Ryan head football coach, Dave Henigan talks to his team after the first day of practice.
At this time last year, Ryan High School had experienced players back at several key positions, and a handful of younger guys eager to make plays. Yet there were still questions coming off a year that saw the Raiders miss the playoffs.
They went on to prove their critics wrong in 2015 with a 13-win season in the state’s largest classification, and on Monday morning, hit the field for their first fall workout with 15 returning starters and a target on their back as one of the favorites to compete for a championship in Class 5A.
“Sometimes you come out the first day and it feels like you are re-teaching everything, whereas today we were flowing right into it,” said Ryan coach Dave Henigan, who cautioned his players after practice to not get caught up in the fact they are ranked No. 1 in every preseason poll he’s seen so far. “The kids have played and they know how we’re supposed to practice. The retention was good, so it was good for a first day.
“It’s great that our program is being recognized, but it’s not about that. It’s about where are you at the end.”
Per UIL rules, Monday was the first day teams that did not participate in spring football were allowed to hold fall practice. The first day teams can hold padded workouts is Friday.
There aren’t many questions at Ryan, and the strength of the team appears to be its defense. Eight starters return on that side of the ball, including three Football Bowl Subdivision recruits in linebacker/running back Tyreke Davis (North Texas), defensive tackle Earnest Brown IV (Northwestern) and versatile defensive back Delano Robinson (SMU).
Ryan allowed 15.8 points per game in the regular season last year.
“I feel like we went 100 percent the entire time,” senior cornerback Randy Gray said. “Coming back, you can always forget a couple of things, but overall we did a good job.”
Loaded defense gets more help
As if Ryan’s defense didn’t have enough returning starters in the fold, the unit benefited from two move-ins this offseason. And both are expected to make an immediate impact.
Javaris Steward, a senior, played for Ryan as a sophomore before moving to California for family reasons. He played his entire junior season for Pomona (Calif.) but returned to Ryan in March. The 6-3, 245-pound Steward, who has since de-committed from UCLA, can play both tackle and end for the Raiders.
Dayton LeBlanc, a 6-1, 270-pound junior defensive lineman from Petal (Miss.), transferred to Ryan when his father, Derrick LeBlanc, was hired as a defensive line coach under new North Texas coach Seth Littrell. Dayton started on the offensive line and played a little bit of defense last year for Petal, but is expected to start for Ryan at defensive tackle alongside Brown.
“I’d love to be starting,” LeBlanc said. “But if I’m not the best, I don’t want to start.
“I was ecstatic for my dad and my family, and even more excited when I found out I was going to Denton Ryan. I’m excited to be here, and excited for the next two years.”
Junior quarterback Spencer Sanders, who has 12 FBS offers, returns with a full arsenal of weapons. That includes a trio of veteran wide receivers in Gabriel Douglas, Tauskie Dove and Jimmy Love.
“I wasn’t always on point like I wanted to be today, but I still gave it everything I had and so did my teammates,” Sanders said. “We want to start fast and continue to do so.”
The question marks offensively are on the offensive line and in the kicking game. Ryan’s offense has seven returning starters, but only two are on the offensive line in seniors Dawson Lahart and Nate Wilson. This is the second straight season the Raiders have gone through an overhaul in the trenches.
Henigan is also looking for a punter and kicker with the graduation of veteran Jesse Delarosa.
“I think that’s huge, huge, huge,” Henigan said of the kicking game. “There’s always things we can improve upon, but all in all it was a good first day.”