Richlands Blue Tornado
Southwest District, Region D
Head Coach: Greg Mance (22ndseason, 191-68).
2017 results: 4-7 (3-2 SWD)
Key losses: RB/LB Seth Johnson, RB/DT Greg Griffith, OL/DL Logan McGlothlin, WR/DB Daniel Brown, OL/DL Jason Medley
Key returners: QB/LB Race Moir, RB/LB Trey Brown, WR/DB Taylor Horn, P/K Levi Forrest, TE/LB Dylan Atkins, WR/LB Ian Wade, WR/DB Jakob Cole.
RICHLANDS, Va., —Things in Richlands last football season were different.
There were no district titles that the town has grown accustomed to. The Tornado was absent from a region and state championship game berth.
For the first time since 1999, the Blue Tornado posted a losing record.
The majority of the kids on the team were not alive in 1999. It was only Greg Mance’s third year as the head football coach at Richlands High School.
After the Tornado played one of the toughest schedules in further southwest Virginia, they finished the regular season on a two game winning streak to clinch a playoff berth. Richlands almost sent shockwaves through the Commonwealth in the first round, holding a late fourth quarter lead over Union. However, Union standout and current Virginia Tech tight end, James Mitchell, broke off a long run to put Union on top for the win to end Richlands’ season.
Luckily for the Blues, they return a lot of their key pieces from a 4-7 squad.
However, Mance and the Blues have put a lot of 2017 in the rear view mirror.
“We had to play a lot of young kids last year based on injuries. We played a really tough schedule,” Mance said of 2017. “I think we played six Division-I kids last year. We just got caught with a good schedule, good teams, we were in every game in the fourth quarter.”
With hopes that 2017 can be used as learning material with this year’s Tornado, Mance wants no replication of the results his squad found a year ago.
“Hope to God it doesn’t happen again, I don’t know if I can take it because it was a long year last year. We don’t accept losing here. We don’t make excuses. I told the kids it was unacceptable,” said the 22-year Blue Tornado head coach. “I was proud of the kids’ efforts.”
Thankfully for Mance, it appears that the Blues have taken major strides throughout the summer to make a turn for the better.
“We worked harder in the offseason to get stronger and faster. We’re smarter—a year of experience really helps,” Mance said. “Hopefully, it pays off this year in the fourth quarter in close games. It’s gonna be a brutal schedule again. We are gonna have to play excellent football for 48 minutes to come out successful.”
As numbers across the region have dwindled, the Blue Tornado continues to draw the largest number of players. According to Mance, that number will only increase in the coming years.
“We’re excited. We have good numbers. We started with 75, we had 72 this morning,” Mance said on Richlands’ media day. “Our eighth grade has 47. We’re out of equipment, we’re having to borrow equipment and order new equipment. It’s a great thing. Next year, we are expecting 100 kids 9-12. As a program, that’s what you want is good numbers.”
Mance’s excitement is not only held in the future, but that the 2018 Blues will return to the Richlands custom.
Although the Blues offense only returns four starters from a season ago in C Zack Moore, QB Race Moir and WRs Taylor Horn and Jakob Cole, the former Virginia Tech second baseman has high hopes that his offense will produce.
“Offensively, we’re excited about what we got. We’ve got two exceptional wide outs we think in Taylor Horn and Jakob Cole. Those two are going to be special out there,” Mance said. “We like our slots, Logan Altizer and Will Tarter. We’ve got a freshman that’s gonna be really good, Sage Webb. He’s the fastest eighth grader I have ever clocked.”
The offensive line is a unit that is smaller than the Blues have produced over the years. However, after the injury bug bit a majority of the Richlands front five last season, this year’s squad has some experience.
“On offensive line, we got two kids who started due to injuries. Luke Martin and Ethan Phipps are back along with Zack Moore. Basically, we have three guys who have played a ton of football,” Mance said. “We got Thomas Blankenship, Dakota Ball, Jake Absher—we feel really good about that group. They are athletic.”
A familiar face will be in the backfield for Richlands this season, but at a different position.
After leading the Blues at quarterback for the majority of 2017, senior Trey Brown will make the switch to tailback.
