Coach: Ryan Benjamin (fourth season, 13-17)
Last season: 3-7
Colors: Purple and silver
Stadium: James Valentine Stadium, 11646 Town Center Road, New Port Richey
Playoff history: 1995, 1996, 1998
Last appearance: Lost 42-5 to Ocala Vanguard
Aug. 29 vs. Land O’Lakes, 7:30
Sept. 5 at Sunlake, 7:30
Sept. 12 vs. Wiregrass Ranch, 7:30
Sept. 19 at Gulf, 7:30
Sept. 26 at Mitchell, 7:30
Oct. 3 vs. Anclote, 7:30
Oct. 17 vs. Wesley Chapel, 7:30
Oct. 24 vs. Hudson, 7:30
Oct. 31 at Ridgewood, 7:30
Nov. 7 at Pasco, 7:30
Mark your calendar
River Ridge at Ridgewood, Oct. 31: Over the past 10 years, River Ridge and Ridgewood have gone back and forth in their rivalry as both experienced their share of ups and downs. The Rams hold a 6-4 edge during that span, including a 29-27 win last year. Will the Royal Knights be able to avenge that loss on Halloween night?
Postseason drought: Former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Ryan Benjamin took the position with his alma mater with the intention of bringing the program back to the success it had when he played for the Royal Knights. After going 7-3 in his opening campaign, the going has been tough with consecutive 3-7 seasons. River Ridge hasn’t reached the playoffs since the fall after Benjamin graduated, in 1998.
Backfield in motion: Last season, Ben Perdomo came from seemingly out of nowhere to place fifth on the North Suncoast in rushing with 1,170 yards and eight touchdowns. Other than fullback Chris Schwarz, no player returns this season with more than 100 yards of varsity rushing experience.
All about the line: Benjamin preaches a ball-control offense, and the offensive line last season answered the bell, as the Royal Knights set a school record for rushing yards. The unit had almost no experience but was molded into one of the top lines on the North Suncoast. With a new crop stepping in, can it follow up last year’s performance?
Power and endurance: Benjamin preaches good conditioning, and the players who stepped to the forefront in the spring have all shown a dedication to the weight room in the fall. Considering his stance on finishing games in the fourth quarter, every Royal Knight is going to have to prove that there is plenty left in the tank once the clock starts winding down.
QB Patrick Mathieson, Sr.: While his yardage (38-of-90 for 510 yards) wasn’t eye-popping, and he doesn’t add the element with his legs that some quarterbacks do, with a bit of improvement he will provide the balanced look that all coaches hope to see in their offense.
FS/WR Trevor Duke, Sr.: Duke served as the jack-of-all trades last season. He was the only player other than Mathieson to throw a pass, plus he was second behind only Perdomo in all-purpose yards — accruing big numbers through rushing, receiving, punt returns, kick returns and even interception returns. He did all of this while leading the team in tackles (111).
NG/FB Dillon O’Toole, Sr.: With the frame of a linebacker, but the mentality of a defensive lineman, O’Toole handled the nose position in River Ridge’s 4-3 scheme. His athleticism was unrivaled on the way to 16 tackles for a loss in 2013, including two sacks, but it was his six forced fumbles and one interception that really popped. He will be the anchor of the front seven and should continue to wreak havoc.
LB/FB Patrick Cook, Jr.: A two-year starter, Cook has a great nose for the ball. With 17 tackles for a loss, he led the team in only eight games. Expect him to improve on his 67 total tackles and three sacks as he emerges as the leader of the linebacking corps in 2014.
RB Chris Schwarz, Jr.: Heading into last season, the coaching staff had settled on Schwarz as the starter before an injury sidelined him. The rest became history as Perdomo came in to have an amazing campaign. Once Schwarz healed, he was relegated to fullback, rushing for more than 200 yards and three touchdowns. He will be the main ball carrier this season, and the team is confident in his ability.
ATH Noah Gobin, Sr.: Gobin hasn’t played organized football in a few years, but he has great athleticism and a perfect body frame for the game. He could emerge at wide receiver, defensive back and even the backup quarterback after the way he has performed in practice so far.
CB J.J. Collins, Sr.: Collins was a member of the program a couple years ago before his family moved to California. Back in the fray, he is battling for the starting cornerback position and has shown good progress so far picking up the system.
“There was a bull’s-eye on our back after we went 7-3 (in 2011). Our program wasn’t used to that, and we didn’t respond well (in 2012). Last year, we could have been 7-3, but we needed to close the deal. It’s one thing to get there, but once you get there, you have to finish it off and get the W. That’s what this season is all about.” — Benjamin