When Ryan headed into the first of two bye weeks in the 2012 season, the team had lost two of its first three games.
A year later, Ryan enters its first week of rest with a blemish-free record. And the differences in the win-loss columns are far from the only contrasts between last year’s team and 2013’s Raiders.
Through three games, the Ryan defense has kept opposing offenses from hanging around with the Raiders in three blowout wins. Ryan is allowing 100 yards less per game than it did at this point last season.
Ryan defensive coordinator David Thomas said the defense benefited from key additions in defensive back Paul Hunter and linebacker Ronnie Coleman, and also that the team’s move up to Class 5A has helped the defense in its second season since realignment.
“They’re more experienced this year,” Thomas said. “It’s a lot of the same kids that played last year that went through a really tough year with 5A competition and all that. They got better.”
The improvement defensively has been clear in the team’s nondistrict campaign. Ryan (3-0) is off this week and will play its final nondistrict game Sept. 27 against McKinney before entering another bye week.
The Raiders have not allowed more than 10 points in a game and are allowing an average of 241.6 yards per game.
In nine regular-season games in 2012, the Raiders allowed 21.4 points and 341.7 total yards per game.
Ryan’s first three games were against Class 4A opponents — teams the Raiders won’t face again this season.
Ryan head coach Joey Florence said the teams it has faced — Corsicana, Wichita Falls Rider and Wylie East — aren’t as prolific as they were last season, but he still says the Raider defense has improved.
“I think all three teams we’ve played this year were not as good as they were last year, and I think we’re a little bit better than we were,” Florence said.
During Ryan’s bye week, Thomas and Florence said, the team is looking at improving on fundamentals such as tackling and blocking.
In its 37-10 victory over Wylie East, Ryan allowed a mere 82 yards of total offense in the second half to a team that burned the Raiders for 528 total yards last season. Still, Thomas and Florence agreed that tackling needs to improve.
“We’re not tackling as well as we need to tackle,” Thomas said. “We have some that are good tacklers, we have some that aren’t good tacklers, and we need to improve that. We had some chances for some big plays the other night and missed some tackles that hurt.”
Senior defensive end Nolan Robinson has one of Ryan’s two sacks and leads the team with six tackles for a loss, and he knows the defense will have to improve on taking down opposing players. Robinson, a first-team Associated Press all-state selection last season, also said he knows stopping 5A offenses will be more difficult.
“It’s going to be harder, but I think we’ll be able to do the same things we’ve been doing,” Robinson said.
Ryan won’t face a 5A offense until its District 5-5A opener Oct. 11 against Flower Mound Marcus. But through three weeks of the season, there’s plenty for Florence and his coaching staff to like.
“We’re pretty good right now, but I think we can get better,” Florence said. “That’s the exciting thing about this team, but we’re realistic, too. We’re fixing to go play some really good people. You never know.”
BEN BABY can be reached at 940-566-6869 and via Twitter at @Ben_Baby.