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Ready to roar again: Gryphons eye bounce-back season with talented offense

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Rocky Mount High's Rodell Bridges, center, will have an expanded role as a rusher this season.

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By PATRICK MASON
Sports Writer

Sunday, August 5, 2018

When the Rocky Mount High football team opens its season on Aug. 17 against visiting Apex Middle Creek, the Gryphons will do so without De’Trell Revis.

Revis will long be remembered by the 99-yard touchdown reception he made in the 2016 playoffs that forced overtime against Havelock in a game the Gryphons would win in overtime to advance to the state title game.

But in the coaches room, the graduation of Revis means that the RMH secondary will have a lot of work to do. Revis started since his sophomore year, and started 43 consecutive games for the Gryphons, pulling down interceptions in bunches, and making game-saving tackles.

“We’re pretty solid all across, but the first thing that sticks out to me is not having Revis,” Gryphons coach Jason Battle said. “You’re talking about a guy that started the last 43 games at one position, never missed a game. That’s hard to replace because for the most part nobody else played free safety for 43 games.

“We talked all the time, as coaches, that he made up for so many things that could have happened, but the fact that we had him back there negated a lot of big things that could have happened to us over a three-year span. He could find the ball, man.”

As the Gryphons search for the next safety of the future, the team is working on rebounding after the first losing season under Battle, who is entering his seventh season as the head man. The Gryphons played hard throughout a tough season, and gained a much-needed win when they needed it most by defeating Northern Nash in the final game of the regular season to qualify for the playoffs with four wins.

This year’s squad should be more competitive in a leveled-out Big East Conference. The Gryphons lose their top three rushers to graduation, though a trimmed down backfield will help junior Tashaun Lawrence and senior Rodell Bridges to get more consistent carries.

Battle is looking forward to his rushing attack, as both players will compete for the lion’s share of the touches. Elsewhere, RMH has high expectations for its passing game.

Jaquan Lynch returns as a junior after spending a full season as starter a year ago. Lynch showed promise as a sophomore with a strong, accurate arm in throwing for 1,415 yards and 16 touchdowns with just four interceptions.

“He’s coming along well,” Battle said of Lynch. “He’s a quick learner and he grasps concepts well. He’s got to work on his touch all the time, and I stay on him about footwork things, but as far as understanding, you couldn't ask for a better kid.”

Speaking of talent, Shyheim Battle, a recently committed N.C. State recruit, will play corner and receiver again. Battle, a player who projects as a high-level defensive back in college, doesn’t get to show off his skills around the ball as often at the high school level as a lot of teams on the Gryphons schedule prefer to run the ball. This means that the coaching staff has to find ways for the star defensive back to impact a game when a team decides to not throw his way.

-Coach Battle said that Shyheim could be involved in defending the run often by sending him on blitzes or spying a backfield threat. Other times, like in the early month of games, Shyheim will be tested, as those non-conference opponents run spread offenses.

But Battle made sure to point out that even a team like Southern Nash, which ran 589 times and only attempted 65 passes, can still catch a team sleeping. In 2015 Tahj Deans — now a wide receiver at East Carolina — got behind the RMH defense when the Firebirds split him out wide.

“Years ago, Southern had a kid at wide receiver that could beat you when he was all alone,” Battle said. “Tahj Deans, they would break out of that huddle and send him 1-on-1. We’re playing them man-to-man, and they hit some deep shots on us one or twice when we played them.

“So, it’s all about finding ways and situations for our guys to make plays. At the end of the day, no coach is going to tell you they won’t have their best kid on the field. And Shyheim is one of our best kids so we have to find ways to get him in a position to make plays for our team

Last season: The Gryphons lost to Fayetteville Terry Sanford, 36-16, in the first round of the playoffs.

Record: 4-7, 3-2 Big East Conference

Points for: 278

Points against: 325

4-1: That’s the ratio of touchdown passes to intercpetions for quarterback Jaquan Lynch, which is tops in the conference. Lynch threw for 16 TDs against 4 picks. Only two quarterbacks even threw more touchdown passes than interceptions in the conference.

Key losses: De’Trell Revis, Jalen Watson, Charlie Williams III, Kevon Daniels, Marquez Pittman

Key returners: Jaquan Lynch, Shyheim Battle, Daquon Horne

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