By Marty Gordon
Radford High School’s football head coach Matthew Saunders said COVID-19 has not directly affected his team, but overlapping seasons have.
“We have a lot of student-athletes that play multiple sports at Radford. I think that is great, but due to COVID the team and I can’t interact with the players playing another sport,” the boss Bobcat said. “I am able to go over some things with them getting one-on-one practice, but they can’t be with the other football players.”
The team that finished 9-3 last season, losing in the state quarterfinals, returns eight starters on both sides of the ball.
“Because of injuries, we started and played a lot of people (last season),” Saunders said.
The coach has put together a 92-63 mark at his alma mater and has been a constant in the state playoffs year in and year out.
The extended time off has had its negatives for this year’s team.
“We are not where we want to be at this point,” Saunders said. “We are a little behind where I want to be strength and conditioning wise.”
Radford did lose three big cogs down in the dirt with the graduation of All-county/All-city lineman of the year Ben Cox, Andrew Olgerson and Kip Green.
Cox is now at Vanderbilt, Olgerson at Averett and Green at Coastal Carolina. Also lost was Ethan Hoffman who had 55 solo tackles with 27 for loss and seven sacks.
The team also lost a key piece of last year’s team in the form of kicker Connor Lytton who left school early to attend Boston College. Lytton was 39 of 40 on PATs and hit many key field goals with a long of 48 yards. Also, 72 percent of his kickoffs were touchbacks. He was named the All-County/All-City defensive and specialist of the year.
Radford also lost runningback Justice Marshall (528 yards on 100 carries, 19 catches for 206 yards with three touchdowns) to graduation. Marshall did not finish last season because of an injury and will be missed on both sides of the ball this spring.
Saunders will regain the services of all-world running back P.J. Prioleau who suffered a season-ending knee injury in a preseason game in 2019. He sat out the entire season. As a sophomore, the 5-11, 160 pounder rushed for 1,725 yards on 231 carries with 20 touchdowns.
6-3, 210-lb. quarterback Alex Rupe is back. Last year he completed 59 of 128 passes for 878 yards and nine touchdowns. He also rushed 132 times for 953 yards and 16 touchdowns. He combined for 1,831 all-purpose yards and was involved in 96 of the team’s points last season.
Darius Wesley-Burbeck is also back after rushing 105 times for 707 yards with nine rushing touchdowns. He also had seven catches for 133 yards with another touchdown.
Temporarily, both Prioleau and Wesley-Burbeck will be unavailable to the football team as both are playing on the basketball team that moved on to state semi-finals last week.
The Bobcat offensive line will have a lot of size with 10 players on the roster over 200 pounds and three over 250. Jake Ritchey (6-3, 215), Sam Kennedy (6-2, 257), John Hayes (6-0, 202) and Spencer Perdue (5-9, 226) are all seniors.
On the defensive side of the ball, Kamaree Tanner, who had 33 solo tackles last season with three interceptions, is back and will be counted on a lot more this season. Look for senior defensive back Xavier Cobb to also play a big role for a team that is known for its stopping power.
Mason Sproule will step up to take over kicking duties.
Saunders does not believe the shortened season will affect his team and expects them to make a run deep into the playoffs when they get everyone back into playing shape.
“I think we can make a long run in the playoffs if things go our way,” he said.
Radford opens the spring 2021 season at home against Giles.