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The Chiefland Indians are continuing their rebuilding from a couple of dismal seasons in the early part of this decade and the future looks bright.
Coach Aaron Richardson and his staff have 37 players on the roster, including 10 seniors returning from a 7-3 season and finishing third in district play in 2013.
Last year, the team averaged 27.2 points per game. And they posted their second in-a-row win against the Williston Red Devils to retain ownership of the Levy Classic Cup.
“We've got better staff, these kids have been together for two years and we just missed the playoffs by one game.”
Richardson, who came to Chiefland from Dunnellon, has a long vision for the team: He is building a dynasty, rather than a legacy. In the summer he holds camp for the L’il Indians in 1st through 8th grades. This is a man who starts ‘em young and raises ‘em up to be champions.
A couple of years ago he said he wanted players willing to go out and charge and he has been leading the charge with all of the team’s statistics rising: passing completions (.444 in 2013 and .400 in 2012), passing attempts (45 in 2013 and 35 in 2012), more yardage passing and yardage in single season (487 in 2013 and 260 in 2012), more passing yards per game (per game 48.7 in 2013 and 26 for 2012), passing for more touchdowns (9 in 2013 and 5 in 2012). The lone decline was in rushing (2,482 in 2013 and 2,790 in 2012).
So much for the offense. The defense is also racking up more stats with solo season tackles of 421 in 2012 and 405 in 2013, total tackles of 795 in 2012 and 655 in 2013, tackles per game of 79.5 in 2012 and 65.5 in 2013. In 2013, the defense averaged 2.2 sacks per game and cost the other teams 149 yards for the season. They had 16 interceptions and 13 fumble recoveries in 2013.
In 2012 the team had 31 kicking points and increased it to 36, while also scoring 246 points for the ’13 season compared to 223 for the '12 season.
The points per game went from 22.3 in 2012 to 24.6 in 2013.
Last year, Richardson opened the season with opponents that were confidence-builders, not just for the team but the fans, and while the wins eluded them toward the end of the season, the players showed they were willing to hang tough.
However, gone this year are 16 seniors, including Deshawn Roland now at Webber International University, James Corbin who is at Mississippi College and Kyle Weeks who is at Daytona State.
“We graduated a lot of good players last year, but we work continuously on the foundation. We continue that week in and week out,” Richardson said.
“The young players, instead of being those role players, we are looking for them to be the leaders and as long as they accept that leadership. We will do well.”
One person stepping into a leadership role is Billy Hammond, an aggressive tackle.
“Billy is one of them. He's a middle linebacker. He played last year and was 2nd on the team in tackles. I am looking for him to step up and be the leader on defense, like he was in the game with Bell (last week). He is a vocal leader; one of the hardest workers we’ve got,” the coach said.
“Probably the biggest guy who has got to live up to the hype is Willie Brannon,” Richardson said of the senior offensive lineman who has already received an offer from Division 1 Western Kentucky. “He’s a big human being, he's 6-4 and 280 pounds and he's a big athletic kid.
Richardson said Brannon has been a role player, “And this year he's going to be a focus ― even for opposing teams. They put a bull's eye on him.”
Brannon had 4 tackles for the Bell game.
“This is the best he’s ever looked, the hardest he’s ever worked. Now he’s got to step up,” Richardson said.
“He's gotten quite a bit of attention and I believe we are going to have a good football player.”
Richardson also said he is looking to Alfonso Timmons, another senior and running back, for leadership.
“He’s gone over 1,000 yards in the past year and we need him to stay healthy. An GG McClendon too. We expect big things out of those two.”
At quarterback is Mike LaRock and Richardson said “He’s had a great summer and he is emerging as one of the leaders. If he can keep the team honest and throw the ball well and prevent turnovers he will have a good year.”
Richardson concluded: “We have got some good pieces to the puzzle here.”
Richardson said the team has changed the way they use players with varsity limited to 10th,11th and 12th graders. Everybody in 10th grade will play varsity, he said. Those in lower grades will play on the middle school and junior varisty team. There will also be some 8th graders playing varsity like Wyatt Hammond.
The goal this year, says Richardson is to get district, then go into the playoffs. “Coming out of our district, we've got a chance to make a decent little run at it(state title) and we definitely want to get in.”
But the same obstacles remain this season as did the last: Dixie County, Union County, Williston and Trenton.
While Trenton is not in the same district there is a rivalry for the neighbors. And Chiefland aims to not repeat last year when it was winning the game until the Tigers pulled off the impossible: a touchdown in the remaining 5.2 seconds to win 17-14.”We are definitely doing everything in our power to turn that around,” Rochardson said.
The play will be as tough when the Indians meet Williston for the Levy Classic and play for ownership of the loving cup.
“Williston got a new coach, so that’s always a new focus,” Richardson said. “We had the trophy for two years and the team won’t want to see that one go across the county.”
As for Union County, they were No. 1 in the district when Chiefland lost 28-7. The next game was with Dixie County and it was a 33-0 shutout.
“Dixie and Union ― they would be the ones to be favorites in our district,” Richardson said. “They’re returning a ton of talent and they got really good coaching staffs. These are really good football communities. Each one of them are physical football team communities.
“If we beat those guys, get over the hump and get onto the playoffs it will be OK.”
While the team took a 39-7 warm-up for the season against the Bell Bulldogs on Friday, Aug. 23, it opens the regular season at home against the Bronson Eagles.
Like Richardson, the Eagles coach Cameron Porch is in his third year. This is a team to take seriously. The Eagles are coming off last year’s5-5 season and they are hungry to move up in the rankings.
The Indians follow that with a home game against Cedar Creek Christian, then the Indians hit the road to Hamilton County, Union County, Newberry and West Nassau before returning home on Oct. 3 to face Trinity Christian from Deltona.
The Trenton and Williston games will be up after that and both are on the Indians home turf. It’s one more time to Union County and then the final game on Halloween at home against Dixie County.
Oe change that has helped Chiefland's play is the FHSAA, the Florida High School Athletic Association, realignment of districts.
“The biggest thing there is Chiefland’s always been really big supporters of athletics and everybody pulling together makes it. But when the FHSAA made the rural league that meant all the small schools are on even competitive field. It gives everybody a chance for success.”
“That’s the vision that we’ve got from the school administration right down to the schools’s students. My biggest focus is football, but as athletic director I have to invest the energy and help them to all be successful.”