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Prep football: Riverside makes up for lack of experience

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- When the Riverside Warriors open their season at home against Cabell Midland on Aug. 29, it will do so as one of the least experienced high school football teams in West Virginia.

First-year Coach Steven Freeman takes over a program that has talent, but is short on varsity game experience.

The offensive line returns the most varsity experience, with senior tackles Tyler Eplin and Billy White, along with senior guard Nathan Mullins, junior center Hunter Lowery and sophomore guard Dylan Campbell.

Eplin, a preseason Daily Mail Second Team All-State selection, and White played the most snaps of any returning Warriors player.

The Warriors' skill positions are also thin on experience, but feature the most explosive returning player with varsity experience.

Senior Will Jackson will be the feature back in Freeman's offense, after running for nearly 700 yards last season.

Jackson, a 5-foot-5, 180-pound bundle of speed and power, will be counted on even more as the Warriors hope to reach the Class AAA playoffs for the first time since 2007.

"He fits into the mold of what we're trying to do all around," said Freeman of Jackson. "Moving into the new offense really fits his skill set. He's a shorter, stocky kid that's a physical runner.

"He's good between the tackles and he's good at making one cut and getting up the field.

"Our offense is really based off of that, so he really fits the mold of what kind of running back we're looking for and the kind of kid that we're looking to put back there."

Jackson, who participated in last year's state track meet in the 100-meter run, used a blend of running and weightlifting to pack on 30 pounds during the offseason.

"We worked hard lifting weights," said Jackson, who bench presses 275 pounds and squats almost 500 pounds. "I see us as a team that just pounds the ball down the field. Just running down hill and making a big play from time to time.

"With a new coach we got a new start to the program. Hopefully we can have a good start and Coach Freeman can just build off of that and build off of that. With that, you'll see a change for Riverside."

Jackson will also provide experience at corner back.

"When you get a kid who is as strong as he is with good speed, he creates mismatches for us against other teams," Freeman said. "A lot of times in the secondary, offenses are trying to guys with height out there. Will's a short guy out there, but he's strong and he's hard to push around.

"That allows us to have a kid out there who can be a force player in the run game, and he can get depth and play deep because of his speed."

One area of Jackson's game that's still developing is his leadership ability, but it's also an area in which Freeman has seen great strides.

"Will is a great kid," Freeman said. "When it comes time for football, he's one of those kids that you always know will give you one hundred percent when he steps on the field.

"All the other kids look at him and respect that because he goes hard at all times. When everybody's tired and banged up, he goes.

"He's become a great role model to all our young kids."



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