Ravens Hope New Football Coach Brings Success on Field, in Community
Royal Oak High School’s new leader works to end team’s three-year winless drought as it preps for first game of the season Thursday.
After three consecutive winless seasons, the Royal Oak High School varsity football team is eager to turn around its fortunes – and the community is ready to rally around them.
New head coach Jeff Hill, a Royal Oak native and Dondero High School graduate, was hired in January to replace Dave Potter. Hill faces the task of ending the Ravens’ losing streak that dates back to 2007. Hill was 15-13 in three years as the head coach at Milford High School, including a playoff appearance in 2008.
Hill said the team is focused on getting a fresh start this year.
“We can’t control what happened in the past, and we tell the kids that,” Hill said. “All we can do is work hard every day, make our investment and eventually we’ll get to the point where we want to be.”
Regaining school, community support
A quick end to the losing streak would serve to rebuild passion for a program that has seen interest from students and the community wane in recent years as the team struggled.
“I hope this year’s season really gives us the chance to cheer,” said ROHS senior Veronica Cook, captain of the varsity cheerleading team. “I know our school will get extremely excited if we even win a single game this year.”
Cook and the other ROHS seniors are part of a class that has never seen their team win a game, but she said the changes to the program have helped build anticipation for the team’s first win.
“Our first game last year, we scored the first touchdown, and everyone freaked out because we were winning,” Cook said. “I’m thinking the reaction will kind of be like that, but more.”
A win would hopefully create more interest in the team from both students and the community, which have treated games as more of a social gathering in the past, ROHS graduate and former cheerleading captain Haley McFarland said.
“The students will definitely be more supportive of their team and participate more in getting the team pumped before a big game,” McFarland said. “The stands could get a bigger turnout this year from not only students, but interested citizens of Royal Oak who enjoy watching football.”
Rebuilding the Ravens
After taking over as head coach, Hill set out to recruit more players to the team and to get his team to become stronger and faster in the offseason. Hill said progress has been made in both areas.
“We had a good turnout in the weight room from January through the summer months, and we had some kids get a lot stronger,” Hill said. “Our next goal is to become fundamentally sound football players, which means that we have consistency in how we practice, how we step on the field and give effort and we’re getting there. It’s a process, and it’s not going to happen overnight.”
Part of the process has been the introduction of a new offensive and defensive system.
“We are running a Spread Wing-T offense where we’re trying to use multiple backs and create a team atmosphere where we’re running the ball and getting as many kids involved in the offense (as possible),” Hill said. “Defensively, we’re going to be a 4-4 defense where we’re going to bring pressure, be aggressive and force the offenses out of their comfort zone.”
Several of Hill’s players said the team has been quick to learn the system.
“We’re adapting pretty well I think,” senior linebacker/tailback Robert Gibson said. “Learning any new system can be difficult. It’s a challenge, but I think if you work hard, you can do it.”
The Ravens’ coaches and players are hoping that all of their hard work during the offseason will lead to a quick end to the team’s losing streak.
“(Coach Hill) is really pushing us hard to be great players,” Gibson said. “I think all the guys out here and the coaches really want it. We really try hard, we come out every day and we’re really planning to (break the streak.)”
One thing that could work in the Ravens’ favor is a schedule that begins with three home games. The season opens with Thursday’s rematch with St. Clair Shores Lake Shore, which defeated Royal Oak 37-7 last season. The Ravens will follow up that with home games against Oakland Activities Association (OAA) Red Division foes Troy and West Bloomfield.
“I think with the three home games, if we win those games we can show people we’re back,” senior defensive end/tight end David McPherson said. “We’re a different team than we were the past couple years.”
Hill said the team is moving in the right direction, but it will face challenges from a difficult OAA Red lineup that includes teams such as Clarkston, Rochester and the reigning state champion, Lake Orion.
“Everybody wants to win and everybody wants to win in Week 1, but our whole process is getting better and paying attention to details,” Hill said. “We all want it, but we have to earn it through these two-a-days. I think right now we have a good foundation, and we just have to keep progressing and we’ll get it before too long.”
The Royal Oak High School Ravens face St. Clair Shores Lake Shore at Royal Oak on Thursday at 7 p.m.