NEW PORT RICHEY — To start off every practice, River Ridge coach Ryan Benjamin cranks up music over a set of speakers near the practice field to give his players a game-day feel.
That new ritual is one of many things that is helping change the culture and attitude about River Ridge’s program this spring. The infusion of youth combined with stronger senior leadership has the team believing a turnaround is possible.
“We’ve got a really group of kids that love the game of football,” Benjamin said. “They come out here and give great effort every day and do the right things in the classroom. We’re still a fairly young team, but we’re a year older. A lot of players from last season played as sophomores and gained vaulable experience.”
River Ridge will showcase the more experienced roster tonight against Fivay. Among the underclassmen returning are linebackers Chris Schwarz, Joel Hernandez and Brandon Lempfert, whom Benjamin believe is the strongest unit on the team. Schwarz doubles up on offense as the team’s fullback and his role running the football will be expanded with the graduation of tailback Ben Perdomo, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards last fall.
“It all starts in the weight room,” Schwarz said. “It really starts in there and once we’ve gotten our numbers up and everyone in there, we’ll be doing very good. We just talk each other up and the music before practice just helps put us in a better mood and gives us a game feel.”
Pat Matheison heads into his second spring as the starting quarterback and knows this is an important time for him and his fellow seniors.
“My goal this spring is just becoming a better leader,” Mathieson said. “This is my last spring and I want to become a better leader on and off the field and set a good example for the younger players. We just want to get better as a team each and provide good leadership.”
Correspondent Andy Villamarzo can be reached at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @avillamarzo.