Preparatory football | Rider leads Harrisburg to second straight playoff trip


HARRISBURG — He may not have the breakaway speed of teammates Tevin Godsey and Karmello Downey, but senior running back Ross Rider is Mr. Reliable in the Harrisburg Bulldogs’ backfield.

Game after game, Rider has averaged more than 100 yards on the ground. In nine games, he had 933 yards on 157 carries. That’s an average of nearly 104 yards per game. He also scored 13 touchdowns. For his career, he has rushed for 1,207 yards, recorded 102 yards as a receiver, and scored 18 touchdowns.

“We’ve used Ross as a fullback and a half in different schemes in our offense,” Harrisburg coach Matt Griffith said. “To be honest, he could play in any position. There are times when he finds a lane and bounces it off the outside. We’ve even used him on some speed options, but more often , he’s the guy we give the ball to when we need those tough two or three yards to get the first down or at the goal line.”

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Griffith said Rider gets those “crucial yards” to keep readers alive.

“I like to call him a downhill racer – straight ahead and hard to put down right away,” Griffith said. “It’s also like having a coach on the pitch. He recognizes the things the defense is doing and lets us know. The younger full-backs notice that and they too will communicate with us what they see. That’s what you call it being a vocal leader, and Ross is most definitely a leader on our team, and he’s one of our senior captains for that and many other reasons.

Rider takes the praise in stride.

“I’m extremely happy with how the season has gone for me, but any individual success I’ve had can be directly attributed to the guys who block in front of me. They’re the ones who helped me get all the success that I can get.”

Rider describes himself first and foremost as a team player.

“I’m very proud to be a Bulldog,” he said. “I think there was a time when we strayed from what it takes to be a good football team here in Harrisburg. But I’d like to think last year’s senior class and my senior class have laid the foundation for a successful future. We may not be 9-0 or 8-1 for a while, but I am now confident that we will eventually. We now expect to win. That doesn’t mean we always win, but we now have the right mental approach.. Our confidence is growing within the program.

Rider said he worked hard in the offseason to become a more complete running back.

“I worked in the weight room and spent a lot of time on the track – running sprints and distances. I didn’t want to run out of gas in the fourth quarter of this year. Luckily I I can say I’m in the best shape of my life and the same can be said for a lot of the guys on our team.

Rider said his best ground game came in Week 2 in a win over Du Quoin.

“I ran for over 190 yards in that one. It gave me confidence that I could be a leader on our team,” he said. “Again, I can’t thank our line enough. They open up the holes for me and give me energy every game.”

Rider is also more than a single sport athlete. He plays forward on the basketball team, as well as third baseman, catcher and pitcher for the baseball team. Academically, it has established a cumulative grade point average of 4.25 on a 4.0 scale. He is a member of the National Honor Society, the Student Council and the Key Club, among others.

“I plan to major in finance,” Rider said. “I still haven’t decided where I’m going to go to school in the fall, or if I’m going to try to continue playing football or baseball. The University of Illinois and Southern Illinois University are two schools I have I’m considering I have decisions to make, but I’m not in a rush.

Rider said he and so many of his teammates enjoy having Griffith as a coach.

“Almost everyone has a personal connection to Coach Matt,” he said. “He does a good job relating to the players. We respect him and we listen to him. He teaches us more than football. He also talks about the importance of hard work in the classroom and how to treat and respect others, especially our elders.When he asks us to do something, we want to do it for him.

Griffith said Rider has been a key part of the team’s journey back to the state playoffs and an even better teammate.

“He’s been a varsity member for three years now,” the sophomore coach said. “He’s about as reliable as he gets, or even keel as I like to say. We’re going to miss him next year.”

Earnest L. Veasey