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Football: Ryan secondary set for road challenge

Profile image for By Ben Baby / Staff Writer
By Ben Baby / Staff Writer

Before the Ryan Raiders started practice last week in preparation for their season opener against Corsicana, senior Xavier Gray was told where he’d play that Friday.

Gray was going to see time at wide receiver, the position he occupied last season, but that wasn’t going to be Gray’s main role.

Instead, the coaching staff decided to make Gray one of the team’s starting safeties.

This week, Gray and the rest of Ryan’s defensive backs will be tested on the road when the team travels to Memorial Stadium to face Wichita Falls Rider at 7 tonight.

“I think if our secondary plays well we will win the game,” Gray said. “Because they [Rider] throw about 70 percent of the time, it’ll be up to our secondary to get the ball back for our offense.”

Ryan and Rider are coming off impressive wins in the first week of the season. Rider topped Abilene Cooper 39-36 in a game that saw the teams combine for four touchdowns in the final 68 seconds. Ryan easily topped Corsicana 38-7 as its secondary allowed only 83 passing yards on 24 attempts.

Shifting players to the other side of the ball is something that isn’t new at Ryan.

Last season, Reynal Caldwell was moved over from wide receiver to become the team’s starting free safety, a position where he excelled. He finished with a team-high 106 tackles and had two of Ryan’s six interceptions last season.

Gray said he knows this week’s matchup against Rider will be a good test for the secondary and a gauge of his defensive abilities.

“I’m not that nervous,” Gray said. “I’m more anxious. It’s a chance to see what I could do back there, see if it’s where I really belong.”

Rider junior receiver Davon Allison tallied 266 receiving yards on seven catches against Cooper, tying a school record set by David Nelson in 2004. Nelson spent the last three seasons with Buffalo Bills.

Rider is one of toughest teams Ryan will face in nondistrict play. Rider reached the Class 4A Division II semifinals in 2012.

“I think it’s a good test,” Ryan coach Joey Florence said. “I think Rider is always a good test for us because they’re well coached and they play very hard, and they’re hard to beat. You have to beat them. They’re not going to beat themselves.”

Across from Gray at the other safety position is Paul Hunter, who also will see touches on offense. Florence said he was impressed with Hunter, who finished with seven tackles last week against Corsicana.

Ryan’s secondary was tested in a scrimmage against Fort Worth Southwest and was bested on a couple big plays in the glorified practice. Hunter is among the contingent that knows this week will be a benchmark for the defensive backs.

“We have to step up and prove ourselves this week because they throw the ball a lot more than Corsicana, so it should be a pretty good test,” Hunter said.

Ryan could be better prepared for that test after gaining the services of former Lake Dallas standout Ronnie Coleman, who played last week. Coleman played at Lake Dallas last season and transferred to Ryan over the summer. He was declared eligible by the University Interscholastic League on Friday and listed as a linebacker by Florence.

The Ryan coach said defensive backs Elijah Allen, Robert Connor and Cameron Williams will be asked to play well against a team that beat Ryan at home last season.

“It’s going to be a tough matchup for us because we’re still young in the secondary,” Florence said. “I don’t know that we’ve played real good pass defense up to this point. We haven’t played bad, but we’d better get ready.”

BEN BABY can be reached at 940-566-6869 and via Twitter at @Ben_Baby.