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Stubbs pleased with Rebels’ spring work

RESERVE — For the first three days of spring practice, Riverside coach Bill Stubbs said he was on edge about the performance of a team replacing several key contributors from last season’s Division III semifinalist.

But as the Rebels wrapped up their spring work last week, they’d turned their coach into a believer.

“I felt like we had a very, very productive spring,” Stubbs said. “We pushed a lot of our younger guys into action and emphasized them. That was kind of a necessity, given we had a lot of guys playing baseball as well. They started getting adjusted as we went along. I really like the personality of this team.”

Riverside rolled to an undefeated regular season and district crown in 2014. The Rebels finished as a state semifinalist, falling at Calvary Baptist to end their season. An explosive spread offense coupled with a defensive unit that gobbled up turnovers and overpowered teams on the line of scrimmage made Riverside one of the state’s toughest, most well-rounded teams.

However, gone are defensive tackles Richie George and Thaddeus Andry and defensive end Joe Anderson, each of whom was a defensive anchor last season.

Stubbs said the offensive and defensive lines are inexperienced, but an experienced, playmaking secondary could give the team an avenue to make up for those losses. JuJuan Bell and Kendall Martin lead that unit, and Hardell Mack has emerged as a promising talent at defensive back after moving from running back.

“We’re trying to build a very strong secondary,” Stubbs said. “JuJuan Bell was tremendous and Kendall Martin is a mainstay. Hardell has shown tremendous progress. He had a really good spring in the secondary.”

At linebacker, Evan Veron returns after a standout 2014 campaign. Harrison Heckathorn returns, while Freddie Means was moved up front to the line.

Offensively, Jordan Loving will enter his second season as starting quarterback after posting a 38-7 TD-INT ratio as a freshman. RA loses Von Julien and Darrion Cook at wide receiver, but will return Herb McGee, who has ranked among the region’s receiving leaders in each of the past three seasons.

Tyler Gauthier is likely to step into a larger role after emerging as a dangerous scoring threat at receiver last season. Stubbs is also excited about the potential impact of Jared Butler, who has seen work this spring at receiver and as Wildcat quarterback, a role McGee played in spurts last season.

Brandon Sanders will lead the backfield rotation again, and Stubbs singled him out as one who had a “very, very good spring.”

The Rebels were not able to hold their traditional “Pie Bowl,” the team’s traditional intrasquad game which was scheduled to cap the team’s spring work last week. It was cancelled due to weather.

“The weather cut into our practice time, but I’m not so much concerned about the number of days as much as the effort and productive time we do put in,” Stubbs said.

“The big thing is you’ve still got the summer. We’re going to put a very heavy emphasis on our summer program.”

That, Stubbs said, will center around three core components.

“Improving strength, change of direction (ability) and explosiveness,” Stubbs said.