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Raby’s “transformative” approach to the first week of practice

Raby's Romel Goston runs a drill. Worsom Robinson/For the Sun-Times.

Football practice started all across the state on Monday. There will be three weeks of intense, physical preparations for every team, but things at Raby are on another level.

Raiders coach D’Angelo Dereef has a special way that he starts the season and bonds his players. The Raiders have a five night lock-in at the school. It’s just the players and the coaches, no phones or distractions. The players sleep on air mattresses in the gym and Dereef sleeps on the couch in his office.

Video by Annie Costabile and Rahul Parikh

“We might go lift weights at midnight,” Dereef said. “It is hell week, not heaven week. It’s a training camp like the Bears or Illinois. It is a real training camp.”

This is the fourth year Raby has had the lock-in, it was originally three days but has expanded to five.

“The lock-in is what made this program rise,” Raby senior Romel Goston said. “We don’t have money to go out of town and get away so we get away where we can, our school. We get to know one another, talk about our lives. We dig deep and bond.”

Goston, a defensive back, has committed to Northern Illinois. The Raiders have become a remarkable success story. Raby has five alumni playing major college football and last season became the first West Side team to advance to the state semifinals.

“The first year it was a big shock, being away from home,” Raby senior Dontay Givens said. “But it is great. Guys spend all night talking about what their childhood was like, it is great to hear about how a person is outside of football and what makes them tick. I’ve seen the hardest, toughest guys sob and cry. I’ve seen every guy that has been here for more than a year cry. It’s real transformative, you understand what everyone is going through.”

The setup in Raby’s gym for the football team’s annual lock-in. Michael O’Brien/Sun-Times.
The setup in Raby’s gym for the football team’s annual lock-in. Michael O’Brien/Sun-Times.

The Raiders have 27 players, a similar number to last season. They’ve become a Class 4A powerhouse, but the regular season will be more challenging now that they’ve moved to the Illini Heartland conference.

Goston was an All-Area and All-City selection last season. The other known standout is wide receiver/safety Marshon Foster, who has committed to Western Michigan.

Most of Raby’s offensive stars from last season graduated, so there are several holes to fill. Goston says to watch out for quarterback Theon Davis.

“[Davis] has a chip on his shoulder,” Goston said. “He came in and played well freshman year and then had some off the field issues and lost his place. But he’s back and he’s going to dominate.”

Paul Allen and Trevon Hill, linemen that play both ways, provide a strong foundation at the line of scrimmage. Senior Avyon Hodges is ready to step in as starting running back.

Dereef says junior running back Trayshawn Toliver is “going to be something special.”

Raby’s Trayshawn Toliver side steps in practice at Garfield Park. Worsom Robinson/For the Sun-Times.
Raby’s Trayshawn Toliver side steps in practice at Garfield Park. Worsom Robinson/For the Sun-Times.

Raby is on the map now. They’ve gone from a small, West Side unknown to a state powerhouse that will start the season in the Super 25 rankings. That brings a new challenge.

“We will beat whoever is on the field,” Goston said. “If it is our moms on the field they have to take a loss. We have turned it up a notch now that we are in the top 25. The bright lights are on us now.”

Want the latest info and analysis on high school football? Our preps team of Michael O’Brien, Beth Long and Annie Costabile will share all the latest news, insights and Super 25 weekly rankings in a new livestream show called “Sun-Times Game Week.” We’ve got two preview shows: Aug. 5 and Aug 20 at 4:30 p.m., then the regular season show will be every Monday at 6:30 p.m. starting August 27. Like and follow our high school sports Facebook page to watch the show on FACEBOOK LIVE. You can also ask questions using the hashtag #SunTimesGameWeek.