After days of practices, two weeks of scrimmages and months of waiting, the regular season is almost here.
Since it’s the night before a Ryan football game, it’s only fitting that we continue last year’s tradition with the WYNTK blog about the Raiders’ opponent.
Here’s what you need to know about Rockwall.
Rockwall (0-0) at Ryan (0-0), C.H. Collins Athletic Complex, 7 p.m.
Series record: This is the first meeting between the two teams
What happened last year: Usually this space is reserved for what happens that last time two teams played one another. But in this case, we’ll take a quick look back at the seasons for both squads.
Ryan is coming one of its best seasons in the state’s highest classification. The Raiders finished third in District 5-5A, which ended up being the best thing to happen to Ryan. The Raiders had stupefying comebacks against Waco Midway and Keller Fossil Ridge before losing to eventual Class 5A Division II state champions Cedar Hill in the Region I finals.
Rockwall went 6-6 last season and earned District 12-5A’s second seed in the Division II bracket. Rockwall lost to Dallas Jesuit in the area round of the playoffs (those darn private schools get you every time).
What to expect this year: First of all, there are a couple names you need to be familiar with: Senior running back Chris Warren and senior wide receiver Xavier Castille.
Warren is coming off a knee injury that forced him to miss the final seven games of last season. But he’ll be one of the best running backs Ryan has faced in years. He has offers from Alabama, Texas, Oklahoma, Oregon (here’s the full list because this could take a while).
“Those two guys are their go-to guys,” Ryan head coach Dave Henigan said. “I don’t think it’s any big secret. You have to try and control them if you can. But they’re good all over the field.”
Now, about Castille.
The Ryan coaching staff has been studying the senior wide receiver all week. While Warren might be a stud, Castille is the one stealing sleep from Ryan’s coaching staff.
Ryan senior defensive back Elijah Allen made a good point earlier this week. Ryan faced talented wide receivers last season. There’s Cedar Hill’s DaMarkus Lodge (committed to Texas A&M) and Fossil Ridge’s Ryan Parker (currently at TCU). Allen is the lone returning defensive starter and knows what to expect on Friday night.
“Every receiver is different,” Allen said. “One guy is quick on his feet. The other guy has great hands. This kid this week, he can make a lot of guys miss in the open field. We’re just going to have to wrap him up often and stay aggressive.”
That later part is what will be difficult.
Castille’s athleticism is put to use all over the field in a very fast Rockwall offense. Henigan said the Yellowjackets go “as fast as they can go,” which will make it difficult for Ryan’s defense to find their assignments on the line of scrimmage before each play.
Castille was one of the leading receivers in the Dallas-Fort Worth area last season. He hauled in 84 passes for 1,215 yards and 13 touchdowns. Oh, and he also led Rockwall in interceptions. Rockwall head coach Rodney Webb said the best thing about Castille is that he’s very difficult to tackle for a wide receiver.
“He’s a 200-pound kid and he’s built like a tailback,” Webb said. “He’s a great route-runner. He’s got great hands. But the thing that sets him apart is that when he has the ball in his hands, he’s like a running back with it.”
Now, a little about Ryan. It will be a night of two of the most historic debuts in Ryan history. Not only will it be the first game for Ryan head coach Dave Henigan, but it’ll be first high school game for freshman starting quarterback Spencer Sanders. Having a new coach wasn’t enough change for the folks of McKinney Street.
We’ve talked a lot about how many people Ryan lost last season, and people including myself have talked about how this season could be one of the toughest for Ryan in recent memory.
But Webb said he was impressed with Ryan’s intensity and hopes his Yellowjackets can match it.
“We don’t even know the names of a lot of those kids,” Webb said, “but I will tell you that we have been extraordinarily impressed with how hard they play. I think that’s the greatest compliment you can give to a team and a fellow coach.
“There are murmurs out there that Ryan might be down or whatever. I don’t see it myself. I see a bunch of talented players. I see speed all over the field. I see kids who have a motor. They just play hard.”
That’s all I’ve got. Try to get some rest tonight, because tomorrow’s the first game of the season.
Rockwall player to watch: WR/DB/QB Xavier Castille, RB Chris Warren, RB Tamba Juanah
Ryan player to watch: QB Spencer Sanders