Thursday, November 15, 2012

Backyard football helps Richland become elite

Being undefeated at this late stage of the season, which is something that sets the Richland High School football team apart from all others, requires a combination of things.

First, there needs to be talent. Check. The Rams boast talent in bunches and at all positions.

Players need to be coachable. Check. Richland's players often talk about following the game plan in order to be successful.

Sometimes a team needs to catch a few breaks, or at least make their own. That happened in the regular season finale as Richland won a tough game at Bellwood Antis.

Often, intangibles come in to play.

And there's at least one offseason intangible Richland (11-0), which hosts Tyrone (8-3) Friday night in the District 6 Class AA semifinals, attributes its in-season success to.

"Our kids love to play football," Richland coach Brandon Bailey said. "Come up to Richland any time of the year, and you'll see those kids back there playing touch football. They love putting their helmets on because they realize there's only so many opportunities to play on Friday."

Richland truly believes those impromptu flag football sessions are a reason why the Rams are still playing and favored to win the program's first District 6 championship.

"I would say we're probably up there almost every day of the week during the summer," said senior receiver/defensive back Luke Shertzer. "It makes us close. When you have fun together, it brings you closer as a team."

There's no denying Richland's cohesion on offense. The Rams average more than 400 yards per game while players like Shertzer, quarterback Matt Shaffer, running back Tanner Solarczyk and receiver Kyle Flick are putting together the type of seasons that merit all-state consideration as the wins pile up.

It's a bond that's been forming for some time.

"When we were in seventh grade, that was the first year that Richland made the playoffs. We saw that and knew if we keep working hard, we could do the things the previous groups did," said Derek Crawford, who starts at center and defensive tackle. "Now it's up to us to win the District 6 championship."

A District 6 title and a spot in the state tournament, where Richland could run into perennial powers like Grove City, Aliquippa, South Fayette or Washington at some point if the Rams continue to win, would cement a legacy for the senior.

It would also raise the bar for returning players.

"The kids really want to be remembered down the road as one of the best Richland teams ever," Bailey said. "They've been setting goals that have never happened at Richland before. They're the first team to win 11 games, now they're going for 12. They're the first to go undefeated in the regular season since 1971. They're the first to win a Laurel Highlands championship."

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