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August 19, 2014

2014 Warwick Raiders Preview

2014 Tidewater Football Schedules
2013 Tidewater Football Schedules & Results


Peninsula District, Class 5A, Region 5A South
Head Coach: Corey Hariston

Recent History:
2011 - -
6-5 (lost to Phoebus 32-14 in regional quarterfinals)
2012 - - 4-6 (missed playoffs)
2013 - - 0-10 (missed playoffs)

It was starting to be like a broken record. For five consecutive seasons from 2007-11, the Warwick Raiders finished 6-5 overall with a first round playoff exit annually. Considering how low things dipped a year ago, getting outscored 362-88 and suffering a winless campaign, the Raiders would've gladly signed for 6-5 or even the inverse. Two of those losses, 28-16 to Maury and 17-13 to Menchville, came in games where they led. Assistant Corey Hairston takes over for a program that had Head Coach Bernard Griffin removed before the 2013 season concluded.

Offensive Outlook:
To say the Raiders had trouble scoring last year would be an understatement. They averaged 8.8 points per game and only eclipsed 20 once, which came in a 40-29 loss to Gloucester. Only one player returns that scored a touchdown last year and that's senior tight end Christopher Young (6-0, 225). Even Hairston understands they have their work cut out on offense. "We will be young on offense. Most of the starters from last season were seniors, so we will be re-building here," he pointed out.

Part of the overhaul will include a new quarterback, where sophomore D'Juan Nunn (5-11, 165) steps in as the starter. Complementing Young in the passing game are senior Darien Overton (5-8, 145) and junior Demonte Good (5-8, 145). On the ground, the Raiders struggled to sustain anything last year, gaining 616 yards on 258 attempts for the season, an average of 2.4 yards per carry. Looking to spark their running game this year will be seniors Lee Hawkins (5-7, 150) and Bryan Brooks (5-10, 180). Look for them to try to control the clock better with a higher number of rushes.

Malik Harris (6-1, 225) is the only starter back on the offensive line. Another junior, Mario Byrd (5-8, 245), will move from fullback to the o-line and play a significant role. Quite possibly the best kicker in Hampton Roads resides at Warwick in All-PenSouth Conference selection Grayson Hubbard (6-0, 175), who connected on six field goals as a junior. "He's definitely a weapon," Hairston acknowledged. "I won't say if we get inside the 35 it's automatic, but it's almost automatic." The Raiders also feel they have one of the better long-snappers around in senior Isaac Johnson (5-10, 180).

Defensive Outlook:
Warwick was simply gashed last year on the ground, giving up 255.8 yards rushing per contest, largely contributing to the 36.2PPG allowed. They were severely inexperienced at key spots and shouldn't be as green in those areas. "Our strength should be our defense. This will be the cornerstone of our team," confidently stated Hairston, whose Raiders return six starters from last season, which means they have quality varsity minutes. "The defense is usually ahead of the offense this time of year."

Senior inside linebacker Erique Diggs (6-1, 230) will spearhead the defense. They have five others that could rotate in at the other linebacker spots, including Hawkins, Brooks and a couple of freshmen. On the back end, Rambert Tyree (6-2, 175) is someone that may get a shot to play at the next level with a good senior season. Overton, Good and junior safety Kalek Leary (5-10, 150) round out the starting unit in the defensive backfield.

There's not much depth or size to speak of on the defensive line, but Harris is a possible All-Conference candidate and Byrd will occupy another starting spot. That level appears to be the one that's the biggest question mark on defense. "We will have a few holes to fill along the defensive line," Hairston noted. "The linebackers and secondary should be solid."

Date to Circle:
September 18 vs. Gloucester. With the first three games on the road against Kecoughtan, Maury and Phoebus - - all playoff hopefuls - - the Raiders' most realistic opportunity to give Hairston his first win is this one. Warwick had won seven straight meetings against the Dukes until last year. A victory here would give them some momentum going into a matchup with Denbigh, one of the schools where Hariston used to be an assistant.

Hat's Hit:
The Raiders have their fourth Head Coach in three seasons, and with such turnover a slow start is naturally expected. No one is looking for them to challenge for the top spot in the Peninsula District, and a playoff berth right away under Hairston might be hard to attain. But they're starting fresh and taking an approach of not dwelling on the past, rather setting their sights on the present, what they can control now.

"We don't focus on last year. We focus on Warwick High School, nothing else. Our attention is on building and getting better each day," said Hairston, a 45-year-old Ohio native that has spent 19 years coaching in the PD.

Hairston has coached at each of the four schools in Newport News, so he has familiarity with the kids in the city and also what it takes to be successful given that he's been on staffs that have gone to the playoffs. They'll be good on special teams, should be competitive on defense and in order to spring an upset or two the offense will have to take care of the football as well as jell on the line.

For Warwick, the re-building project began in the off-season, working in the weight room and paying attention to detail. If the Raiders can gradually take steps improving and play a disciplined brand of football, it should pay off with wins. How many remains to be seen. Regardless of how many victories they get in 2014, they want to get on the right path soon before it becomes a place where it's tough to change the culture.

Matthew Hatfield has covered football and basketball since 2004 for VirginiaPreps.com, part of the Rivals.com Network. Check out Hatfield's Twitter page for more sports related updates, and you can also read his work in the Suffolk News Herald. To contact Matthew, please e-mail [email protected], and don't forget to listen to him on High School Sports Talk Saturdays at 10AM on ESPN Radio 94.1, plus watch him on the Cox 11 Sports Report.

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