River Ridge looks to get over hump
NEW PORT RICHEY - For as long as he has been the starting quarterback at River Ridge High, Josh Maisel has been searching for the best way to lead the Royal Knights back to respectability. And after a journey that began in 2010 when he won the starting job as a sophomore, Maisel has never been closer to his ultimate goal of getting River Ridge in the playoffs for the first time since 1998. Now the leader of a quickly improving Royal Knights offense, the senior is trying to improve on last year's 7-3 season, just missing the playoffs after narrow defeats to Nature Coast Tech and Sunlake. "I feel like it's almost my job to get to the playoffs," Maisel said. "I've put in the work and my teammates have put in the work, so why not?"No quarterback in Pasco County has had to re-invent himself more than Maisel during his three years at River Ridge. In 2010, his first year as a starter, he was the focal point of opposing defenses as an option quarterback. Back then he threw primarily short, high-percentage passes. Last season, the option was scrapped under coach Ryan Benjamin. He became more of a caretaker, handing off to a stable of running backs. When he threw the ball, it was deep down the field, but it didn't happen frequently. "It is a testament to him that's he's got the ability to do all those things," Benjamin said of Maisel. "We needed a little bit of work on our pass protection, but I think now we'll be able to run different kinds of pass plays. We need a big, productive year out of the offense." This season, as the Royal Knights try to replace six starters on offense, including last year's top-two leading rushers (Austin Schwarz and Tyler Green) and leading receiver (Brandon Nazzario), Maisel will be called upon to do a little bit more of everything. He's still got talent around him. Senior running back Justin Haystrand is returning from an injury that sidelined him most of last year. Receiver/running back Brian Clinkscale is one of the few players who can claim to have a 10-reception game (in 2010) and a 100-yard rushing game (last season). And they are all fronted by a huge offensive line that should be one of the best in Pasco County. "Our passing game has just improved, with chemistry and what not," Maisel said. "And maturity. I've had to mature. … But now I trust my linemen more. It's a lot easier for trust them and let the receivers do the work."