Staff Contributor: Collin Wieder

Richland High School has not had a glimpse of the playoffs in quite some time. The Rebels have failed to make the playoffs in five consecutive seasons, after having back-to-back trips in ’08 and ’09. A team that once won the 7-on-7 national title (in 2008) would go a combined 9-11 in 2010 and 2011, leading to the departure by head coach Gene Weir. There seemed to be no reprieve in their district, as powerhouse Euless Trinity and Colleyville Heritage dominated the Rebels every year.

In 2012, Richland hired alumnus Ged Kates from Arlington Heights, but the Rebels would struggle in his first season at 2-8. Kates’ team would double its win total in 2013, going 4-6, but would fail to make the playoffs. To make matters worse, Richland had to move up to 6A in 2014 and would enter what some might call “the district of death”. Southlake Carroll, Euless Trinity, Colleyville Heritage and Coppell headline a district with enrollments of almost 1,000-to-2,000 more than Richland.

“First off we focus on us and not on the stuff we can’t control,” Kates said. “We coaches are not patient preachers, but it has been a patience deal to try to get our guys to believe we can beat anybody.”

Nevertheless, there seems to be hope as the Rebels found some life in 2014, falling just one game short of the playoffs. The Rebels struggled against the big three in the conference but competed well in a 13-point loss to Colleyville Heritage. And while the Rebels also slowed down four-star prospect Shane Buechele and the Lamar Vikings high profile offense in the season opener, they ended up finishing the season 3-7.

“We have put them into position a couple times and feel like we have the right guys at the right spot,” Kates said. “Instead of just talking about the big four they were talking about Richland, but we don’t want to just be talking about it now.”

2015 would typically be looked at as a rebuilding year since the Rebels are losing their starting quarterback, wide receiver and running back. Kates however thinks his system and development will the help the Rebels 12 returning starters.

Jordan Wiley, a starting linebacker on last year’s squad, will be taking over the quarterback position. Wiley will have some big shoes to fill, as Eddie Thomas was probably the best quarterback at Richland in the last three years. Thomas ran for almost 500 yards and nine touchdowns while passing for 1,056 yards and nine touchdowns to just four interceptions.

“I am just adjusting to the role it’s a big step,” Wiley said. “I am ready to step up and be there for my team. I have no pressure and I just have to step up to his (Eddie’s) play.”

Wiley should be helped by Kates’ change in scheme to a more running quarterback offense. Wiley has a great set of wheels, which should help his transition into the quarterback role.

“We changed offensively and became more of a quarterback run game last year and we will continue that with Jordan,” Kates said. “He can do both he can spin it and run it.”

The loss of two-year starter C.J. Hicks may be a huge hit, as he averaged 6.7 yards per carry on his way to 877 yards and four touchdowns in 2014. Despite the loss, Kates’ offense has always been a solid running team dating back to his first season with Kentravious Richardson. The Rebels return senior Avieon Shanklin and sophomore Rylee Johnson in 2015.

The receiving corps has to be the biggest hole in the Rebels’ offensive game, as only 94 total receiving yards return from last year’s squad. Cornerback Kyle Itoka and Aaron Denson are the team’s only players to have a catch last year. Denson should move into that role along with up-and-coming junior Landon Le.

Defensively, the Rebels are deep as they return seven starters and several other contributors. Unfortunately, most of Richland’s losses came at linebacker as all three starters and leading tacklers are gone: Hayden Davidson, Jonathan Okello and new quarterback Jordan Wiley. The final loss came in the spring game as three-year starting cornerback LeDarryle Bryant suffered a career ending neck injury.

Kates changed the scheme this offseason to help his raw linebacker corps by moving to the 4-2-5, which should help the Rebels adjust to the passing offenses in the district. Senior free safety PJ Hill is a player to watch, recording 49 tackles, four tackles for loss and a forced fumble. Senior defensive lineman Coleton Burgess leads the defensive line as he compiled 33 tackles last season along nine tackles for loss.

Coach Kates and the Richland Rebels have a real opportunity to take a step forward in what may be the toughest district in Texas. The Rebels have come close to making the playoffs in back-to-back seasons, and 2015 could be the year they finally get into the postseason.