Cedar Ridge took a big step last year. After back-to-back district championship seasons ended in the second round of the playoffs, the Raiders won a third straight league title in 2017 but this time followed it up with a trip to the state semifinals before bowing out to eventual state champion Allen. That’s a lot of success for a varsity program only six-years-old, and the most recent feet should help in a myriad of ways
It’s not talked about often, but getting strong turnout numbers play a huge role in the long-term success of a high school football program. Cedar Ridge coach Sam Robinson said they have about 25 more freshmen trying out for football compared to last year and roughly 50 more kids in their junior high camp. He thinks that’s a direct result of last year’s deep playoff run.
It’ll also help from a confidence standpoint. Once an athlete or team has achieved a certain level of success, it makes it easier to achieve that level of success again. Robinson hopes last year’s success can help build a belief and pride in his program like Austin-area powers Lake Travis, Westlake and Cedar Park, who’s winning culture is so ingrained they rarely flinch when the going gets tough.
“I think it was big. We’re hoping to see it this year because we lost a lot of kids. But we feel like we got a really good belief from our kids in what we’re doing and what they’re doing,” Robinson said. “You can see it in Lake Travis and some of those schools, too. Lake Travis lost their first two games last year, no panic. That all comes from winning. We do think our kids have a little bit more confidence.”
Along with a higher level of morale, Cedar Ridge will benefit from continuity among the coaching staff. The Raiders had three different head coaches each of the last three seasons. Robinson, who was the defensive coordinator for one year before being promoted to the head job, said they’ve been able to get a lot more accomplished this offseason because of it.
“I just think that there’s not as much teaching going on. Kids know their routines. Coaches know our routines. So you can just get to work and get to doing everything faster,” Robinsons said. “In football, schematically, defensively, we’re going to be able to do more than we did last year so that’s going to make you better.”
That confidence and corporate knowledge will come in handy as Cedar Ridge returns just one starter from a defense that allowed a district-best 18.2 points per game last year. That one returner, however, is a big one. Texas State commit Edgerrin Dillard-Williams, a 6-foot-2, 220-pound edge rusher, is back for his senior season after making 93 tackles and six sacks with two touchdowns.
“He’s a game-changer,” Robinson said. “He can really make stuff happen. He’s one of those guys that’s always around the ball… He can do his job and sometimes other people’s job.”
One man can’t do everything, though. For the Raiders defense to thrive at the level it did last year, it’ll need a couple of the new starters to step up. One kid Robinson thinks could be primed for a breakout year is junior outside linebacker Devin Taylor. Taylor sat out his entire sophomore year with a torn ACL, but has impressed Robinson since getting back on the field.
“I think (Taylor is) a kid that nobody knows about that everybody will know about this time next year,” Robinson said. “He’s a big kid but he’s extremely athletic, extremely strong, extremely fast and he’s only played freshmen football here but I think he’s going to get plugged in and do some big things for us.”
The offense return three all-district first-teamers in senior wide receiver Jaylen Ellis (a speedster committed to Baylor), senior offensive guard Tre Womble and senior offensive tackle DaWayne Brown. But for the offense to really click, junior running back Chris “Deuce” Vaughn will have to prove he’s ready to fill the shoes of unanimous district MVP Simi Bakare.
Bakare is playing at Missouri after rushing for more than 1,700 yards and 29 touchdowns last year. Vaughn is small in stature at 5-foot-7 but as explosive as they come. He played in place of a hobbled Bakare in the playoffs last year and showed what he’s capable of with 163 yards on 27 carries in a third round upset of Coppell. Robinson thinks Vaughn got even better during the offseason.
“He’s put on some good weight. He’s smaller but… he’s gotten a lot thicker. He had a really good track season,” Robinson said. “He’s really quick, really hard to tackle, but I think he has a little more breakaway speed to go with it. This year he’s going to return punts for us, return kicks for us, so he’s going to be a huge part of what we do.”
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