“Trey Brown was our leading rusher last year at quarterback, so we moved him to running back,” said Mance, “He’s done a great job in the preseason running the ball, picking up protections and catching the ball out of the backfield. Trey will do a great job there.”
In the past, Mance has had plenty of quarterbacks star in his offense. Timmy Brown, Thad Wells, Justin McCracken, Reece Strong, Gray Baker, River Michaels, John Luke Asbury, the list is lengthy.
This season, Mance looks to add Race Moir to that list of quarterbacks.
“Race Moir, he’s been great in 7-on-7s. He’s throwing the ball better than any quarterback I’ve had in a long, long time,” Mance said. “He’s got a cannon, he’s smart. He can run it, he can throw it. We are expecting big things from him. He understands what we are doing on offense. He’s got the total package.”
In football, often times your quarterback is your leader on and off the field. This is also a role that Mance proclaims Moir has taken in stride.
“Race has that it factor that you can’t teach. The kids love him, they’d run through a wall for him,” Mance said. “They believe him. They trust him.”
Defensively, Mance will look to Moir, Ian Wade and Dylan Atkins to lead a unit that returns 10 starters to the gridiron.
“We got three special players there (on defense) that we love. Ian Wade was an all-district player last year. He’s grown, got bigger and stronger. His brother, Bryce, was an all-state player and so was his brother Taylor as a center. He’s got great genes and great instincts.”
Mance’s linebacking core will get stronger as he will move Dylan Atkins to linebacker after starting three years at defensive end.
A season after being named an all-region defensive end, Moir will return to the defensive side of the ball, aside from quarterbacking duties, to wreak havoc.
Aside from Richlands’ solid nucleus in Moir, Atkins and Wade, the Blues return Taylor Horn, Logan Altizer, Will Tarter and Jacob Hess to complete their secondary from a season ago.
“Ronnie Davis has done a great job with our defense,” Mance noted. “Our defensive coaches, Brad Strong, Chris Altizer and Aaron Lowe, they’ve all done a great job with installing our schemes, our adjustments—we’ve been doing that since June.”
Before Mance mentioned his offense or defense at the Blue Tornado’s media day, he mentioned his junior kicker, three-year starter Levi Forrest.
“We think we can be good in all three phases. On special teams, we’ve got all-state kicker Levi Forrest returning. The kid is exceptional. He is a Division-I kicker without a doubt,” Mance said of his kicker, who is often referred to as Fle. “That kid will do great things. When he leaves here, he will break school records.”
For Forrest, those records may fall before the regular season is over.
“For scoring, he’s probably real close. After this year, he will own it,” Mance said. “He will own every record for a kicker. Reece Strong has a 48-yard field goal on a free kick. I feel strongly he will break that.”
That tough schedule the Blues faced in 2017 will be the same the kids from Tornado Alley will grab by the horns in 2018. However, the Blues know what lies ahead.
“We know our early schedule is brutal. We have Gate City, Union, Blacksburg, William Byrd and Bluefield,” Mance said. “I mean my God, they are all gonna be in the top of the state. We gotta be great early.”
The Blues hope that the blue-collar mindset that the team prided itself on during a streak of success from 2004-2016 helps them get back amongst the states best in 2018.
“We worked our butt off this summer,” Mance said. “Hopefully, it pays off.”
I am a graduate of Richlands High School—class of 2014. In May 2018, I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Multimedia Journalism and History with a minor in war and Society from Virginia Tech.
My passions in life are numerous. We don’t have all day. This is not the place to divulge into Hokie Football, so I will shed some light on one of my other favorites.
I was born and raised in the coalfields of southwest Virginia—Richlands to be exact. I remember the first time I ever went to a high school football game (Richlands-Tazewell ’02). Since then, a passion has grown that is stronger than the current in the Clinch River. As a football player in this region, I was able to witness the passion oozing out of the hills firsthand. It was something that when I began college, people had a hard time believing the spectacle that is high school football in the coalfields. Luckily, I was able to go 42-8 in between the white lines on Fridays and Saturdays from 2010-2013. I look forward to having another platform to tell you my stories, your stories and their stories. Here’s to the good times and hoping I don’t leave you like I did Coach Greg Mance numerous times—by saying, “Gosh Durn It!”
Let’s talk, SWVA sports, Hokies, history or maybe even barbecue.