GREENVILLE — It was a silly question. Anyone who has watched Riverheads football over the years knows that it’s not the opponents that dictate what the Gladiators do on the field. Head coach Robert Casto has had so much success with his system, winning three state championships since 2000 and playing for a fourth, that he has no reason to change anything.
So after the 2016 Riverheads Football Jamboree on Saturday, an annual event that brings together three teams in addition to Riverheads for a series of scrimmages, asking Casto if he tried anything different against his two opponents – Appomattox and Fort Defiance – was met with the expected answer.
“We just do what we do and that’s the way we roll,” said Casto. “I don’t change anything. This is who we are and here we come.”
Riverheads tied Appomattox 7-7 in a battle of teams that both played for state championships last year. Appomattox won the 2015 2A title while Riverheads fell in the 1A state championship game. Throughout the offseason, Riverheads has worked to get stronger this season, believing that a big part of the loss last December was that they were pushed around too much. The returning players weren’t going to let that happen this season.
Casto saw the results of that offseason work Saturday, especially late in the scrimmage against Appomattox on a hot, humid day.
“I thought our strength and physicality started to show a little bit,” said Casto. “Yes, we are stronger and we saw it today.”
While Riverheads is trying to return to the state championship game for a second-straight year, Fort Defiance has different goals this season. The Indians are coming off an 0-10 season and are hoping to see some improvement this year.
After getting banged up in a scrimmage last week, Fort Defiance had to approach Saturday’s games differently, moving players around so they played different positions. Coach Dan Rolfe was trying to see if he could create some mismatches or possibly find a unit that meshed together well. He was happy with what he saw.
“We actually had some sophomores that played a lot today, that really stepped up,” said Rolfe. “I don’t know if they’re quite ready, ready, but they’re ready enough that when we need them they’re going to help us. That’s a step in the right way.”
The big blow for the Indians was losing sophomore Sam Hill, who is listed as both a running back and linebacker, to injury in the first play of the first scrimmage against James River. Rolfe said he would know more about Hill’s health next week. Fort opens at Buffalo Gap Friday night.
Rolfe was happy with the play of his quarterbacks, using sophomore Jacob Jones a lot in the first scrimmage and senior Trenton Campbell in the second one against Riverheads. Overall, the coach got what he wanted to get out of the event, despite his team falling in both scrimmages.
“This is a great opportunity for us,” said Rolfe. “I enjoy coming here because you get to see a couple of different offenses, a couple of different styles. That’s what makes it entertaining. It’s a little hard preparation-wise, but I enjoy … it allows you to focus more on fundamentals than necessarily scheme and stuff like that.”
Riverheads had to deal with injuries as well, including one to starting quarterback Chase Armstrong in the scrimmage against Appomattox. Armstrong stayed out the rest of that game with ice on his shoulder, but returned against Fort Defiance later in the day.
“He said he was able to play and I put him back in,” said Casto. “I don’t worry about all of that stuff. If he says he’s fine I’ll play him. If he’s not, I don’t.”
In the game against Appomattox, Riverheads made a few mistakes, according to the coach, but settled down later in the scrimmage. Part of the problem was that Appomattox is a good opponent, just the kind of test Casto wanted as his team gets ready to open the season at home against Robert E. Lee Friday night.
“We just want to see if our kids are going to be aggressive, if they’re going to do their assignments and play hard,” said Casto. “I tell the kids all the time they don’t have to be great today, but we’ve got to be working toward that. We were a little bit better today than we were last week. The whole thing is we have to start getting better and continue getting better every week.”