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RIVER RIDGE

Coach: Tim Stevens (fourth season, 4-26)

Class: 4A, District 6

Stadium: James Valentine, 11646 Town Center Road, New Port Richey

Playoff history: 1995, 1996, 1998

Last appearance: Lost 42-5 to Ocala Vanguard

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ABCs Building blocks of a good season

1. The offensive line: Four of five starters return from a unit that more than held its own in 2008 and should be among the county's best this fall. The group isn't just experienced, it has a good bit of size. Guard Donovan Berardi, a three-year starter, anchors the line and enters the season in the best shape of his life.

B. Trevor Hooker: A senior who plays safety and receiver, the 5-foot-10, 175-pounder does a little bit of everything for the Royal Knights. In addition to having better-than-average speed, he plays smart, which makes sense given his father, Brian, is River Ridge's junior varsity coach.

C. Stavros Arianas: The senior running back, who had a team-high 744 rushing yards last season, is the focal point of the offense and has 1,000-yard potential. Running behind a solid line should help. A superb athlete, Arianas also contributes on defense as an end, and he is capable of causing havoc to opposing teams.

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123s Three potential pitfalls

1. Numbers: With only 35 varsity players, many Knights will be forced to contribute on offense and defense.

2. Speed: The Knights have a lot of assets, but team speed isn't one of them. Because of that the margin for error is small, particularly on defense. The key will be for River Ridge to keep everything in front of it to prevent the big play.

3. The start: In the first four weeks, River Ridge faces Mitchell, Gulf and Tarpon Springs, teams that are likely to be solid this fall. Losses to all three could deal quite a blow to the team's confidence and might be difficult to overcome. The defining moment might be the opener against Mitchell. A win against its biggest rival could set the tone for a successful season.

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Extra credit The X-factor

The running game: The single greatest key to River Ridge's success will be its ability (or inability) to control the clock with a methodical rushing attack. The Knights give themselves the best chance to win by playing smart, grind-it-out football, which usually results in a low-scoring game. River Ridge would rather not get into a shootout.

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Teacher's thoughts

Opposing coach's quote

"When we went to play River Ridge last year, they fought us tooth and nail and it was a close game. Their kids played hard and flew around. That's what I remember most about that game. They compete." - Mitchell coach Brian Wachtel

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Final grade

C; After winning only once in coach Tim Stevens' first two seasons, the Knights were 3-7 last year and appear to be heading in the right direction. The next logical step would be to become a .500 squad. Is that attainable? Absolutely.

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