After 6-win season, Tigers ready to take next step
Special to the Whig
— Rising Sun enters the 2016 football season looking to build off of a successful 2015 campaign in which it won its final five games en route to a 6-4 record and a second place finish in the UCBAC Susquehanna Division.
The Tigers believe that they have the talent on both sides of the ball to improve on last year’s breakthrough campaign and reach the playoffs for the first time since the 2006 season.
“I think we’re definitely going to improve on 6-4. I think we’re definitely going to be in the playoffs. I think we’re going to be more of a coming at you team now,” senior lineman Curtis Cox said. “We got the passing game down. The running game has always been strong, and we’re just going to pound it down their throats.”
Rising Sun returns more than half of its starters from last year’s team, giving the squad confidence that it will be able to continue its upward trajectory.
Tigers head coach Rich Opp believes one advantage of having an experienced team is that the coaching staff does not have to spend extra time teaching the players the fundamentals, but instead they can touch up on a few things while focusing on adding new wrinkles to their schemes.
“The linemen are better this year. They know their blocking rules. It’s review. Last year, it was
semi-new. I think we’re going to be able to run the ball and pass the ball,” Opp said. “We have a veteran defense. We’ll be able to do more scheming earlier. They’re more receptive to their key reads earlier. We had a handful of sophomores playing both sides of the ball last year. They’re coming back as veterans.”
While Rising Sun returns several players to an offense that scored 25.2 points per game, it did graduate valu- able skill position players in Elijah Erhart, Wyatt Griffith (All-County), Noah Juergens (All-County) and Jack Stewart (All-County). Quarterback Nate McCullough, who passed for 1,347 yards and 14 touchdowns last season en route to first team All-County honors, believes that there are several players ready to step up and fill those shoes.
“I think Joe [Jones] is just as athletic as Noah [Juergens]. He’s the same type of player,” McCullough said. “We’ve plugged in [Cameron] Billings and [Ryan] Leonard at receiver, so I think they’re going to look good too. I think Austin Newby is going to be as good, if not better, than Elijah [Erhart] was last year.”
On the defensive side of the ball, Rising Sun returns an intelligent unit that looks to continue the way it played down the stretch last season when it gave up less than 10 points a game over its final five contests.
Opp noted that the Tigers entered preseason camp with far more confidence than they did last August thanks to the way they finished up last year’s campaign compared to 2014 when they went 0-10.
“I think when we came into camp there was a belief right from the get go in what we were doing. They were focused. You could see in their eyes and body language they were listening very, very well to our coaching,” Opp said.
That confidence is evident throughout the team. Jones, who moves to slot receiver this year after spending last season as a running back, believes that the Tigers are ready to take the next step and become a playoff contender.
“I feel like we’re doing bet- ter this year and will be better than 6-4. We’re out here striving and working hard. We’re going to continue to do that,” Jones said.
If Rising Sun wants to reach the playoffs, it cannot afford to lose its first three games of the season like it did last year. The Tigers are confident that they will get off to a stronger start.
Rising Sun plays non-conference foe Southern and a pair of Chesapeake Division opponents in C.M. Wright and Fallston to open the year.
“Weeks 1, 2 and 3 killed us last year, and we came out of the gates slow. We had too much of what we had the the year before last,” McCullough said. “We need to put it together for the first three weeks, and we need some team leaders to step up and fulfill those roles.”
Newby, who is playing tight end, agreed.
“We came out a little bit slow last year. We lost the first three games,” he said. “I don’t think that’s going to happen this year. I think we’ll be okay.”
Follow the 2016 football season on Twitter: @UCBACFootball