Wichita Falls (Texas) Rider may have lost some key players to graduation, namely quarterback J.T. Barrett, who is now on the roster for Ohio State, but the Raiders have adjusted nicely, starting the season with a 6-1 record, going 4-0 in district play.
"I think we have been doing exactly what I thought we would be doing. We could be 7-0 right now, but we play a tough non-district schedule and it gets us ready for this type of game," said head coach Jim Garfield at practice this week.
"This type of game" references Friday night's match up versus Denton (Texas) Guyer. The reason there is so much hype surrounding the contest? Guyer is also 4-0 in district play.
"I think people are excited because it's coming down to a district championship. The two of us are the only undefeated teams in the district. They are prepared for things like this; they love the pressure that goes with a game like this," said Garfield.
In practice this week, the team remained focus, with seniors stepping up.
"We have had some adversity with injuries, but one thing that we have always done is bounce back. Either the next play, next drive, next game. We never quit," said senior linebacker Sam Scribner, who holds an offer from Air Force and is receiving interest from Colorado State, New Mexico State, and Sam Houston State, among others.
Garfield has come away very impressed with the progression that Scribner has made this season.
"He'll probably be an outside linebacker or a rover type position in a 4-2-5, or maybe a safety in a 3-4 or a WILL in a 4-3. He's very fast and very physical; he's a definite find for somebody.
He's been starting since his sophomore year and he's become more comfortable in his game. Now that he's a senior, he's confident in everything in he's doing in all aspects," he said.
Garfield also notes the impact of safety Tanner Weir, as well as running back Carlos Fleeks.
"We are humble, but confident. I think I'm the type of running back that, if we had to get the first down and I was in, it would get done," said Fleeks, who holds an offer from Morgan State and has also been hearing from Colorado State.
Though Barrett was a big loss to the offense, senior quarterback Chase London has stepped up as the team's leader, who has passed for 1707 yards and 21 touchdowns with just one interception this season.
"Our quarterback Chase London has done a great job this season. He's been throwing to Davon Allison and T.J. Vasher; those guys have really stepped their games up," said Garfield.
Though Vasher is just a sophomore, playing in his first season as a receiver, he's already caught the eye of programs including Ohio State, Oklahoma State, and Texas Tech.
"He's a phenomenal receiver. He was the starting quarterback on the freshman team, so he understands the concept of the whole game. He's one of those kids that attacks the football. You'll see guys that will let the ball fall in and they will catch it around their shoulders or their chest, but T.J. will go in and attack it and put his arms above like he's going for a rebound. He goes to get that football. That's what is impressive about him," said Garfield.
Ultimately, Garfield says the success on the field is a result of hard work and dedication to the team throughout the roster.
It's hard to single out just one kid, because football is a team sport. Everyone is just really doing their jobs," he said.
The head coach has full confidence in his team as they prepare to enter tonight's big game.
"We're the underdogs. I think our kids thrive on that; when they feel that somebody doesn't really believe in them, they will push and make that extra effort to show people what we are made of it," he said.
Kickoff is set for 7:00 P.M. at Wichita Falls Memorial Stadium.