New coach expects excellence at Riverside
Saturday, August 21, 2021 | 6:01 AM
Fran Ramsden hadn’t really thought about being a head football coach.
He spent the past nine years as an assistant coach with stops at his alma mater, North Catholic, as well as Allderdice and the past four seasons at Riverside.
Last summer, Riverside coach Ron Sciarro informed Ramsden, his offensive coordinator, that he was retiring after the 2020 season and wanted to recommend Ramsden for the job.
“I’m ambitious as a person,” Ramsden said. “I’ve owned my own business the last 10 years. I’m a very independent person. I like the pressure of having to make decision and take responsibility for outcomes.
“It was a good time for me to be a head coach. I’m young. I don’t have kids yet. I’ve been here in the past. I know the kids. It was an easy transition.”
Ramsden’s transition will be aided by four returning starters, including three who started on both sides of the ball.
First-team all-conference guard Avery Wolf (6-foot-1, 265 pounds) is back for his senior season. The fourth-year starter will be an anchor on both lines.
“I expect excellence and he does as well,” Ramsden said. “He’s been here, part of the core of the offseason. … We’re going to ask him to do a lot.”
Wolf and senior guard Josh Rosenberger (6-0, 250) are the lone returning starters on the offensive line.
“Those two need to carry the load,” said Ramsden, who also expects senior Devan Barnes, junior Jeff Weisz and sophomore Brandon Gasper to be key contributors up front.
They will block for junior quarterback Sam Hughes, who threw for 317 yards and three touchdowns in his first season as a starter.
“Last year sort of felt unfair to him,” Ramsden said. “It was his first year starting at quarterback, and with covid (protocols), his ability to get experience and practice reps were significantly damaged or harmed. He was going into last year with only about a month of practice under his belt. Then, we jumped right into the conference schedule. It all happened extremely fast.”
Hughes (5-11, 185), who also starts at linebacker, spent the offseason building strength and speed while working on his command of the offense, his coach said.
“I think the best thing that’s happened for him is having the full offseason from late winter to now,” Ramsden said. “I expect him to improve on his game from last year, particularly being able to do multiple things at once. We want to make the defense defend the entire field. I think last year with him being inexperienced you didn’t want to give him too much. Now I expect him to get in the flow.”
He will have a familiar face near him on both sides of the ball in senior Avery Orgovan (6-1, 190), who is a fourth-year starter at linebacker and also saw time at fullback and tight end last season.
Ramsden expects contributions from senior running back Brody Barton, junior center/linebacker Joe Reed, sophomore wide receiver/linebacker Brady Newman and freshman Robbie Janis, who will likely start at wide receiver and free safety.
“We have some youth at the skill positions, so we got out and about to get to some 7-on-7s, which we haven’t done much of in the past,” Ramsden said. “We’ve had the same core group of 16-20 at practice all summer. That’s been good for team morale and team development.”
Riverside missed the postseason a year ago after finishing 2-5 and in sixth place in the challenging Class 2A Midwestern Athletic Conference.
“We play in an extremely tough conference. It’s very competitive from the top down,” Ramsden said. “We get five playoff spots. Our goal is to compete for one of those spots.”
Ramsden cited Riverside’s 2019 campaign that ended with a loss to Avonworth in the WPIAL semifinals. The Panthers were the No. 14 seed but upset Burgettstown and McGuffey in the postseason.
“Our conference prepares us to play playoff games,” Ramsden said. “The main goal is compete for a playoff spot and then take it week by week.”
Coach: Fran Ramsden
2020 record: 2-5, 2-5 in Class 2A MAC
All-time record: 282-234-4
Date, Opponent, Time
9.3 OLSH, 7
9.11 at Western Beaver, 12:30
9.17 at Freedom*, 7:30
9.24 Laurel*, 7
10.1 at Mohawk*, 7
10.8 at Neshannock*, 7
10.15 Ellwood City*, 7
10.22 New Brighton*, 7
10.29 at Beaver Falls*, 7
Passing: Sam Hughes
31-56, 317 yards, 3 TDs
Receiving: Dantae Phillips*
Rushing: Calvin Hughes*
51-286, 2 TDs
• Riverside lost its first three games last season to Beaver Falls, Freedom and Laurel and was outscored 109-27 in that stretch. The Panthers rallied for wins over Mohawk and Ellwood City but lost to Neshannock and New Brighton.
• The Panthers averaged 16.9 points and allowed 31.9 ppg in 2020.
• Ramsden was the wide receivers coach at North Catholic when the Trojans won the 2013 WPIAL and PIAA titles.
Bill Hartlep is the sports editor of the Tribune-Review. You can contact Bill at email@example.com or via Twitter @BHartlep_Trib.
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