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Don't be surprised if the Wildcats have more surprises up their sleeve

POSTED: October 4, 2011 7:51 p.m.
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Guys like the speedy Alex Cruz are one reason the Wildcats are 5-0.

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Note: This was written a few hours prior to Richmond Hill High School's 14-6 win over Liberty County High School.

By Jeff Whitten

In about five more weeks this football stuff will all be a lot clearer. Just don't be surprised if, come November, you're surprised by the Richmond Hill High School football team.
I wanted to get that said for posterity's sake.
In the meantime, it's in the nature of some of us to look for faults, and thus there are skeptics out there who say Richmond Hill High School's 4-0 start is the result of schedule rather than skill.
Not surprisingly, Wildcats coach Lyman Guy didn't buy into that notion as his team prepared to take on Liberty County on Friday night in the Region 2A-AAAA opener for both teams.
"I have too much respect for the teams we've played to say the only reason we won those games is because they were against lesser teams," he said. "The critics are going to criticize us and fans are going to support us. The only thing we can take care of and have control over is us."
But Guy said he understands how the history of Richmond Hill High School football - at least that which has taken place since 1986, which is as far back as the website at the Georgia High School Football Historians Association goes - can lead to some skepticism among casual observers.
"I do think we have something to prove each week because of history," he said. "Every week, I feel we have to prove this isn't a fluke."
That sentiment isn't hard to understand, either.
The Wildcats, after all, are 71-169-2 all time, according to the GHSFA. They've had only three winning seasons in 25 years, all under current Richmond Hill Middle School principal Billy McGrath.
Their best mark ever was in 1996, when RHHS finished 9-4 under McGrath.
Before, and since, Richmond Hill football has mostly been an exercise in frustration. The Wildcats have had more winless seasons (four) than winning ones (three) - and that includes back-to-back 0-10 marks in 2004 and 2005. What's more, last season's 4-6 record was the program's best since 1996.
But this may be the year that cycle of rare boom and mostly bust gets busted wide open.
Heading into Friday night's game against Liberty County, the Wildcats were not just unbeaten, they are among the most intriguing teams in the Coastal Empire. Their offense by committee approach has written big plays all over the place, even when there are times the Wildcats are figuring out things as they go along.
You call that making adjustments.
Defensively, Richmond Hill was holding opponents to 12 points a game heading into Friday night's matchup - thanks to a line that includes a couple 300-plus pound kids, a handful of hard-playing and heady linebackers and a defensive backfield that seems to be getting better all the time.
The team's success hasn't gone unnoticed in the places it really matters, either.
"The greatest evidence we've seen that people are excited by our start is in our gates," Guy said. "We've had outstanding gates this year and that's big, because it really contributes to our entire athletic program and helps all our athletes at Richmond Hill High School."
Football, of course, is the big money maker for high school sports in Georgia and gate receipts help pay the freight - or much of it - for just about every sport offered at the high school level, from volleyball to softball to golf and cross country and track and field and so on.
But the Wildcats are seeing the impact their wins are having in more than bigger gates, Guy said.
It's the whole thing, from big crowds to the way that winning football, more than any other sport, tends to pull schools and a community together.
"It gets the kids fired up to see the stands packed, and that really means a lot to them and to us," he said. "I think the Richmond Hill community has been great. I think the community has been waiting for something good to happen and they've been so supportive. From the community to the administration to teachers and staff, everybody has been very excited for the kids."
That's a good thing, because Richmond Hill's football team has earned every bit of support they've gotten to date. The community has earned the right to be fired up, too. It's how it's supposed to work.
And down the road, don't be surprised if these Wildcats shrug off history and show they're ready to start their own trend
"I think we, as a coaching staff and a team, are working hard and putting more pressure on ourselves each and every game than anyone else can put on us," Guy said. "That's because we see, more than anyone else, that we have the potential to be a very good football team."
Jeff Whitten covers sports for the Bryan County News. Game results are online.


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