FOOTBALL PREVIEW: Randolph-Henry Statesmen change focus

Development is the one word you’ll hear a lot while talking with the Randolph-Henry Statesmen coaching staff. They see young players taking a next step and upperclassmen now stepping into leadership roles. It’s that change and development they believe will help push the team to be better this season. 

Things didn’t exactly go as planned for the Randolph-Henry Statesmen last year. Riding a 5-3 record into the final two weeks, the team ran straight into a wall, being outscored 58-22 in those final two contests.

But Randolph-Henry Head Coach Ray Conner says this year’s squad is using that to build off of.

“We realized we fell short. We left something on the table there,” Conner said. “You look at two of our games, we were right there until halftime and we let it go. It’s a lesson for everyone on the team.”

A year of transformation

For some players, developing meant switching positions and, as Conner puts it, “a lot of hard work.”

Take Colton Mann. On the 2022-23 squad, Mann played both sides of the ball, suiting up as a tight end and linebacker. But this year, he’s trained in the offseason, made some changes and will be in the starting lineup as a wide receiver.

“He’s been probably one of our most improved players,” Conner said. “It’s tough, transitioning from tight end to receiver. You have to work on catching and running routes, there’s a lot of offseason training involved, developing a little more speed. But he’s done it.”

Another player Conner singled out is Aviaire Jennings. Pulling double duty last year as both tight end and running back, Jennings will be a larger part of the running game this season.

“He ran the ball some last year, but he’ll get a heavier load this season,” Conner said of the rising junior.

And in some cases, Conner said, it’s not a new physical role that players are picking up. As some get older and come in with more experience, they’re now expected to help lead this team.

“It’s very critical,” Conner said of this year’s senior leadership. “With several new guys stepping into roles, they need support. Seeing that senior leadership, it picks those guys up.”

Those upperclassmen include the team’s entire backfield, including two second team all district backs. And they’ll be needed, as the group’s schedule includes two away games to start off, at Nelson County, followed by a trip to James River. Once that’s finished, the Statesmen are home for all of September, not traveling for another road game until Oct. 6 at Lunenburg.

Dealing with new lines

One of the challenges facing this year’s team involves both sides of the line. The Statesmen saw multiple offensive line and defensive line starters graduate after last season, so again, some players will just have to grow into their new roles.

“We have to put some pieces together on that offensive and defensive line, but we can do that,” Conner said. “It just takes time. Even with the loss of so many kids on both lines, I think we have the potential to be better than last season. We just have a lot of athletes who can make things happen.”

To read the entire 2023 High School Football Preview click here.