs are two sophomores — Andrew Baria (5-10, 160) and Jacob Wisen (5-11, 168).
At the receiving positions are returning seniors Josh Arthur (5-9, 170) and Jacob Ball (6-2, 185). The slotbacks are led by senior Mack Lusk (5-10, 160) and junior Nate Keenan (5-6, 145). Lusk caught a touchdown pass in last year’s win against South Charleston.
On defense, the tackle positions will be manned by Tucker, Williams and Clark, with sophomores Brayden Ward (6-4, 175) and Adam Wilkinson (5-8, 135) the leading candidates at defensive end. Ward played some last year, but is due for an increased role according to Daugherty.
Sophomore twin brothers Andrew Baria and Alex Baria (5-10, 165) are set at linebacker, and the secondary is led by senior returning starter Andrew Starcher (6-0, 160) at safety. Ball can also play safety, with some sophomores and freshmen mixed in.
Youth will be served at the cornerback spots, with sophomores Braylon Hill (5-6, 125) and Jerry Boggess (5-6, 125) playing there along with freshman Michael Terrell (5-8, 150), whose father (by the same name) played quarterback at Riverside.
Even with so many new starters and underclassmen playing, Daugherty doesn’t want the program to back off on its aspirations.
“I think from a coaching perspective,’’ he said, “we think four wins and getting into the playoffs is great, but definitely not where we want to be. We can’t be satisfied with that. We can’t take a step back.
“We have to keep improving, no matter who’s in and who’s out [of the lineup], our goal is to create a system that no matter who comes in and comes out, we’ll be successful. Our goal that we talked about in the offseason is not to be content, to expect excellence out of every aspect — the coaches, players, no matter who’s involved.’’