Big Shoes: River Ridge Out-working the Replacement Stage

New Port Richey, March 27, 2019- Happy Wednesday to all as we enter Spring and one of Florida’s many bipolar weather periods, can’t wait. Today, we take in a greater understanding for one of Pasco County’s young-established, yet prolific programs and some appreciated words about past and present playmakers leaving their football imprint, from the main man in charge of teaching the pigskin ropes.

“D.J. [Mann] is a heck of a player for us, extremely tough to replace; we were fortunate to have him in place of our last wide receiver and overall athlete, all-American, Mikey Roussos. D.J. brought back that explosiveness, looking to fill DJ’s shoes of course, but more than anything though, we have a strong and young nucleus. We had eight sophomores starting this last year and we’re young again this year, but with experience. Our anchor on defense is Mikey’s younger brother, rising senior Anthony Roussos, he leads our linebacker core which will probably be our starting strength within our defensive schemes,” states head coach Ryan Benjamin.

  “Connor Finer is another linebacker and upcoming junior, my son Aidan Benjamin who will be a junior as well, and Anthony who is also rushing for us, will all return this 2019 season. Quinton Stedman is a rising senior wide receiver for us and starts at corner; him and Anthony are the only two that started last year as juniors. We also have some seniors here and there, stepping up with bigger roles this year as well.”

In 34 games played courtesy of MaxPreps data, D.J. Mann racked up 539 receiving yards on 45 catches, 4 touchdowns with his mitts, 1,092 passing yards on 88 completions of 141 attempts, 953 of those yards and 10 of 11 passing TDs came this senior season; on the ground he recorded 11TDs with 595 yards on 145 touches, collected 729 kick-return yards with 1 TD, 311 punt-return yards, 164 interception return-yards on 9 INTs, blocked a field goal, recovered 3 fumbles, totaled    189 tackles, 113 being solo with 25 TFLs and .5 sacks in his illustrious high school career.

As far as the Roussos’ legacy goes, older brother Mikey amassed 1,281 receiving yards on 88 catches, 14 receiving TDs, 13 rushing TDs on 92 carries for 666 yards, totaled 882 kick return yards with 3 TDs and 606 punt return yards with 5TDs, 73 interception yards on 10 INTs, forced 2 fumbles and recovered 1, blocked a field goal and totaled 105 tackles with 75 being solo, in 35 games played. As a junior this season, Anthony Roussos the 6’ 210-pound athlete ran for 403 yards on 60 carries, with one 100+ yard game and 6TDs, along with 135 receiving yards on 8 catches and 2 TDs, had 1 INT resulting in a TD, recovered 2 fumbles and caused 1 of those.  

  The football and life preacher proceeds passionately, “We started the PAL program years ago, associated with the school; it’s kids 5-15 years old and they learn about River Ridge and a better understanding for our program’s tradition. D.J. was one of those kids and the younger kids are looking up to him now; we’ve established that competitiveness going into the playoffs, it’s come to be an expected thing. Before it was focusing on winning a game; now it’s to a point that we do well year in and out, laying foundation year after year. No one wants to let it crumble, so everyone bares their weight.”

Connor Finer’s and Aidan Benjamin’s 2018-19 stat-line consisted of heavy contribution on the defensive side within the front seven. Aidan posted 12 solo and 30 total tackles with 4.5 TFLs, .5 sacks for a 6-yard loss, and 2 fumble recoveries, while Connor saw a bit more action on the outside edge, accumulating 7 sacks for a 45-yard loss, had 52 total tackles, 27 on his own with 15 TFLs to show for, forced 2 fumbles and recovered 1 and even stepped up on special teams as well it seems with 17 punts good for 542 yards, with a long punt of 50 and 4 punts inside the 20-yard line.

“I got into coaching when my son was in elementary school- we talk individually about if you’re not getting better, you’re getting worse, period; every year we try to take it a step further. Of course, there are little goals along the way and then the ultimate goal of getting into the playoffs AND making noise. The Mitchell game is week two this season, that matchup is always circled on our players’ calendars; once we built that high-expectation culture, the kids started policing themselves, and holding each other accountable because ultimately, it’s their season. Forget the wins and losses, you learn the life skills without realizing it, training your mind for real-life curveballs and the adversity along the way.”

Upon head coach Ryan Benjamin’s arrival in 2011, the Royal Knights sit at 56-31 overall in that 8-year timeframe, with a three back-to-back-to-back district championship wins to hang their hats on (14’ season, 10-2, 15’ season, 10-2, 16’ season, 9-3).

“We started the winning tradition really with running back Chris Schwarz; he was a kid who came in and personified what River Ridge was all about. He never missed the weight room, gave 100 percent every day and when he graduated in 2016, he went on to play for the University of Florida. We transitioned into a spread offense after that with QB Trevor Hawks; he was also our starting safety- never came off the field. He led our team in tackles back there, and he holds the most passing yards in school history, along with leading us through three rounds into playoffs- the farthest we’ve gotten,” says head coach Benjamin, reflecting on past playmakers that left traces of greatness.

In Chris Schwarz’ three-year, 29-game career, he reached momentous accolades on the football and baseball field. As a pure workhorse rushing out of the backfield, the 5’10” 220-pound running back shattered national averages, totaling 5,375 rushing yards on 780 carries, averaging 6.9 YPC with 185.3 YPG, 56 ground scores, totaled 122 tackles, 57 solo with 14.5 TFLs, recovered 3 fumbles, 1 sack and 100 kick return yards- safe to say his footprint will be forever engraved in River Ridge history.  

“Before we handed the ball off 40-50 times a game, but when he came around and we switched to spread, [Trevor] was a kid that embodied the mentality and battled for the starting job as a sophomore. He had that ‘it’ factor and now he’s playing safety collegiately, at Baldwin Wallace in Ohio now. Kids see that fight and patience for positions; they respect other players who waited for their moment and the success that comes with it. If you ask the guys, they have always had other players within the program that came before them, that they’ve looked up to- it’s all comes full circle and they feed off each other’s inspirations and role models.”

According to MaxPreps, the two-sport talent, Trevor Hawks threw for 1,661 yards on 122 completions of 203 attempts, totaled 151 YPG, rushed for 438 yards on 89 carries, scoring 5 with his legs, collected 86 tackles, 56 solo with 6.5 TFLs, forced a fumble and tallied 16 passing TDs in 11 games played on the gridiron  in his senior, 2016-17 campaign. On the diamond, Hawks ended his 77-game baseball career with a .282 batting average, 47 hits, 25 RBI’s, 36 runs, 11 doubles, 1 triple, 3.29 ERA on the mound, struck 89 batters out, and went 12 for 12 on bases stolen.

Coach Benjamin closes with certainty, “The biggest asset to this group is their work ethic- we have to be more than a team than ever, without pointing to one guy to put it in his hands. The thing about this young group is how close they are and the passion they hold for this game; we play with one heartbeat, and this squad embodies that better than any squad we’ve had. There’s no substitute for heart and effort, mental and physical toughness with a positive mindset- I believe that’s the recipe to life’s success. The ones that buy into that philosophy of paying your dues Monday through Thursday, and possess those intangibles will thrive most- it’ll pay off come Friday night.”

Vaughan Sixbury, BCP Contributor