Coach bets on data-driven approach to get Riverside back on track

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Saturday, August 20, 2022 | 12:01 PM


Second-year coach Fran Ramsden has a tool he plans to use to liberally to help his Riverside team turn things around after a 1-8 season.

Data.

Ramsden is a believer in the idea that certain parts of the game correlate most directly with winning: explosive plays of 20 yards or more, sacks or turnovers, for example. His stat sheets have columns for those type of plays.

The key for the Panthers to be a winning team is to tip the balance of those plays in their favor.

Analytics have gained sway in the football world in recent years, especially at the NFL level, but the revolution hasn’t trickled down to high schools in a meaningful way.

Ramsden sees no reason why it shouldn’t.

“I think the kids buy into the way I approach the game with an analytical mind,” he said. “I’m very open with them about all this stuff. We review the game film and use that data sheet to go through it and make sense of why games are lost and won. Not surprisingly, it correlates well with things like explosive plays, turnovers and sacks.

“I get that some people may think that in high school football, you want to get the basics, especially if you have a young team. That’s an argument. It’s just one I don’t abide with. For me, it’s about playing the best game of football we can put on the field with the kids we have.”

Knowing a little bit about Ramsden’s background helps explain his approach. When the pandemic hit in 2020, he found he was making more money playing online poker in his spare time than he was running the personal training business he had owned for 10 years.

So now he plays poker for a living.

It’s not as reckless as it sounds.

Ramsden isn’t entering big tournaments with large fields and long odds. He isn’t playing big cash games at his local casino, needing the right card to hit on the river in order to pay his rent.

He plays only heads-up poker online. For good players practicing sound strategy, the long-term return on investment should be 3 to 5%. Play enough hands, and that essentially turns into a salary.

“It’s not gambling at all,” he said. “It’s a skill-based game I am in control of. I study. I find trends. I do homework. I treat it like a business. Of course, luck is a factor, but it’s one factor among many.”

Armed with an analytical approach, Ramsden’s Panthers will enter this season with significantly more experience than they had last year at this time. On both sides of the ball, they’ll have seven starters back and two other starters who saw significant playing time.

The Panthers’ ground game will be led by sophomore Robbie Janis, who led the team in rushing with 380 yards as a freshman. He has added 30 pounds since.

“Robbie is a very special player,” Ramsden said. “He’s always been somebody that’s been hyper-competitive, put the team on his back. He’s been a leader. He earned all the playing time he had last season as a freshman.”

Senior Sam Hughes returns for his third season under center.

“He’s not a traditional quarterback, so I think it’s taken him three years to get where he is today, which is the best he’s looked,” Ramsden said.

Other returning starters include junior Brandon Gasper and senior Joey Reed on the line and junior Brady Newman, senior Noah George and sophomore Ayden Garcia on the perimeter.

If the Panthers make strides, explosive plays will result and wins will follow.

If they don’t, there’s one thing Ramsden won’t do: Punt. At least not if has any other choice.

Like many coaches who value analytics, he’s not exactly fond of that part of the game.

“I hate punting,” he said. “Punting is a turnover. We just don’t call it a turnover. You give the ball to the other team. I really don’t like it.

“We actually have, on the offensive coordinator’s call sheet, a fourth-down chart. And it’s not a secret. You can put on our film. Any fourth-and-1, the chart says to go for it. From our own 30-yard line, if we have a fourth-and-1, we’re going for it. I do not like punting.”

Riverside

Coach: Fran Ramsden

2021 record: 1-8, 1-6 in Class 2A Midwestern Athletic Conference

All-time record: 283-242-4

SCHEDULE

Date, Opponent, Time

8.26 Rochester, 7

9.2 at South Side, 7

9.9 Shenango, 7

9.16 at Mohawk*, 7

9.23 Freedom*, 7

9.30 at Beaver Falls*, 7

10.7 Western Beaver*, 7

10.14 at Neshannock*, 7

10.21 New Brighton*, 7

10.28 at Ellwood City*, 7

*Conference game

STATISTICAL LEADERS

Passing: Sam Hughes

57-154, 439 yards, 1 TD, 8 INTs

Rushing: Robbie Janis

105-380

Receiving: Avery Orgovan*

18-155

*Graduated

FAST FACTS

• The Panthers will have to replace Avery Wolf, who won MAC lineman of the year honors last season despite playing on a 1-8 team. Wolf is now a 6-foot-1, 270-pound freshman at Marietta College, which plays in the NCAA Division III Ohio Athletic Conference.

• Riverside’s win last season came against rival Ellwood City in Week 8. Quarterback Sam Hughes ran for two touchdowns in the 19-0 victory.

• Riverside is only two years removed from postseason success. In 2019, the Panthers beat Burgettstown and McGuffey in the first two rounds of the WPIAL playoffs before falling to Avonworth in the semifinals.

• Riverside is the seventh-largest school in WPIAL Class 2A with 165 boys in grades 10-12.

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review Assistant Sports Editor. You can contact Jonathan by email at jbombulie@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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