For the past four years, Richards has been one of the better teams in the south suburbs, reaching the second round of the IHSA playoffs every season.
But coach Tony Sheehan and the Bulldogs won’t be happy with that level of success this fall.
“We pretty much knew that this year would be a big year for us because we’ve been working hard since eighth grade,” junior quarterback Hasan Muhammad-Rogers said. “We’ve been working hard and pushing. [Sheehan] has been saying that, ‘You’ll be the team that puts Richards on the map.’ ”
“This is the team we’ve been waiting [on] for a few years,” Sheehan said.
Why? Talent is one reason. Three seniors have Division I offers: linebacker Romel Hill, who had 81 tackles last season; defensive back Dylan Jiles; and wide receiver Tacari Carpenter (1,091 rushing and receiving yards, 15 touchdowns).
The junior class went 18-0 as freshmen and sophomores — and that was with some of its best players up on the varsity, which was 9-2 in 2012.
As if that wasn’t enough reason for optimism, consider this: “This could be the fastest Richards team ever,” Sheehan said. “We have speed everywhere. We’re going to use that to our advantage.”
Ditto for the Bulldogs’ experience. Muhammad-Rogers, among others, feels more comfortable after learning the varsity quarterback ropes on the fly as a sophomore.
His goal for the offseason was “just becoming more mature as a quarterback, being able to read a defense — coming to the line and [seeing], ‘OK, that’s my high read’ or ‘That’s where the ball should go.’
“I’m not going to lie, last year I was just playing football and coaches [were] helping me out a little more.”
“You can just tell how much more confidence he has,” Sheehan said. “We’re giving him a little more freedom, a couple options. … He’s just got a rocket for an arm.”
Carpenter has made progress as well, according to his coach.
“His route running is so much better,” Sheehan said. “He’s electric with the ball. He does things you can’t just coach or teach.”
There are other impact players on offense as well, including junior running back Ramonta Hill (600 yards, seven touchdowns), junior receiver Ryan Willett. Seniors Santiago Calderon (5-11, 220) and Mike Lonigro (6-1, 240) provide size and experience up front.
Besides Hill and Jiles, the defense has three more capable senior veterans: linebacker Andrew Venerable, lineman Savon Robinson and back Crishawn Ross. Venerable and Robinson are both heading into their third season as varsity starters.
They’re among a number of Bulldogs with big dreams.
“They’re hungry,” Sheehan said. “Last year, losing to Lemont in the second round [of the Class 6A playoffs], they understand that’s not good enough.”