HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL

Cedar Ridge entering season with renewed sense of togetherness

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It's been a quick rise to the top for Cedar Ridge.

And while the Raiders figure to once again challenge for a District 13-6A title this season, this year's squad is a little bit more unified.

This is the first group of kids that have been in the program for four full seasons around head coach Sam Robinson.

"This is the first class we've had since their freshman year," Robinson said. "They're further along than other groups because they've never done anything differently. (First-ever Cedar Ridge head coach Todd) Ford had a great program, but offensively and defensively, we're a lot better than what we did in the past."

Robinson was promoted to head coach ahead of the 2017 season after one year working alongside Shawn Bell, who left for a job on the Baylor football staff. And they've seen the success, having lost just one district game in three seasons and advancing to at least the second round of the playoffs.

Robinson's coaching style has given this team specifically a renewed sense of togetherness.

"This is a team-oriented team," senior running back Chris ‘Deuce' Vaughn said. "Everything is about the team. If one of us makes a mistake, we all make a mistake. Since I've been paying, I feel like our bond is going into the season. We know how to control each other when stuff is going haywire."

Cedar Ridge finished second in the district last season and lost in the second round of the playoffs after a 53-50 shootout against The Woodlands.

Vaughn - who has committed to Kansas State following next season - led the team with more than 1,300 yards and 13 touchdowns last season. He had seven games with 100 or more rushing yards.

"He carried a big load for us last year," Robinson said. "We're going to have to manage his time and get him rest when we can. We have a couple of younger backs that are going to be juniors in Josh Nazaire and Joseph Captain. They're both really good players and can come in and spot Deuce."

His role this season will be even more expanded with the graduation of Jaylen Ellis, who is now with former coach Bell at Baylor.

Vaughn is ready for the expanded role.

"He's one of the best receivers in the state of Texas," Vaughn said. "We have some younger guys that are going to step up. No matter whether they're putting eighteen in the box, I'm doing whenever it takes for my team to win. Whether that's getting 30 carries a game or be a decoy and let other guys get the carries. If we get a win in the column and I don't get a touchdown, that's fine."

Senior MarkAnthony Walker is the top returning receiver for Cedar Ridge, catching 16 passes for 229 yards last season. He'll have senior quarterback Jalen Brown - who there for 1,500 yards and 17 TDs and ran for another 249 yards and three scores - throwing to him once again.

"I've been ready to step up since the spring," Walker said. "I know coaches are going to expect a lot of me since I'm the only returning receiver from last season. It's going to be my responsibility to fill those shoes and get our offense moving. I'm not going to change what I do because I have a higher responsibility, I'm just going to keep doing what I do."

Defensively, the Raiders had a stacked line and unproven secondary last year. This year is the exact opposite.

Cedar Ridge has three returning starters in the secondary and a pair of linebackers coming back. Robinson said defensive end Issac Cobb and lineman Tyler Swanberg are names to look out for up front for the Raiders.

"The way I look t it, we have more trust in the back end and more experience, but the defensive line is really good too," senior cornerback Gavin Dunn said. "At the end of the year, I'll be happy if I know we played the best we can play. The best things to me are just building the memories and playing the best you can play and not having divisions within the team."

The first stretch of the season for Cedar Ridge might be the toughest in the state.

After a preseason scrimmage with Lake Travis, the Raiders open up the regular season at home against Temple, at Cedar Park and at home against defending district champion Vandegrift, which beat Cedar Ridge with a field goal in overtime last season.

The learning curve is sure to be steep.

"These first four games are going to challenge us," Vaughn said. "This is going to be really good for us when it comes to the latter end of the season. We're going to have to come in to play well right away."

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