TAMPA, MAY 10, 2018 – Speaking with Coach Ryan Benjamin of the River Ridge Royal Knights, the confidence and forthrightness exuded from the conversation hits you solidly… like a middle linebacker stepping into the hole for the perfect crushing tackle on the opposing running back, stopping him in his tracks.
The attitude is inspiring no doubt, as the school which boasts a size of approximately 1600 students puts out quality teams like schools with at least twice the size. Last year (2017), River Ridge boasted a 6-1 District record, with an overall record of 7-4. They went to the Playoffs, where they met their division foe Zephyrhills for a second time.
“Well, we came out like gangbusters… on fire! We were up 21-0, but within a span of eight minutes it was tied up. It came down to the wire and the last play of the game. We had an opportunity to shut ‘em down, but unfortunately they came out on top.” So the Royal Knights were sent back home to New Port Richey, losing in Zephyrhills’ home stadium.
“It was a tough one… they had a great team… we had a great team. We just fell a little short last year.”
2018 is a new year, and I reminded him that THIS YEAR they’ll get a chance to play Zephyrhills on the Knights’ home field. Coach Benjamin further espoused on his team for the upcoming season, as I asked him how he was going to replace any players who have left since last year.
“We have a really good group of kids in our area; they’re awesome student-athletes. We have a great JV squad – they went undefeated last year, so a lot of those guys will be making the jump up to Varsity. We also have a lot of returners from last year’s team.”
Coach Benjamin went on to name a few of the stalwart players he expects much from this year. “Our returning quarterback (D. J. Mann) is doing a great job. He’s been working extremely hard this off-season. We also have Kyle St. John at QB.”
I’m an old Offensive Lineman, so I of course asked about that position group. “Marshall Stewart is a three-year starter for us at Guard, and he’s looking extremely good. Then we have Tyler Poirier who plays Tackle, Tight End and Defensive End. T.P. is going on four years at Varsity and is going to be an impact player for us.”
“Another returner we have is Quinton Stedman. He plays Wide Receiver and Corner(back) for us as well. We’re looking for him to step up and play a big role for us this year. Anthony Roussos, who’s a Linebacker and Running Back… this kid… I think he’s going to be a pretty special player – he has great size and is very athletic.”
I asked Coach Benjamin who he thought would be his toughest opponent within his division; his response was quick and direct. “Zephyrhills. They return a number of players from last year. Even though they graduated their quarterback, he had some SERIOUS weapons out there… four receivers and a tailback that was an underclassman.”
Finally, I asked him what he tells his players which they should take to heart… inspiration for them if you will. “I remind them who we are and how we got here. We’re a program that for years has struggled, but each year we say we have to pass the torch… each year we have to build on that foundation. When we step on the field with somebody, we’re not going to have ‘the numbers’ … nor the size… nor the strength… or the speed.
How is THIS team going to beat THAT team? The answer is HARD WORK. It’s HUSTLE. We work extremely hard, and we’re TOUGH. That’s how we win football games. We get our kids believing in themselves. If everybody does their job and works as one unit, we can beat ANYBODY.”
THAT I can believe, as we went on to discuss a certain game where his team was ultimately victorious in the professional ranks. All his team has to do is look at Coach Benjamin’s Super Bowl Champion ring to get any further inspiration of how hard work pays off.
For the record, the Royal Knights scored 56 total touchdowns last year (almost double the National Average), 60.5 sacks (four times the National Average), and 21 Interceptions (three times the National Average). Their receiving yards of 141.3 yards per game (YPG), 150.3 rushing ypg and 61.4 tackles per game were all above the National Average.
Needless to say Coach Benjamin has them on the right track, so with all the hard work which is a consistent dynamic with his program, look for the Royal Knights to again be headed towards another Playoff run… although THIS TIME the vaunted ‘Defenders of the King and Realm’ aim to have a much more pleasant taste in their mouths at the end of the season.
Jay “Captain Jack” Levy, BCP Contributor