Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

August 15, 2013

New leadership guides the Raiders

By BOB REDD
Bluefield Daily Telegraph

BRADSHAW — In the young history of River View High School, the Raiders’ football team has established itself as one of the more consistent Class AA programs in the state of West Virginia; three years of football, three years in the playoffs.

Mitchell Estep took the reins of the program when Iaeger and Big Creek High Schools consolidated and helped build a tradition at the new school. Estep hung up his whistle and calling the shots now for the Raiders is his former assistant Gehrig Justice.

The former Gilbert Lion who coached under Estep at Iaeger and River View is tackling his new job with enthusiasm and hopes to carry on the success of his predecessor.

“Coach Estep had talked about retirement for the past couple of years and I sort of felt like I may be next in line one way or another,” Estep said. “It came a little sooner, I guess, than I expected.

“The kids have been real excited about the atmosphere and I’m pleased with our effort, our participation. We’ve had a great camp here for the last week and a half. Everyone has accepted the way we want to do stuff versus in the past.”

The Raiders got camp kicked off in a unique way, at midnight on Aug. 5. The team practiced from then until 4 a.m., broke and then returned for another session at 7 a.m. More than 50 young men were at those practices and remain on the roster.

“Most of the time when you have a coaching change it’s because the coach and staff weren’t very good,” Justice said. “This is like following Bob Hope, it’s the hardest act in show business. The only thing Coach Estep hasn’t done is win a state title. That puts me in a situation. I’ve got to keep that success up.”

One difference River View fans will see is a change in the offense. Gone is the wing-T. In is a more wide-open attack.

“I love the wing-T, but I don’t think our personnel fits the wing-T. Next year, if it does and the year after it does, again I will go to it,” Justice said. “Don Shula, the great coach of the Miami Dolphins, in the ‘70s he had (Larry) Czonka and they were a power run team. Then (Dan) Marino comes along and they throw it all over the place. That’s what my philosophy is.

“I have to see what’s in the locker room. It’s not a college where I can go out and pick a guy that I want for the system. We see what comes up from Sandy River and Southside and adjust yearly.”

Look for speedy running back Jordan Wilson, a Bluefield Daily Telegraph Player of the Week selection last season, to anchor a backfield that will include Greg Marshall also running the ball and Ryan Blankenship taking the snaps. Joseph McClanahan and Tyree Baker will be two of the wideouts.

Justice said the line is big and strong with experience.

On defense the Raiders will have a 4-4 base but will be flexible to adjust to whatever opponents may bring to the line of scrimmage.

Justice is the only coach on staff who was with the Raiders during their campaign last season which saw the team go 6-4 in regular season play before falling in the playoffs to Bridgeport. He talked about the additions.

“That’s been the biggest hurdle. Coach Estep didn’t only retire, but so did Coach (Michael) Addair and Coach (Jeff) Johnson moved to Bristol, and George Kennedy had some personal stuff he wanted to do so he’s not able to coach full-time this year, so I’m really the only one back,” Justice said.

Joining the staff are Gary Estep and Kurt Lester, both teachers at River View. Jerry Addair, a long-time assistant at Iaeger, coaches for the first time at River View. Todd Mullins was a former assistant and player at Iaeger and Terry

Joe Harrison coached Justice when he played at Gilbert.

Vince Cantrell joins as a coach and Doris Wimmer is back as trainer, but she adds the title of athletic director to her card.

“Coaching the coaches has been a lot more difficult than coaching the players,” Justice said. “It’s new for everybody and I believe they’ve all caught on well with it. I’m pleased with how quick they’ve caught onto it and the players as well.”

Justice said the number one goal of the team is to win a state championship, but he said in order to do that there are some things the team must do.

“The first day I met with the kids I said there are really three things I want to accomplish. One, we want to be physical. We want to be the most physical team on the field in all three aspects of the game,” Justice said. “The second thing is that we want to be the smartest team. The way that you beat a team that might be more talented than you is you out-smart them. You get in the right place. You recognize their tendencies.

“The smarter our kids become, the more those kids on the field can say ‘they’re going to run out of this set,’ then that’s a huge advantage. I really think that good football teams are student-athletes, the student being first and the athlete part being second and that’s what we want to get to.

“The third part is we want to be the most conditioned team. If everything is equal, if we’re smart and they’re as physical as we are, the team that’s in the best shape at the end of the year, or at the end of the game, after that the chips fall where they may. There’s always bad weather, bad breaks and fumbles and injuries, but that’s the only three things we can take care of.”

Justice and the Raiders open the regular season Aug. 31 at McDowell County rival Mount View in “The Battle of the Views.”

—Contact Bob Redd

at bredd@bdtonline.com