The ascent of coach Jason Fowler’s Rocky River teams has been both rapid and easy to map out since the program launched in 2010.
The Ravens have progressed from zero wins in their first season, to three in 2011, seven last year and, entering their Sept. 27 matchup against Myers Park, the Ravens (4-1) have a chance to earn their school-record fifth consecutive win – something that should all but assure another season of mounting victories.
While the rise of the Ravens’ program has been impressive from that first winless season, Fowler’s formula for success hasn’t changed.
“If you can run the ball, play good defense and special teams, you always have a chance,” Fowler said. “We’ve always wanted to do that, but this year we’re doing it probably better than we have.”
The Raves are excelling in each of Fowler’s key areas so far this year. Their special teams has been sound and their defense has allowed just more than 16 points per game – with a knack for coming up with opportunistic turnovers.
But, more than ever, the Ravens are able to move the ball on the ground this season behind their three-headed attack, which features senior Deron Davis, junior Elijah Jett and sophomore Rashaad Brannon.
“All three of them have their strengths, but there’s not a lot of drop off either where they can all do pretty much the same things on the field,” Fowler said. “The thing is that it keeps a fresh back in there the whole time with a fresh set of legs. We try to play fast and if we can play fast with a fresh set of legs, we’re going to be better off than somebody who can rotate guys in and out. We’re constantly rotating these guys in and out of the lineup and it’s helping us big time.”
So far, the results of the Ravnes’ running attack have been undeniable – and are in direct correlation with the Ravens’ rising clout as a program.
In their 2010 winless season, the Ravens averaged an anemic 1.5 yards per carry and gained just 335 rushing yards. In 2011, their rushing total jumped to 1,117 yards, and last season the Ravens gained 1,708 and averaged more than five yards per carry.
This season, they’ve already managed 804 rushing yards, scored 10 total touchdowns and are on pace to approach 2,000 yards on the ground, and they’re doing it with their best collection of running backs to date.
Davis is the mainstay who began playing varsity as a freshman. This season, the 5-foot-10, 165-pound Davis accumulated 173 rushing yards and three touchdowns, but is fine splitting carries with his running mates – especially if it translates to more team success.
“I don’t get tired as easily,” said Davis, who missed three games with a high-ankle sprain after being the workhorse back last season. “We rotate us in and out and that’s what helps us, because we wear down the defenses.
“Running the ball is simple. When you have three athletes like us in the backfield, the defense can’t prepare because they don’t know who is going to break it and we can all take it to the house. I think that’s what team’s fear the most about playing us.”
Fowler said Jett, a bruising 5-foot-6, 177-pound West Charlotte transfer who has ran for 100 yards despite missing two games with an ankle injury, is cut from much the same cloth as Davis.
“Deron’s more of a downhill guy, he will get the hard yards and he blocks real well in pass protection,” Fowler said. “And Jett, he’s the same way. Both of them catch the ball well out of the backfield, block well and they can run inside of the tackles for us.”
While Jett and Davis are more than capable of carrying the load, it’s Brannon who may be the most explosive Raven.
“Rashaad’s that kid that at any time when he touches it, he can go 80 (yards),” Fowler said. “That’s the one difference; the other two kids can break it, but when Rashaad breaks it, he’s gone.”
Brannon leads the team with 388 yards and four touchdowns and torched the Marvin Ridge defense for 164 yards on just 15 carries in Rocky River’s 28-0 win on Sept. 20.
When Jett returns this week from injury, he’ll immediately regain his spot beside Brannon and Davis – making the Ravens even more dangerous.
“We are all explosive,” Jett said. “We can take it to the end zone any time we touch it and all three of us could be an every down back. If any one of us are in there, we can get it done.”
While the running backs can move the ball on the ground, so too can Christian Allen-Brown (105 rushing yards) and Naiil Ramadan (78 rushing yards, two touchdowns), who are splitting time at quarterback.
If opponents think they can simply stop the Ravens by loading up the box and stopping their potent run game – a tough task by itself – this group is far from one-dimensional when Ramadan and Allen-Brown take to the air.
Against Marvin Ridge, for example, the Ravens’ quarterbacks completed 15 of 19 passes and, Fowler said, the receivers had three drops in the game. Whoever is at quarterback has a plethora of fast and talented receiving options in Aaron Cole, Devryn Galloway, Jaire Alexander and Kaylan Love-Soles, to name a few.
While the offense is clicking like never before, Fowler said he’d like to see a few more big plays even further loosen up the run game.
“We don’t need to be as explosive right now,” Fowler said. “I wish we were more explosive, actually, but we’re working toward it and we’re getting better each week.”
As the season progresses and the games get tougher – the Ravens close with games against Butler, Independence and Porter Ridge – Fowler knows his team’s success hinges most on Rocky River’s ability to run the ball.
And, more so than ever, that’s the Ravens’ biggest strength this season.
“The biggest difference with this team is attitude,” Davis said. “I think everybody has finally brought into the program. Having a few more athletes on the field has helped, too, but we have come together as a team and that’s what’s helped us out the most.
“We have a good run game and our defense is playing great right now and everyone is on the same page. When it comes down to it, it’s about how you come together and this team has done that better than any that I’ve been on (at Rocky River).”
So, as the season wears on and Davis, Brannon and Jett continue to excel, the Ravens’ fortunes rest in the hands of the most capable group of backs the program has ever had.
“I want to be able to run the ball at will whenever we want to,” Davis said. “If we can do that, it’s hard for teams to stop us and we can do what we want to do.”