Football Preview: Walker seeks to build Riverdale in second year on job
The head football coaching position at Riverdale has been a bit of a revolving door for decades.
Kyle Walker truly hopes to end the sea of change by changing the culture and the expectations of the Rebels on the field.
“There is a change in the players already,” Walker said. “The players have met my expectations. We had a great spring. They are starting to realize that I’m not going anywhere and that I am committed to getting this program of where it needs to be. They have bought in. I’m very excited leading into the season.”
The prospects for improvement in 2021 are good for the Rebels with 13 starters returning.
Riverdale must replace starting quarterback Darren Labit, who is now at Millsaps, along with defensive back Le’Quan Johnson, now at the University of Fort Lauderdale.
The strength of the Rebels in 2021 lies up front on both sides of the ball.
Offensively, senior left tackle Maurice Colar (6-4, 315) leads the way, along with junior left guard Christopher Campbell (6-3, 250) as both return as starters. They will be joined by junior right tackle Zachary Thomas (6-4, 240) while a pair of freshmen will likely fill the other two spots.
“Maurice is big and will protect the quarterback from the left side,” Walker said. “They have come a long way. Mo is our leader and a captain. We have to settle the center position. Campbell is a returning starter and Thomas is experienced and he is long and physical.”
Freshmen Trae Dakin (5-5, 185) should start at center while Khrist Ramirez (5-10, 230) is set to start at right guard.
“They are young players but players who we feel can develop,” Walker said.
Senior tight end Kyontaa Washington (6-1, 200) is a returning starter.
Sophomore running back Ari Baker (5-9, 155) is solid and will also play defensive back and the same is true of junior B’Jon Lee (6-1, 210). Sophomore Elijah Brown (6-0, 200) will join the pair to give the Rebels a good running game.
“Ari moved to offense late last year from free safety and came up big for us,” Walker said. “He will be good and will still play defense. Lee is coming off an injury in the spring but he is improved and ready to go as an all-around player. Brown is a pounder, a physical back. He didn’t play due to COVID last season.”
The quarterback is sophomore Gage Dufour (5-9, 150), who saw time last season as a freshman.
“Replacing Darren is hard,” Walker said. “He got hurt last year but came back to play late in the season. Gage stepped up as a 14-year old freshman, never having played the position before and he gave us a chance to win some games. He is a good baseball player and leader as well. That will help. He had a great summer for us and is ready to go. We’re counting on him to be our leader.”
At wide receiver, senior Ra’yion Wilkerson (5-5, 135) is back and he is joined by senior Cedric Allen (6-2, 160).
“Cedric has no playing experience but he had a great spring game,” Walker said. “Wilkerson has speed. We will be able to stretch the field.”
Up front on defense, all four starters return, led by senior tackle Kobe Powers (5-11, 255) who is a standout. Senior Tyren Lawrence (5-11, 280) also returns at tackle. While both starting ends are also back, including seniors Jared Barahona (6-1, 210) and Lanny Scharpon (6-1, 260).
“The defensive line is our biggest strength,” Walker said. “We have four seniors. Powers is one of the best defensive linemen in the area. He played as a freshman and has started the last two years. Scharpon played a little linebacker last year. Jared plays with a high motor and Lawrence is another senior who started for two years. It is the strength of our team.”
Both starting linebackers are new in juniors Albert Ramirez (5-8, 210) and Lois Phipps (5-10, 185). Senior Montrell Puckett will also play.
“We have a good competition at linebacker,” Walker said. “Puckett did not play due to COVID last year. He has a chance to be a leader and be a good player for us.”
The secondary features a pair of returning starters in senior strong safety Tajh Evans (5-9, 180) and Baker at free safety. Junior Will Weston (6-2, 180) will also play safety.
The corners are seniors Dontae Lewis (5-6, 145) and Fred Dickerson (5-8, 140).
“Baker is solid and Evans is back,” Walker said. “The other positions are good competitions. Lewis moved from offense and he is performing well. Dickerson should be a starter.”
Campbell returns to handle kicking and punting duties.
The schedule opens on the road at Kenner Discovery and Belle Chasse before a tough home game with Jesuit.
“We will be road warriors,” Walker said. “We will only be home four times. Kenner Discovery is an up-and-coming team. Going to Belle Chasse is always tough, a playoff team with a solid program. Jesuit is a step up to face a big Catholic League opponent. We want to build up to that level. We have to be able to play the best to get better.”
District 8-5A play opens in week four against East Jefferson before the Rebels take on Grace King. After hosting Higgins, the Rebels travel to play district power John Ehret. Then comes a home game with Bonnabel before the season closes with tough road games at West Jefferson and Chalmette.
“I think we have an opportunity if we come out strong in the first couple of games to do well and surprise people,” Walker said. “East Jefferson hurt us in the kick game last year. Ehret will be real tough. Chalmette will be real tough. West Jeff is a talented squad. Bonnabel and Higgins will play hard. Higgins beat us last year. Grace King is our rival.”
While it is always an uphill climb at Riverdale, there is promise for 2021 with experience returning and a solid coach guiding the program.
“I believe we can make the playoffs this year,” Walker said. “We have to come out and execute to win the games we’re capable of winning and should get power points with the schedule. We want to get to that number to get in there and compete in the postseason.”
Click here for more CCS Prep Football team previews (including archives of past season previews).
- < PREV Football Preview: Abbeville ups the ante in 2021
- NEXT > Saints cornerback Patrick Robinson retires
Born and raised in the New Orleans area, CCSE CEO Ken Trahan has been a sports media fixture in the community for nearly four decades. Ken started NewOrleans.com/Sports with Bill Hammack and Don Jones in 2008. In 2011, the site became SportsNOLA.com. On August 1, 2017, Ken helped launch CrescentCitySports.com. Having accumulated national awards/recognition (National Sports Media Association, National Football…