The past couple seasons at River Ridge have been tough, but things are looking up for the Royal Knights as they made a coaching change during the winter and hired former River Ridge and Nature Coast assistant Gary Allen to right the ship. It looks to be a big challenge for the first-time head man, who takes over a squad that has gone 9-41 in five seasons and hasn't made the playoffs since 1998. We caught up with River Ridge RB/LB Austin Schwartz, the Royal Knights' leading rusher (425 yards) and tackler (113 tackles) from last season, to talk about the team's new mentality and goals for the fall.
Talk about new coach Gary Allen. What do you think of him?
Coach Allen is really pushing us and there's definitely a different attitude change out here. It's definitely different and practices are more structured so we're definitely getting some things done out here.
You know everyone around here is waiting for the turnaround to happen at River Ridge. Would you say it's coming soon?
I think it's definitely going to happen sooner rather than later. We've got the spring game coming up (at Fivay, May 25) and people are going to see a turnaround there. We're going to get this thing turned around and get this school known for winning and having that mentality of wanting to win.
Any goals for your senior season?
I want to get more tackles than I did last year, but that's my goal every year, and to get more rushing yards as well. We have one major team goal we want to really reach as well and that's to, like, actually be a team and a family out there and step up.
Knights benefit from bulk on line
One thing River Ridge never lacks is beef on the offensive line, and Allen points out a couple 300-pounders - Carlos Santamaria and Tyler Alley - who should benefit the running game. Allen hopes the two can provide running lanes for tailbacks Schwartz, Justin Haystrand and Brandon Nazzario.
Last year, River Ridge gained 1,389 yards on the ground, averaging 3.9 yards per carry. At quarterback, rising junior Josh Masiel returns and will look to improve upon his 779 passing yards and five touchdowns.
"I think the offense is going to have some diversity," Allen said.
Three units that could be better than expected
1. Pasco's linebackers: The Pirates graduated all-SAC 'backers Cordale Baldwin and Jackson Johnson but have some youngsters ready to fill in.
2. Wesley Chapel's offensive line: The Wildcats go 270 pounds-plus across the O-line and will do a better job protecting rising sophomore QB Alex McGough.
3. Anclote's running backs: Sharks lose 1,200-yard rusher Travis Hendrix but coach Matt Wicks is excited about rising senior Alonzo Pettiford. Plus, the uber-athletic Dondre Daley will get carries as well.
In 2010, Wesley Chapel freshman quarterback Alex McGough was thrown into the fray behind a porous offensive line in head coach Ben Alford's first season.
The results went about as well as expected. McGough completed 41 percent of his passes and had just one touchdown to eight interceptions.
As a rising sophomore, however, McGough has shown tremendous potential in spring practice, completing nearly 80 percent of his passes in 7-on-7 drills, according to Alford. With the Wildcats' offensive line and receiving corps also showing improvement, McGough could be poised for a breakout season.
"He's making the reads, he knows his adjustments," Alford said. "… We'll probably be more balanced. Last year we ran a lot. We didn't protect. Alex is getting a lot better. He's making the throws he should make."
Compiled by staff writer Bryan Burns and correspondent Andy Villamarzo.