High School Sports

River Ridge rebuilding with eye on another football playoff appearance

“9-2 is not enough,” head coach Steve Schultz bellowed to his sprinting players.

“I want 11! I want 12-0!”

The unmistakable sights and sounds of fall football practice were on display at River Ridge High School on Wednesday. The smell of freshly cut grass filled the air and brand new lines were painted on the field.

And on the Hawks’ field, Schultz expects perfection. It all started for his team one year ago.

“We broke through last season and were extremely successful with our wins and losses,” he said. “So this year, we’re looking on developing tradition and carrying on that tradition. The expectation is to go out and win every Friday night.”

That might be difficult at times this season for Schultz, who has six returning starters from a 2014 squad that went 9-2 and made the playoffs for the first time since 1998.

Maybe the biggest loss was the graduation of running back Michael Key, who was the 2A SPSL rushing leader with 1,444 yards and 23 touchdowns. Schultz said there is competition to replace him. He hopes Gustavo Diaz or Patrick Green will be capable of handling the responsibilities.

Diaz is more of a cutback runner while Green offers more power. Schultz said he might have to split the duties because he’s not sure they’re able to shoulder full-time carries.

“I like this group, but they haven’t proven themselves on a Friday night yet,” he said.

A core section of the offensive line returns, as does quarterback Kobe Key, which will help stabilize the offense. Schultz believes the line — led by all-league returner Caleb Price, plus honorable mention selections David Bowker and Kyle Kramer — is the key to success this season.

Kobe Key passed for 1,307 yards and ran for 209 more, but Schultz said the running game is still Hawks’ identity.

“Our offense is run-first,” Schultz said. “That’s our offensive philosophy. Kobe will be successful because he’s experienced and he’s competing. He’s a competitor and he knows how to win.”

Schultz also must fill in the team’s leadership gap, which he tackled in the first practice. One drill had current Hawks leaders, including captain JT Wesley, try to communicate only with body language — the purpose being to demonstrate that leadership is how players present themselves and the actions they take.

“We have to replace some really solid leadership,” Schultz said. “We got those guys (on the team); we just need to give them some tools to continue to do that.”

River Ridge’s first game is against Aberdeen High School on Sept. 3 at South Sound Stadium.

The News Tribune will visit 17 high school football practices in the 14 days leading up to the first Football Friday of the season, breaking down some of the teams, players and storylines entering the 2015-16 season.

The tour will include three schools from the 4A Narrows League, four teams from the 4A SPSL, two from the 3A Narrows League, two from the 3A SPSL, one from the 2A Evergreen Conference, two from the 2A SPSL, one from the 1A Evergreen, one from the 1A Nisqually and one from the 2B Pacific.

Teams will be revealed each day, starting with the first day of official practices Wednesday, Aug. 19.

TNT PRESEASON PRACTICE TOUR

Practice preview: South Sound’s four most illustrious 4A schools enter new eras

Aug. 19: Timberline Blazers

Lincoln Abes | Video: Masaki Matsumoto on a mission

River Ridge Hawks

Chief Leschi Warriors

Aug. 20: Bonney Lake Panthers | Video: Panthers have pieces in place

Aug. 21: Federal Way Eagles | Video: D’Jimon Jones, Andrzej Hughes-Murray stepping up

Aug. 22: Kentlake Falcons

Aug. 24: Spanaway Lake Sentinels | Video: Big guys key for Sentinels’ season

Aug. 25: Emerald Ridge Jaguars | Video: Can new players bring ER similar success?

Aug. 26: Black Hills Wolves

Aug. 27: Stadium Tigers | Video: Don’t expect same 0-10 Tigers

Aug. 28: Yelm Tornados

Aug. 29: Clover Park Warriors

Aug. 31: Mount Tahoma Thunderbirds

Sept. 1: Eatonville Cruisers

Sept. 2: Charles Wright Tarriers

Sept. 3: 3A SPSL

Sept. 4: First Football Friday of the 2015-16 school year

LEAGUE-BY-LEAGUE PREVIEWS

In-depth look at some of the top storylines, team-by-team breakdown, games to watch and predictions from the 4A Narrows, 4A SPSL, 3A Narrows, 3A SPSL, 2A SPSL, and 1A Nisqually, as well as capsules from other area small-school teams.

4A Narrows: Olympia will compete for playoff spot, like always

4A SPSL: Coming Friday

3A Narrows: Is that Xavier Cooper? Or Wilson’s A.J. Ruffin?

3A SPSL: Lakes cousins Jaiave Magalei and Maika Magalei might as well be brothers

2A SPSL: Coming Thursday

1A Nisqually: Capsules Thursday. Story Saturday.

Small schools: Coming Thursday

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