SACRAMENTO (KTXL) — There are only a few undefeated teams left in the Sac-Joaquin section as we head into Week 8 of the high school football season. At 7-0, Rio Americano might be the most surprising of that trio.
“I haven’t felt winning in a very long time,” senior linebacker Toby Black said. “This is the first time we’ve had a winning season here since I’ve been here.”
Last year, the Raiders started out 0-5 in Reid Sanders first season as head coach. The finished the year with a 3-7 record, including back-to-back wins to end the season.
“We took some lumps last year,” Sanders said. “It’s a testament to the coaching staff and the players for buying in and pretty much making a decision that they’re tired of losing.”
Rio picked up this year right where they left off, and now they’re off to their best start to a season since 1994, according to Sanders.
“It’s just been complete buy-in from the players,” Sanders said. “When I sat down when I first got hired, I was like, ‘Hey, look, I know I’m not the coach for everybody. Some of you guys are gonna be like, ‘Look, this dude wants too much from me,’ and they’re gonna quit, which some kids walked away from the program. But I promised the ones that stayed that we’d be successful.”
Just two years after a 1-8 campaign and a winless record in the Metropolitan Conference, the Raiders have a shot at their first league title in at least 19 years.
“Now, we’re right where we wanna be, we’re in the thick of things,” Sanders said. “I tried to explain to the kids, ‘You’ve won every way possible.’ That’s kinda the big thing is getting to playoffs and understanding how sometimes you might have to be down to win. Sometimes you might have to go to overtime.”
While Sanders gives credit to his players and coaching staff for the turnaround, the team is just as quick to praise him for what he’s done in leading them to such a strong start.
“I was here for the last few coaches that we’ve had, [and] let’s just say Reid’s doing what he’s doing,” Black said. “It’s just his approach on life, he thinks he can do anything and he puts that in us.”
“Like Toby said, the second he came through the door, I just knew,” junior tight end Alex Wallace said. “He told me that, even though I was a sophomore, I was gonna get a lot of playing time. And that ended up with me having my best season. I was First Team all-league as a sophomore. I think he is a really big part of it, but it’s just us as a whole collective, as a program. When he came here, we all decided that things needed to change and we all need to turn it around.”
Rio Americano plays Vista del Lago on Friday in a game that could decide the league championship. Both teams are undefeated in the Metro conference and are 7-1 on the year.
“It’s good, but we’re not where we wanna be yet,” Wallace said. “We have three goals – we wanna win league, section and state, so until then, I’m not really satisfied. But it feels good for now, we ain’t lost yet.”