Colonel Richardson High’s football program has never won or hosted a playoff game.
While they’ll still need to qualify during this year’s new nine-game regular season, the Colonels hope to check both those boxes off their to-do list this autumn.
“I think we get to the playoffs,” said Colonel head coach Dan Mangum, whose team will bid for a third consecutive postseason berth — this year in the state’s new eight-team playoff format. “Our goal, with the expansion from the four to the eight teams, is to get a home playoff game. That’s where we want to go. Colonel has never had a home playoff game. Never. Matter of fact, Colonel’s only been in the playoffs three times in school history.
“We had the luxury of traveling to Havre de Grace, who won the (Class 1A East) region the last two years,” added Mangum of how his team’s season ended in the 2017 and ‘18 regional semifinals. “It would be nice to have a home playoff game and that’s kind of our goal; to finish in the top four, get a home playoff game, win that playoff game. That’s kind of what we have our sights set on. That’s a short-term goal.”
The more immediate goal heading into this Friday’s 6 p.m. season opener at home against Clear Spring is improving the offensive line.
“I think our skill players are fine,” said Mangum after Saturday morning’s scrimmage at Easton. “I think our offensive line, we’re definitely behind a little bit. We’ve got some guys that are inexperienced, but even the older guys are somewhat inexperienced. So we have good skills guys. Our offensive line needs to catch up. And it’s our job to coach them up and get them there.”
Mangum and his staff will build from a group that includes tackles Aidan Richardson (Sr.), Austin Krieger (Jr.), Austin Spies (Jr.), Lesley Fleurissaint (So.) and Hunter Wolfe (So.), guards Nate Brown (Sr.), Hunter Ewing (Jr.) and Austin Alexander (Fr.), and junior center Geordan Walls.
“They got to be more physical,” Mangum said. “They have to have an understanding of what they’re doing in their assignments. And right now I think our skill players, these guys having a year under their belt, returning and getting a lot of reps last year, they kind of know the system. This offensive line we’re kind of piecing it together.”
If the offensive front develops, the Colonels look to have the skill players to push for a second straight winning season after last year’s 6-5 slate and another postseason berth.
Senior Jackie Zebron returns at quarterback and will look for senior wingbacks Rakai Jones, Mason Lambert, Deontre Evans, sophomore running backs Cam Errickson and Sam Souil, and fullbacks Daniel McKernan (Sr.), Elijah Stull (Sr.) and Camron Gondek (Fr.) to help carry the load. Among Zebron’s passing targets will be tight ends Joe Gray (Jr.), Elijah Palmer (Jr.) and Jake Towers (Sr.).
“I thought we did some good things today out there,” said Mangum, whose team’s final offensive series included Zebron throwing a scoring strike down the middle and Errickson’s sweep around left end for a touchdown. “I don’t think we started off well, but that last series. … We have to have a successful passing game.”
If the Colonels can’t find success through the air, Mangum knows his offense is going to see more of what it faced yesterday against Easton.
“Basically they had 11 in the box,” Mangum said of the Warrior defense. “We’ve got to start being able to do those things, and that will open the running game. And that’s what happened in that (final) series.”
As is often the case with Colonel, what opponents see on offense they will again see on defense with the Colonel’s slew of two-way players.
Brown, Richardson, Walls, Fleurissaint, Wolfe and Alexander could all see time at defensive tackle, with Zebron, Gray, Ewing and Krieger at the ends. Inside linebackers include Stull, Gondek, Towers and Spies, with Lambert, McKernan, Errickson playing the outside roles. Patrolling the secondary will be a combination of corners Jones, Evans, Souil, and free safeties Cameron Lake — a freshman backup to Zebron at quarterback — and Palmer.
“Today I thought we played well against the run. I thought we got torched on the long ball early in the scrimmage,” said Mangum, who noted his defense has been preparing for Clear Spring’s Wing-T attack, not Easton’s spread offense.
Still, Colonel’s sixth-year head coach touched on another area for improvement.
“Our secondary has to get more physical,” Mangum said. “In high school football there is no 5-yard rule. You can jack ‘em up. I’m trying to get them to understand, you’re not playing sandlot football behind the Food Lion with your friends.
“If they go to cross your face, or if they go to run past you, they need to get jacked and rerouted, and we weren’t doing that early,” Mangum continued in regard to his corners. “There were some good things that we did. I think the secondary later on, they started understanding that.”
Junior Will Turner handles the kicking chores, but will miss Friday’s opener because of the Colonel’s season-opening soccer game at Pocomoke. And with its customary thin ranks, Mangum knows his team’s hopes at securing a little school history hinges largely on health and fitness.
“Having 22 kids on the roster, our biggest challenge is to be in football shape and not take plays off, and understand, ‘Yes, you’re going to be tired,’” Mangum said. “That’s our biggest challenge. We’re only going to be as good as we coach up. I mean we’re going to have to sub and our number twos are going to have to be able to step in and play at that same level. And right now we’re not there. Now, I think we can get there. But we’re not there yet.”