Riggan Feels UP Headed in Right Direction
As Ryan Riggan readies for his second season as head coach of the Union Pines football program, he does so with a strong feeling about the state of Vikings football.
“I feel like this football program is going in the right direction,” he said. “Players have worked very hard during the offseason, and we have had some guys making incredible gains in the weight room and on the field in 7-on-7 competitions. We’ve also had a good year as far as getting more players out of the halls and interested in playing football for Union Pines.”
During the summer, the Vikings have averaged about 50 players per day and have competed in eight 7-on-7 competitions, including four at Pinecrest and four at Richmond County.
Riggan feels the high amount of 7-on-7 play thus far has been invaluable for his team.
“With the departure of Coach (Ron) Delusme, they were instrumental for us in terms of the team learning and installing a new defensive look,” Riggan said. “Coach Terry Gittens has come over from Pinecrest and will be coordinating the defense. He has done a tremendous job over the offseason implementing our new system and getting everyone on the same page.”
Delusme left Union Pines after one year as the defensive coordinator primarily due to family obligations in his home state of Florida.
“Coaching-wise, we had a huge loss in Coach Delusme, but we’ve made a great hire to fill that spot in Terry Gittens, who was at Pinecrest the last two seasons,” said Riggan. “Gittens has come over and put in a new wrinkle or two in our defense and really developed a good relationship with the players.
“We’ve also added Travis Antcliff, from Michigan. He joined Union Pines at Christmastime, and he will be coaching the running backs.”
Meanwhile, Drew Anker returns as the offensive coordinator. Riggan will be handling the special teams and offensive line, while Tyler Callahan will be the defensive line coach.
Since June 14, the Vikes have been working out every Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. through 11:30 a.m. The team usually does about 45 minutes of running and 45 minutes of lifting. Then after a short rest, players meet with position coaches and do position work drills and then some 7-on-7 work too.
One break from that weekly routine for Union Pines came in the form of a team camp at Western Carolina University from July 16-19.
“Being able to go to a camp was great, as our guys got a ton of reps and really had some bonding experiences,” said Riggan. “It’s great to get away from home and really have these guys focused and intense in football. Having a setting where we have everyone there at the same time is great too, because it’s rare that we get to see everyone together during the summer, with guys having jobs and vacation time.”
Last season, Union Pines did not attend a team camp over the summer, as Riggan was still getting his feet wet as a first-year head coach. This summer, he feels much more comfortable as the season looms.
“I know so much more coming into year two than I did starting year one,” he said. “We had a better plan as a staff for the summer, and I think we got more out of the players. It’s been a little smoother, but I still feel like I’m learning something new every day, and I am sure that will continue to be the trend.”
Union Pines lost a sizable number of seniors from its team last season but does have a group of players from last year’s junior varsity team that had a some success while displaying quite a bit of promise.
“The guys off of the JV team will jump in and be looked to for contributions right away,” said Riggan. “We definitely expect and will need a lot from them to be successful this fall, because as a group, they bring lots of fire and desire to the football program and are hungry to win.”
This team has six returning seniors, and they have worked hard during the summer to make gains as players.
“Taylor O’Neil comes to mind immediately when you look at what hard work and dedication can do for a player,” Riggan said. “Taylor was 145 pounds at the beginning of last season and has worked his way up to about 170. His strength gains have been tremendous, and his arm strength has really gotten a lot better too.”
O’Neal returns this season for his second year as the starting signal caller for Union Pines, and according to Riggan, he has had an excellent offseason.
“We have gotten to see Taylor’s continued improvement and gains in arm strength, accuracy and understanding his reads during our workouts and in the numerous 7-on-7 summer competitions,” Riggan said.
“Among the younger group of incoming JV players, Josh Huskey and A.J. Ritter have made huge gains in the weight room as juniors, and we really expect them to be major contributors on Fridays this fall,” Riggan continued. “We also have a player named Rashad Green, who has transferred back to Union Pines this season and has been at everything we’ve had during the summer. He will be a major impact player for us on Fridays this fall.”
Riggan admitted that he is really excited about the upcoming season. He feels the Vikings have had a great offseason and really feels they can accomplish some special things.
“We just have to believe in what we’re doing and play together,” said Riggan. “I think this team is really different from last season’s team in terms of mindset coming in. Even though they were playing JV last year, a lot of our guys had a chance to play with some of the best programs in the state and competed well with them.
“There’s no doubt we still have a lot of work in front of us, but the guys having had that experience of being able to compete should go a long way in terms of confidence moving forward. This team has set the playoffs as a goal, and we will do all we can to make that goal come to life.”
The Vikings’ first day of official practice is Monday, Aug. 2, from 8 a.m. to noon. The players will be in helmets-only up until Saturday, Aug. 7, which marks the first day of full contact.
The Vikes open the regular season on Friday, Aug. 20, with a home game against Red Springs.
“This season will be a success if we improve every week and never settle or get complacent,” said Riggan. “We have to be focused and intense early and stay that way all season. Our guys have to come to play every day, whether it is practice or the game.
“We have to take pride in everything we do. Our fans have to come out when we are at home and lend their support, and I know they will. We need them to also travel with us and really stay behind this football team. Everyone just needs to be really excited about what Union Pines is doing and work hard to make sure we keep going in the right direction.”
Contact F.W. Manning II at (910) 639-5481 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
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